Wilkins & Lewis Return to the Watkins Glen; BHA Hyundai Duo Fighting for PWC Title This Weekend
Fast Glen circuit not suiting Hyundai i30 N cars just yet in TCR practice rounds
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Entering Friday’s first practice round for the TCR cars at Watkins Glen International, drivers Mark Wilkins and Michael Lewis weren’t sure what to expect with their race-winning Hyundai i30 N TCR cars in the Pirelli World Challenge season finale events, Round 11 and 12, at the famed road circuit.
Both Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian teammates had scored an impressive seven TCR race wins already this year with Lewis having a league-leading four victories and Wilkins with three triumphs in the first ten TCR events. But the historic Watkins Glen 3.4-mile circuit was a different animal for the two Hyundai pilots, as long straightaways had not been the car’s forte.
The Hyundai i30 N TCR has been a handling wizard in the corners all season, but the car’s straightaway speed was hampered recently with adjusted Balance of Performance (BoP) rankings. That new adjustment showed Friday in TCR practice runs.
Wilkins, in the No. 99 BHA Hyundai i30 N TCR, could manage only the fifth best time with a one minute, 59.105 seconds for an average speed of 101.92 miles per hour. And Lewis, only seven points from point leader Ryan Eversley in the TCR standings, was eighth at 1:59.782 for 101.29 m.p.h.
Fastest on the day was young J.T. Coupal at 1:57.977 and 102.89 m.p.h.
“Today wasn’t easy for our BHA Hyundai i30 N TCR team,” said Wilkins, currently third in the TCR points. “We are hurting on the straightaways right now. We have improved the cornering of the cars and we are trying to get the most out of the straight-line speed. The Watkins Glen track is a fast one and the car handles great right now. But we aren’t fast in straight line currently. We have some good ideas to improve the cars for Saturday and Sunday.”
Wilkins is a past Watkins Glen race winner in the prototype sports cars and knows the Glen circuit well. Look for the veteran Canadian racer to be a factor in the doubleheader races.
Lewis, the young Californian, has been on a roll lately with two wins and two runner-up finishes in the last four races at Portland and Utah. However, Michael admits some of the other TCR cars enjoy an advantage with their straightaway speeds.
“We were really down on the straight today,” said Lewis. “Our Hyundai i30 N TCR cars have been so strong all year that I was a little surprised that we were down on speed in certain areas of the track. But we have worked hard all year to get the cars performing very well and I can see our crew giving us stronger cars for the weekend. We are working hard right now to improve the cars for the two weekend races.”
Both Saturday and Sunday TCR events are 40-minute sprint races with Saturday’s contest featuring a rolling start and Sunday’s a popular standing start.
The Pirelli World Challenge TCR race on Saturday at Watkins Glen International is set for 3.00 p.m. EDT, with Sunday’s race starting at 3:25 p.m. EDT
Both of the Pirelli World Challenge TCR races can be viewed live on www.world-challenge.com and the World Challenge YouTube Channel.