LEXINGTON, Ohio (WCMH) – The favorites coming into Sunday’s IMSA race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course may have a battle on their hands.

After winning the Acura Sports Car Challenge in each of the past three years, the two Acura DPi prototypes in the field have to settle with second and third on the starting grid after a Mazda blazed a new track record.

Mazda Motorsports driver Harry Tincknell set a DPi Mid-Ohio lap record in Saturday’s qualifying session, completing the 2.258-mile, 13-turn Morrow County road course in barely 70 seconds: 1:10.027.

The Englishman’s first career WeatherTech SportsCar Championship pole broke the previous DPi track record, 1:10.705, set two years ago, by more than seven-tenths of a second.

“To be honest, the unexpected ones always feel better,” Tincknell told reporters afterward. “I really didn’t expect that going into qualifying.”

The two Acura DPi cars, fielded by points-leading Wayne Taylor Racing and Pataskala-based Meyer Shank Racing, qualified second and third, respectively, with Felipe Albuquerque’s lap of 1:10.122 and Dane Cameron’s 1:10.355.

WTR and MSR took over Acura’s DPi efforts from Team Penske at the beginning of the season. With Penske, WTR co-driver Ricky Taylor won Mid-Ohio last year and MSR’s Cameron won in 2019.

MSR has never won an WeatherTech Championship race at its home track in 21 tries among multiple vehicle classes dating back to 2004.

“I think it’s all there for the taking right now,” Cameron told reporters last week.

Sunday’s 2-hour, 40-minute race will be the first sprint race in this young season, after the 24 Hours of Daytona in January and the 12 Hours of Sebring in March.

The DPi cars are the fastest of the three classes racing this weekend. Their prototype cousins, the LMP3 class, are second-fastest, and the GTD sedans/coupes are third-fastest. The drivers who qualified will start the race and their co-drivers will take over during a pit stop.

All six DPi cars on Saturday qualified within nine-tenths of a second of each other, as former Formula One driver Kevin Magnussen earned sixth position with a lap of 1:10.934.

In LMP3, the No. 74 Riley Motorsports car took class pole with a time of 1:17.246.

Locals struggle, shine in GTD qualifying

The GTDs, though, kicked off qualifying with an exciting last-lap grab of pole position when Aaron Telitz ran the session’s fastest time on his final lap. His time of 1:20.529 seconds beat second place by just 0.006 seconds and put the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus on class pole.

“Mid-Ohio’s got a lot of high-speed and medium-speed corners and that’s kind of what the Lexus likes most,” Telitz told reporters. A Lexus won GTD the past three years at Mid-Ohio.

“So just the fact that there’s only I think two really slow corners here at this track really helps us. And it flows a lot, the sections flow together.”

Mid-Ohio track layout
The 2.258-mile layout of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. (Will Pittenger/Wikimedia Commons)

“Obviously hoping for a clean start being on pole position,” Telitz added. “And then it’s all about track position here at Mid-Ohio. Tough to make passes on track.”

The GTD class features a number of Ohio connections for local fans to follow on Sunday. Stockdale native Zach Veach will co-drive the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus; Centerville native Bryan Sellers will co-drive the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini; and Batavia-based team Wright Motorsports will field its No. 16 Porsche.

Veach’s teammate Frankie Montecalvo qualified the No. 12 in class fourth position, while Sellers’ teammate Madison Snow qualified the No. 1 in fifth.

Wright Motorsports currently leads the GTD class championship points standings, but “an aggressive change” before qualifying fated co-driver Ryan Hardwick to an 11th-place effort (of 13 cars).

Co-driver Patrick Long took top position in a post-qualifying GTD points session, though, proving the car’s speed. He told reporters he’s not worried about the starting position.

“(Ryan is) a fierce competitor and understands that this is as much a mental game as anything,” Long said. “We’re just going to have to stay clean. It’s going to be a very, very dicey race with multiple classes. It’s very dirty offline, so it’s hard to make passes. There’s going to be a lack of patience between different classes.”

“Plenty to play for, lots of racing strategy, at least two (pit) stops,” Long added, “So, we’re feeling okay. Starting position isn’t a big deal.”

Veach was second in the GTD points session and Sellers was 13th. To keep track of who’s who on Sunday, click the link to view IMSA’s spotter guide here.

What to know at the track

Sunday’s race is from 2:40-5:20 p.m. and tickets are only available online. Mid-Ohio’s web of grassy viewing mounds around the 380-acre property allow for tens of thousands of spectators to set up chairs.

Mid-Ohio asked the state health department in March for 24,000 fans before Ohio’s 30% capacity limit on sports crowds lifted. Track president Craig Rust told NBC4 last week “we expect a few more people” now that the cap is lifted. An official attendance estimate has not been released.

The track’s COVID-19 protocols for attendees include mandatory mask-wearing (indoors and outdoors) and social distancing of six feet. Review all health guidelines here.

Fans at Sunday’s race will be greeted with perfect racing weather, as the forecast for Lexington shows partly cloudy skies, a slight breeze and high temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s.

Sunday’s track schedule:

  • 9-9:20 a.m.: WeatherTech Championship warmup
  • 9:40-11:25 a.m.: Prototype Challenge race
  • 11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: MX-5 Cup race 2
  • 12:40-1:00 p.m.: Parade laps
  • 2:40-5:20 p.m.: WeatherTech Championship race (TV: NBC Sports Network)