DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The intense, action-packed racing that fans witnessed in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season opener was a welcome return from the offseason and a thrilling way to kick off the series’ 10-week calendar.
Nine of the 13 manufacturers competing in the Pilot Challenge led the race between the series’ two classes – Grand Sport and TCR – and the one manufacturer to lead laps in both categories was Audi.
Particularly in the GS class, if the racing at Daytona Int’l Speedway three weeks ago was any indication, this season has the potential to be explosive for Audi and for the No. 39 Carbahn Motorsports Audi R8 GT4 of Tyler McQuarrie and Jeff Westphal.
“Coming into this year having Michelin on board, I think, was the perfect addition to our team and what our car really needed,” said McQuarrie. “We always struggled for rear grip last year, so it really livened up our car a lot. We’ve done a lot of work in the offseason to get our car working better.”
It definitely showed at Daytona, with the No. 39 Audi in the top five for the majority of the race and even leading laps towards the end of the four-hour enduro. However, a fuel shortage in the closing laps would drop the car down the leaderboard, relegating the team to a 16th-place finish after a promising start.
“There was a period in the middle of the race where we got off sequence with the rest of the group and we knew it was going to create an issue towards the end of the race,” explained McQuarrie. “We were hoping for a caution right at the end and sure enough a caution came, but it was a short yellow. If that caution would’ve lasted one more lap, we would’ve been good.”
Don’t get them wrong, the result was disappointing. However, the team is choosing to focus on the positives as they prepare for the remainder of the year.
“It was defeating because we had such a good weekend,” said McQuarrie. “Every practice we were up front, every qualifying we were up front, the race we were even better. To stumble on fuel on the last lap was just defeating.
“But there’s tons of positives to take out of the weekend and I think our car is even better this year. Last year, our car was just good everywhere. We didn’t have any bad tracks, but we didn’t have any great tracks. I think this year with the work that we’ve done with the car and having Michelin on board, I think we’re going to have some great tracks. We walked out of there feeling confident about the rest of the year.”
Perhaps another source of confidence for the No. 39 crew is that it is one of only a handful of teams in the paddock to return unchanged from 2018. With the influx of new teams and drivers in the Pilot Challenge for 2019, familiarity and consistency will be an advantage to those who have it.
“We’re pretty fortunate that we’ve worked with each other even prior to the last year,” McQuarrie said. “Jeff and I have known each other a long time and raced with each other. We’ve both worked with (Team Owner) Steve Dinan in years past, so we’re all familiar with each other, but the car was new to us. There were some crew members that were new to us, so last year was definitely a building year for what we kind of called a ‘new team.’
“Any time you can come and not change any of those key variables is going to be an advantage. We’re fortunate that we have team owners that believe in keeping all those variables in place and that was the only reason we were able to do it. Those teams that don’t really have a choice and sometimes need to bring in other drivers that have funding, you’re changing a variable and it’s going to take them some time. It definitely gives us a leg up on the competition coming back with all those pieces in place.”
McQuarrie emphasized how support from Carbahn Motorsports’ leadership is what drives his and Westphal’s performance at track, hoping to deliver results to those back the team.
“We want race wins, we want the success,” said McQuarrie, who with Westphal recorded one podium at four other top-five finishes in 2018. “I want to be able to go to every track and have good practice sessions, have good qualifying sessions, good races. But the results are really what are the best way for me and Jeff to thank the team, to thank the owners. Just giving them the trophies is the best way to thank them.”
Their next opportunity for a trophy will be the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 at Sebring Int’l Raceway on March 15.
“I love Sebring as a track and I know Jeff does too,” said McQuarrie. “Looking back at Daytona, we were the quickest in the infield or one of the quickest. You look at Sebring and it’s so tight and handling is so important there. We’ve done a lot of work on our shocks to get better on the bumps compared to where we were last year. I’m feeling pretty optimistic about Sebring and I think we definitely have a good shot to be running up front and getting on the podium.”