Toyota stars Bubba Wallace, Corey Heim, and John Hunter Nemechek gained valuable road course experience, taking part in the Michelin Pilot Challenge season opener at Daytona.
Driving the Toyota GR Supra GT4 for Smooge Racing, Bubba Wallace, Corey Heim, and John Hunter Nemechek, tackled the season opener of the Michelin Pilot Challenge, the BMW M Endurance Challenge at Daytona International Speedway Friday. The team, struggling from issues with an early wheel failure, bounced back and finished thirteen overall, and gained valuable road course experience for the coming NASCAR season.
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Wallace, who has been outspoken about wanting to improve his road course racing, sent a message to a Toyota official during the 2023 NASCAR season. He asked for help with his road racing and the plans were set in motion. Driving a modified GR Supra, with a 450-horsepower twin turbo inline six with anti-lock brakes and traction control, worlds apart from the NASCAR stock-cars the trio are used to driving.
Bubba spoke to Marshall Pruett and shared his experiences before the race Friday.
Setbacks and Bounce Backs:
While the goal was to prepare for the many road courses on both the Craftsman Truck Series and Cup Series schedules. The team also wanted to have fun and compete. The first half of the race was far from fun. First, Wallace made contact with another car in the International Horseshoe section of the Daytona road course. With what was believed to be a cut tire, Wallace made his way to the pits where it was found to be a broken wheel.
The unique aspect of IMSA and endurance racing is the driver swaps on pit road. Teams practice the swaps during the weekend long practice session called the ROAR before the 24. Nemechek had made his way into the car, but struggled with the paddle shifters leaving the pits.
Corey Heim, the last driver to go, was experiencing the Daytona road course for the first time. Wallace and Nemechek, both raced the road course in the Cup Series in 2020, when it replaced Watkins Glen. Heim brought the Supra GT4 home in thirteen place, a respectable finish for the group, overcoming the problems early in the race.
What is the Michelin Pilot Challenge?
The Michelin Pilot Challenge, is a sports car championship consisting of two different classes. The GS, or Grand Sport, class consists of cars such as Toyota Supras, Ford Mustangs, Aston Martins, and Porsches. Engines are higher horsepower compared to their production variants with Balance of Performance, adding balast to even the field. The other class on track is the TCR, Touring Car, class. Consisting of Audis, BMWs, and Hyundais, these are modified race car variants of production four door sedans.
The Michelin Pilot Challenge will race ten races this season at tracks like Watkins Glen, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and other famed circuits across the United States. Races are two hours, with Daytona being a four hour race. The season opener, the BMW M Endurance Challenge, is popular with NASCAR drivers looking for road course experience. Last year, Zane Smith and Harrison Burton won the GS class, with Thorsport drivers Hailie Deegan and Ben Rhodes joining them on the podium.
The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge will travel to Sebring to race before the 12 Hours of Sebring, the weekend of March 13th-16th.
Both Bubba Wallace and John Hunter Nemechek will be back on track for the Busch Light Clash, with racing beginning February 3rd. Corey Heim next race will again be at Daytona, the NextEra Energy 250 on February 16th.