TCR Talk Reviews – 2019 Michelin Pilot Challenge at Laguna Seca

Morley, Ernstone Break Through for Inaugural TCR Win in Roadshagger Audi

One year ago at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Gavin Ernstone and Jon Morley contested their second career race in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

Returning this weekend to Monterey, Calif., the No. 61 Roadshagger Audi RS3 LMS brought a string of four podium finishes in six races and a painstakingly near-win in its first full season. That victory finally came Saturday afternoon in an impressive 12th-to-first performance without a pit stop in the final 50 minutes of the two-hour race.

“The team did an incredible job, as they have the last five races, jumping us up during the pit stop,” said Morley, a San Francisco resident. “They got me out in third place, and then I managed to get to the lead pretty quick, pull out a bit of a gap, and then from there, it was just managing tires. We weren’t planning on running the whole way, but the way the race went, that’s what happened.”

The win ends a trying few weeks for Roadshagger, which was involved in a late-race incident from the lead at VIRginia International Raceway three weeks ago that wiped out a potential victory. The following Monday, Ernstone and Morley learned their partnering team, eEuroparts, was immediately withdrawing from the sport.

“As luck would have it, I own all the stuff that is in our team,” said Ernstone. “I own the car, the hauler, all the tools and everything else, and eEuroparts was running it for me. We just got a driver and a tractor unit straight over to Connecticut, got everything in there and brought it to (my shop in) Vegas.

“That car was finished three minutes into the beginning of the promoter test on Thursday. We thought we were going to be working on it and adjusting it through the promoter test, but it was perfect the whole test. That gave us the ability to work on strategy and everything else for this weekend. It’s been great. It couldn’t be better.”

With the victory, Ernstone and Morley moved into third place in the Pilot Challenge TCR standings, 14 points behind the leading No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Veloster N TCR pair of Michael Lewis and Mark Wilkins, 256-242.

Lewis and Wilkins finished second on Saturday by a narrow 0.276 seconds after starting from the pole position. They hold an 11-point margin over their next closest competitors in the title hunt, Tom O’Gorman and Shelby Blackstock of the No. 37 L.A. Honda World Racing Honda Civic TCR, who finished third Saturday.

The 2019 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season concludes at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Oct. 9-11. The two-hour FOX Factory goes green on Friday, Oct. 11 at 1:25 p.m. ET and can be streamed live on with IMSA Radio commentary.

The NBCSN broadcast of the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120 will air on Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. ET.

(image courtesy of IMSA)

TCR Talk Reviews: 2019 Michelin Pilot Challenge At VIR

Continuing along with the theme of late, rained poured for most of the Michelin Pilot Challenge weekend at Virginia International Raceway, a 3.27 mile, 17 turn road course in Alton, Virginia.

Friday’s qualifying was cancelled due to said rain, so Saturday’s race was set by championship points with the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Veloster N leading the grid of 12 TCR machines to the green flag for the 2 hour event.

Another hectic wet-dry race would see the field mixed up with the #23 FastMD Racing Audi RS3 LMS of James Vance and Nick Galante take the class victory, their first of the season, after storming from 8th.  The championship leading #98 car would fall to finish 4th in class, and see their points advantage reduced to a mere five points as the sister #21 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai would come home second, the car’s third straight podium finish.  The #54 JDC-Miller Audi RS3 LMS would grab the third, their second podium finish in the last three races.

With two races remaining in the 2019 season, the championship standings are as followed:

#98 Bryan Herta Autosport Hynundai Veloster N (224)

#21 Bryan Herta Autosport Hynundai Veloster N (219)

#37 LA Honda World Racing Honda Civic Type R (215)

#61 Rowe Racing Audi RS3 LMS (207)

#84 Atlanta Speedwerks Honda Civic Type R (200)

The Michelin Pilot Challenge series will next be in action on Saturday September 14th at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the penultimate round of the 2019 season.

(featured image courtest of IMSA / Galstad)

TCR Talk Review: 2019 Michelin Pilot Challenge at Road America

A 1 hour, 40 minute rain delay shortened the 2019 edition of the Michelin Pilot Challenge Road America 120 to just 75 minutes in length, but a wet-dry-wet race threw the teams and fans plenty of action and curve balls.

Starting on dry tires on a wet, but drying track, Chad Gilsinger fought through the field from 12th position tp eventually take the lead before handing the car over to co-driver Ryan Eversley.  The team kept Gilsinger out longer on his stint as they waited for rain to return, making the decision to do a one-stop pit strategy.  It looked like the strategy would work out as the rain returned and Gilsinger pitted, swapping dry tires for wets and sticking Eversley in the driver’s seat.  It was all for naught however, as waiting to pit cost Eversley to miss the minimum drive time by a mere 8 seconds.  Despite crossing the finish line first, the #89 HART Honda Civic Type R would be sent to the back of the grid due to this penalty, handing the victory to the #21 Bryan Herta Autosport Hynundai Veloster.

The #37 LA Honda World Honda Civic Type R would be promoted to second place with the #61 Roadshagger Audi RS3 LMS inheriting 3rd.

Michelin Pilot Challenge will return to action at the end of the month, August 23rd – 25th at Virginia International Raceway.

