Watkins Glen Ahead For IMSA Road Warriors

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Watkins Glen Ahead
The IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship returns to Watkins Glen Int'l this weekend. (Dennis Bicksler photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen is a crown jewel of endurance racing.

With a history dating back to the late 1960s and a list of winners that includes some of the greatest road racers of all time, the annual six-hour battle on the 3.4-mile Watkins Glen International circuit is a bona fide big one.

On Sunday, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship returns for another six-hour battle at The Glen, beginning at 9:45 a.m. ET. The race, which also marks the third round of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup, will be televised on NBCSN beginning at 7 p.m. ET.

The list of previous Six Hours of The Glen winners reads like a motorsports “Who’s Who.”

Legendary names in road racing like Jacky Ickx, Mario Andretti, Brian Redman, Jo Siffert, Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood were among the winners in the first decade of the event.

The late ‘70s and early 1980s saw more legendary names – like Hans-Joachim Stuck, Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford, Derek Bell and Al Holbert – added to the Six Hours of The Glen’s winners list.

Beginning in September 1984 and running through the mid-‘90s, the race length changed to 500 kilometers, but still more legendary names – like Geoff Brabham, Chip Robinson and Juan Manuel Fangio II – were winners at The Glen.

The Six Hours returned in 1996 and, aside from 1998, has been run every year since.

Over the past 20 years, even more legends – like Scott Pruett, Bill Auberlen, Andy Lally, Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa – have pulled into victory lane after six grueling hours.

“Watkins Glen is, hands down, my favorite racetrack on the planet,” said Lally, a four-time Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen winner who will share the No. 44 Magnus Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 with John Potter and Spencer Pumpelly in the GT Daytona class on Sunday. “For me, it’s my home state. It’s where I grew up, not too far, and it is a special place for me, not only for endurance racing, but for NASCAR racing.

“I’ve raced prototypes and GT cars there, I’ve races open-wheel formula cars there and I’ve raced stock cars there. And every time, it’s always a battle. On the short course or the long course, for me, it just doesn’t get any better than Watkins Glen.”

To Lally’s point, the Watkins Glen Int’l circuit is another key contributor to the event’s prestige. Between 1948 and 1952, racing in Watkins Glen was done on a 6.6-mile course, utilizing streets and roads in and around the small village in the Finger Lakes region of Western New York.

The permanent road course began at its current location in 1956, and Watkins Glen hosted Formula 1 Grand Prix races for 20 years beginning in 1961.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has raced on the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen “short course” every year since 1986, and IndyCar also has raced there several times, which all adds to the mystique of “The Glen.”

“I think Watkins Glen is an amazing track,” said Juan Pablo Montoya, who heads into Sunday’s race riding a two-race WeatherTech Championship winning streak in the No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi with co-driver Dane Cameron. “It’s a really fast, flowing track and it really suits our cars.

“It’s tough. It’s one of the hardest races of endurance racing, because there’s so many fast corners. Physically, it’s very demanding and it makes it fun. It’s a place where you can push so hard.”

It’s also a place where Montoya has raced not only in the Acura DPi, but also in IndyCar and NASCAR, making him uniquely qualified to compare the experiences at The Glen.

“This (Acura DPi) is very close to the IndyCar,” Montoya said. “It’s actually shockingly close, how fast you can go, compared with the IndyCar. It’ll be interesting to see how much closer we get this year with the Michelins this year and the extra power. It should be at least two seconds a lap quicker than the last time we were there, so I don’t know.

“It’s going to make it a really, really brave place.”