IWSC: Pre-Roar Test Power Rankings: Prototype Challenge

Photo Credit: IMSA

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As OnPitRoad.com continues its look ahead to the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, my focus now shifts to the Prototype Challenge category, which sees very little change in the main storyline: a battle between CORE autosport versus the rest of the field. Despite noted improvement from PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports in 2015, CORE led by the talents of Colin Braun, claimed yet another PC championship. In terms of the future of the PC division, it appears that for now the class will stick to the tried and true ORECA FLM09 open top chassis, coupled with the Katech-designed Chevrolet V-8 engine. There will be however, one notable change to the cars in 2016, as they will be equipped with traction control for the first time. Although not necessarily a major concern, the absence of the assist system was made clear at the rain-affected Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta finale last season, when the PC entrants struggled to stay on course. The carnage in Georgia, greatly influenced the decision.

Also, it appears that there will not be a changeover to the relatively new LMP3 prototype option for the division, until at least 2018 as the interest in the new car type has yet to gain a following in North America, as opposed to the large list of supporters it has earned in the European Le Mans Series, where not only several teams have signed on for 2016, but unlike in IMSA’s PC division, there will also be chassis competition.

With the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona open test just days away, here’s how my preseason rankings for the PC class currently stand entering 2016.

  1. CORE autosport: Until the breakthrough of PR1’s Tom Kimber-Smith last season, Colin Braun seemingly had no equal in the PC division, still even with potential roadblock the Jon Bennett-owned squad claimed yet another title and enter 2016 as the clear favorite in a division that for the most part sees very little change in the players involved. Outside of Braun, team boss Bennett took several positive steps forward in 2015 in terms of driving and the rest of the lineup for Daytona was bolstered by the return of Mark Wilkins and the addition of IndyCar semi-regular Martin Plowman. Although several teams have reloaded during silly season, CORE has to be placed on top of the pile entering the new year.
  2. Starworks Motorsport: After taking steps backward in 2015, expect Peter Baron’s squad to recapture its position as the most likely team to dethrone CORE in the race for the 2016 title. Things got off to a rough start for Starworks at Daytona last year beginning with an opening hour spin by Renger van der Zande and spiraling downward from that point on. The aggressively quick van der Zande returns in 2016, as does Alex Popow. With Paul Gentilozzi no longer in the PC division, Starworks have also added Chris Cumming and Jack Hawksworth to its primary car driver roster. Baron has a second car online for Daytona, but the initial roster which includes Mark Kvamme, Sean Johnston, and Marc Engel is not as promising as the primary car.
  3. PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports: The best of the rest behind CORE sees a major revamp for 2016. Bobby Oergel’s squad had initially planned to jump up to the prototype division with the Honda ARX-04b coupe, however after taking delivery of the car the team changed their mind and elected to remain in the PC category. The move may have cost them the services of talented amateur Mike Guasch, however team leader Tom Kimber-Smith is back for another season. However, the supporting cast this time around is more of an unknown quantity. None of Kimber-Smith’s three co-drivers for Daytona: Robert Alon, Jose Gutierrez, and Nick Boulle have much in terms of previous sports car or PC experience. So a strong performance out of the box at the Rolex 24 at Daytona could be too much to expect. Despite that concern, expect PR1 to once again find their way into the winner’s circle in 2016.
  4. Performance Tech Motorsports: Brent O’Neill’s team took major strides forward in 2015, yet still could not grab the brass ring in terms of victories. Like with PR1, the scenario has changed a bit for Performance Tech. There is a limited chance at Daytona the team could feature Conor Daly, but his role in the team will be limited, as he has joined IndyCar full time in 2016. However, the ever-improving James French is expected to return to the fold. The squad is not the best that PC has to offer, but it will be in position should any of the top dogs falter.
  5. JDC-Miller Motorsports: John Church’s club also made several steps in the right direction last season, culminating in their first ever TOTAL Pole Award at Lime Rock. Beyond that however, results were still hard to come by. Canadian prospect Mikhail Goikhberg returns for his second full season, with Chris Miller joining him for at least the North American Endurance Cup rounds. Stephan Simpson is also expected to rejoin the team, but in a more limited role as he shifts his focus to team ownership in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series. The presence of Prototype Lites star Kenton Koch may also provide a boost for Daytona. The question is can this squad become a regular threat for podiums and wins now as it enters its third season? The jury is still out.
  6. BAR1 Motorsport: Four seasons ago in the American Le Mans Series, no team was on a bigger roll than Brian Adler’s group, however in the years since, the team has slowly faded from a contending position to simply also-ran status. Not much change is on the cards entering 2016, despite Adler’s plan to re-expand to two cars full-time. Expect Johnny Mowlem and Ryan Eversley to be the lead drivers for the two entries respectively, with a key focus on Mowlem who did manage to put the BAR1 entry on the pole at Daytona last year.

Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for further pre-season power ranking lists, as the interest shifts to the grand touring divisions on Thursday.