(image courtesy of IMSA / Galstad)

TCR Talk Review: 2019 Michelin Pilot Challenge at Watkins Glen


Michael Lewis put the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Veloster on pole with a time of 1:56.888, nearly a half second faster than the #54 JDC Miller Audi RS3 LMS DSG of Michael Johnson.  Jay Salinsky and the #23 FAST MD Racing Audi RS3 LMS DSG was third quickest as the teams prepped for the 4-hour race.


The #73 LA Honda World Racing Honda Civic Type R TCR of Mike LaMarra and Matt Pombo took the victory after skating home in the rain on slick tires.  This was the third victory for a LA Honda World car this season after the sister #37 machine won the opening two rounds.  The pole-sitting #98 Hyundai would come home second with the #61 Roadshagger Racing by Audi RS3 LMS DSG of Gavin Ernstone and Jonathan Morley third, the pair’s second-straight podium finish.

With 35 minutes left in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Watkins Glen, it was hard to imagine the Honda Civic of Matt Pombo and Mike La Marra would salvage a finish in the TCR class.

Pombo became a victim of the rain on slick tyres, skating into the Turn 11 barriers alongside a GS car to bring out a full course yellow. Running second at the time, Pombo was able to hold the position and continue on before restarting with around 15 minutes left.

Not having changed tyres, the Honda suffered early on the restart and Pombo watched the Hyundai Veloster N driven by Mark Wilkins pull away on wet tyres. But the track dried, and conditions came back to favour the Honda. After trailing the Hyundai by more than five seconds, Pombo captured the lead and sped off to an impressive 21-second victory.

Wilkins and co-driver Michael Lewis – the polesitter for the race – finished second, while sneaking into third, earning their second straight podium finish was the Audi RS 3 LMS of Gavin Ernstone and Jonathan Morley.

The tyres – especially the front left ones – were a decisive factor in the 4-hour race. After a blown tyre forced the championship-leading Honda of Tom O’Gorman and Shelby Blackstock to start from the back of the grid after a crash in Qualifying, a series of flat tyres resulted in incidents during the race.

Three Honda cars crashed at the very same corner: Matt Mullan’s, Chad Gilsinger’s and Todd Lamb’s; only the latter was able to rejoin. Michael Johnson’s Audi too was a victim and collected the other Audi of Nick Galante. The O’Gorman-Blackstock Honda crashed again but rejoined to finish fifth and so its drivers retained the lead in the standings, eight points clear of Lewis-Wilkins.

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta of Tim Lewis and Roy Block was classified sixth after fighting for the lead during the first two hours.

The #37 LA Honda World Racing Honda Civic still sits atop the championship standings with 122 points with the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai second with 114.  The #12 Rowe Racing Audi sits third with 107, just ahead of their team #61 car with 104.

The Michelin Pilot Challenge series is next in action at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario on Saturday July 6th @ 1:45pm ET with the race streaming live on IMSA.TV.

An IMSA, SRO America, and CTCC-backed TCR North America Cup? An Idea:

(image credit: TC America)

TCR has been taking over the racing world since its launch in 2015 and the popularity we see in Europe and Asia is starting to spread across the oceans to North America. Three main series feature TCR machines here in the States – IMSA’s Michelin Pilot Challenge, SRO America’s TC America, and the Canadian Touring Car Championship.

With all three TCR grids being on the smaller side (by that I mean not enough cars to run on their own) all series run multi-class with GT4 or lower-level touring cars spread throughout the grid, something that makes the North American series unique, but also goes against the traditional TCR format we see with WTCR, TCR Europe, or TCR Germany.

I’ve often called for a true TCR North America championship to be established (which IMSA holds the license to) for a few reasons: 1) That’s my preference as TCR single-class racing is fantastic and when it’s paired with GT4, TCA or other classes, it often gets overlooked when the battles on track are worthy of full-race coverage on their own. 2) The three North American series that have TCR all have small grids individually that could not support the class on their own.

TC America attempted to run TCR on their own starting this season, but that idea was squashed by WSC due to the previously mentioned IMSA license. Now if IMSA, SRO America, and CTCC could work together to form a sustainable and cost effective TCR North America championship, the grids would be robust while visiting some of the best and most diverse circuits on the continent.

While the scenario of the three series working together to form a TCR North America championship is admittedly a pipe dream, something that may be realistic (and a way to start a true TCR North America championship one day) would be to form an end-of-the-season “super weekend” that invites all North American-based TCR competitors together for a three-race TCR North American Cup.

Put politics aside and bringing the three grids together at the end of September or early October would be a fun and strong way to end the season while giving the drivers and teams something a little extra to strive towards.

Use WSC-based BoP, slap on a set of spec tires (Michelin or Pirelli), have a rotating circuit each year and let them go at it over two or three 40 minute races to find the North American TCR Cup champion. For example the 2020 TCR North America Cup could be at Laguna Seca, 2021 could be at Mont Tremblant, 2022 at Road Atlanta, and so on.

With a decent prize and rewards purse, this could easily turn into the premier touring car weekend and really help jump start the category in North America. And who knows, maybe it could be the foundation of a true championship similar to how TCR Europe has progressed (although different circumstances with FIA WTCC helped there).

TCR is a fantastic format but one that has not truly been shown off in North America. Starting a TCR North American Cup weekend could be the spark it needs.