IMSA: Sunday Road America Notebook

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Prototype class in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is a varied mix, with engine power coming from Chevrolet V8s (four cars), a Ford V6 (Chip Ganassi Racing Ford EcoBoost), a Honda V6 (Michael Shank Racing), a four-cylinder gas-powered Elan in the DeltaWing, and a four-cylinder diesel engine in the Mazda Motorsports Prototype.

Yet at Road America – at just over four miles, the longest track in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship schedule – the lap times of the eight Prototype cars were startlingly close.

The fastest time was a race lap of one minute, 57.464 seconds, logged by veteran Scott Pruett in the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford EcoBoost/Riley, which finished third. The second-fastest time was a 1:57.705, by Ozz Negri in the Michael Shank Racing Honda-powered Ligier – that car finished fourth.

Two cars that have been a work in progress all season are showing some speed, too. The DeltaWing, driven by Katherine Legge, had a fast lap of 1:58.242. And the diesel Mazda’s best lap was 2:01.493, with Joel Miller behind the wheel.

A four-second difference on a four-mile track between the fastest and slowest Prototype – with that narrowing to well under one second if you exclude the Mazda – that’s tight racing.

SPEAKING OF THE MAZDA: Yes, the tiny 2.2-liter diesel engine in the Mazda Prototype is not quite as fast as the rest of the field, but if you look at the race car as a research project, benefiting diesel engine development by Mazda back in Japan, you can understand the value.

Indeed, says Mazda U.S. racing head John Doonan, some of the development work they have done in the U.S. has transferred directly to the Mazda diesel production engine.

So even though Mazda doesn’t sell a diesel in the U.S. – though they still may – the race program has value. The team tested a four-cylinder gas-powered engine in the car recently and it was faster, but apparently the parent company wants to stick with the SKYACTIV diesel.

Mazda had one Prototype on the grid at Road America, but a spokesman said they are likely to return to a two-car team for the final two races, at Circuit of The Americas in Texas, and at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

WEATHERTECH WELL-RECEIVED: A walk down pit road during the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America turned into an informal survey of how the Saturday announcement that WeatherTech. The company based in the Chicago area that manufacturers premium auto accessories like floor mats, will be the presenting sponsor of the series beginning in 2016, is being welcomed by team principals.

And all we talked to said the news is good. TUDOR has been a solid IMSA partner since the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship was launched at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January of 2014, but the watch company is not directly involved in the automotive world in general.

WeatherTech is, and has been. Founder David MacNeil is himself an accomplished racer, and his son, Cooper, drives for the Alex Job Racing WeatherTech No. 22 Porsche 911 GT America in the GT Daytona class.

“We race against them, and we like the WeatherTech people," said Kevin Buckler, principal of the TRG-AMR team that runs the No. 007 Aston Martin driven by Kuno Wittmer and Christina Nielsen, who currently leads the driver’s points. “This is good news for us."

TUDOR will continue to be involved with IMSA, having agreed to an extension of its relationship with the series, becoming “The Official Timepiece of IMSA" for the next 10 years.

So get ready for it: On November 1, 2015, the series will be the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

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