GT Daytona McLaren 720S GT3
- Corey Fergus
- Paul Holton
Strong start to season thwarted in early going
Daytona Beach, FL — Compass Racing started the 2020 IMSA Sprint Cup Championship off with aplomb at Daytona International Speedway, with Corey Fergus taking the team’s No. 76 Richard Mille McLaren 720S GT3 to pole position in qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
With a compressed weekend schedule — which ran under strict protocols to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus that caused the cancellation of racing from mid-March to this weekend's July 4th restart — it was important to arrive with a car that was ready to race right off the trailer. The team certainly did that, having moved its essential Canadian crew from Toronto to Miami in June. “We rented a satellite shop and a condo in Miami for our lead guys, to give us a base in Florida for the first three races this year,” noted Team Owner Jill Beck. “They had all the resources to get the job done to show how much progress we made on the 720S GT3 in winter testing, and they sure did that!” Fergus and co-driver Paul Holton were second-fastest in FP2, with Fergus going one better in a nail-biting qualifying session which saw the Compass McLaren trade fast times with one of the AVS Lexus cars. Fergus eventually came out on top, just 0.07 seconds faster with a time of 1.47.015.
“The car was absolutely perfect for those two hot laps,” remarked Fergus. “The McLaren is, by far, the best car I’ve ever raced.”
Hopes were high for a good result and a repeat of the team’s four professional Daytona wins (in 2018 with McLaren, 2017 with Audi, 2010 with Honda and 2007 with Acura in Michelin Pilot Challenge), but they were dashed on the trip down pit lane for the recon lap. Fergus stopped at pit-out with a fuel-pressure issue, which the crew quickly resolved, but not before the window to take the lap closed, which meant the No. 76 would start the race from pit lane. That would normally be enough of a penalty, dropping from first to last, but IMSA regulations state that a start from pit lane also requires a drive-through penalty on the first lap. “It’s a pretty egregious penalty for missing the recon lap, but those are the rules,” said Team Principal Karl Thomson. “We’d like IMSA to review this, as this penalty seems harsh compared to other in-race infractions. It put Corey nearly a lap down, and with the DPi leaders right behind on his out-lap.”
Without the opportunity to properly warm the tires (all other competitors had two laps prior to green to do so), Corey fought for the first few laps to build temperature whilst not losing time to the class leaders. Unfortunately, he spun heading on to the banking, which required a hard-reset of the car. This resulted in the No. 76 being a lap down, and without any yellow flags to bunch the field, it ended the chance for a result, with the McLaren being classified in 11th position at the checkered flag.
“We’re incredibly frustrated with the finish today, as we showed the 720S GT3 to be one of the cars to beat today,” fumed Thomson. “Paul and Corey drove their pants off, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the penalty. We definitely missed having Rob Boakes, our McLaren engineer, on site. He worked with us remotely from Woking, and whilst that felt very Formula 1-like, it’s just not the same as him being with us on the pit box.” “We wanted to show a better result for our new sponsors, Ebullition Brew Works and Omaze, who joined Richard Mille, AERO, the Torque Show and Race Day Foundation in our 2020 effort,” said Beck. “But we do have a wonderful collection of photos of our McLaren 720S GT3 — the only one racing in North America — on the high banks of Daytona. We’ll enjoy sharing those whilst we prepare for Sebring in a week-and-a-half where we will look to build on the strong pace we showed here.”
The second round of IMSA’s WeatherTech Sprint Cup at Sebring International Raceway takes place July 17th-18th and will be televised live on NBC Sports Network.