Four M4 GT4s battled for position near the front of the pack just before the end of the four-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season opener at Daytona on January 29. In the end, Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley in the Turner M4s, Mike Skeen in the BimmerWorld M4, and Greg Liefooghe in the Stephen Cameron Racing M4 finished second through fifth, with Auberlen in the #95 Turner M4 GT4 finishing just over a second behind Kuno Wittmer in the winning McLaren.
While the BMWs ran on the tail of the McLaren, a well-timed pit stop early in the final hour and an astute restart after the final caution period with just five minutes remaining in the race kept Wittmer, who had started from the pole, just out of the reach of the BMWs.
The #95 Turner car that Auberlen shared with Dillon Machavern was the strongest in a strong pack of M4 GT4s, recovering from a setback on the first pit stop to move into the overall lead with three hours remaining in the race. Machavern drove the first 2 ¼ hours, and Auberlen took over for the final 1 ¾. Both drivers led the race often on their stints.
The fifth M4 GT4 in the race, the #37 FraSun Racing entry driven by Mark Sundberg and Jason Fraser ran as high as second late in the race. It finished fifteenth after making a late stop for fuel. It was a strong performance for the team on its’ series debut.
The other four M4 GT4s, the #95 Auberlen/Machavern car, the #96 Foley/Vin Barletta car, the #82 Skeen/James Clay/Nick Galante car, and the #43 Liefooghe/Sean Quinlan car, all looked like potential winners near the end, with each of the four in turn setting the fastest lap of the race with about eleven minutes left as they battled for position.
Auberlen tried to chase down Wittmer after the final yellow, holding on to second. Foley in #96 squeezed by Skeen in #82 just before the two cars reached the finish line, and Liefooghe finished just behind Skeen in fourth.
The IMSA radio team awarded car #96 and Robby Foley its Michelin Moment of the Race Award “for last lap side drafting into the tri-oval to capture third and a podium spot.”
If the riveting season opener was any indication, the Michelin Pilot Challenge should offer ample drama for racing fans in 2021. The action resumes at Sebring in March.—Brian Morgan
[Photo of M4 GT4s courtesy Jon van Woerden. Photo of Nanci Maloney memorial courtesy BimmerWorld.]