Brilliant performance for Sheena Monk at Road America
"We just are on a very good trajectory right now and I'm getting significantly more comfortable with the car." - with a brilliant performance in the 4-hour Road America race, Sheena Monk and Kyle Marcelli brought the #877 JG Wentworth Racing Mustang to P6 after a mid-race contact.
Her season was off to a challenging start but, in the second part of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge championship, Sheena Monk is really building momentum and, as she better learned the new car, she has shown some great speed at the wheel of the #877 JG Wentworth Racing Mustang. Despite losing a few potential podiums to bad luck, Monk and her co-driver Kyle Marcelli continued to get increasingly closer to the top three and finally achieved that result last time out at Lime Rock Park, where Monk returned to the third step of the podium after Watkins Glen last year. The eighth round of the IMPC - and second four-hour race of the season - was contested at one of North America's most iconic racing venues: Road America. The 4.048-mile track has been friendly territory for Sheena Monk in the past, as the young American clinched her first win in the series at the Wisconsin-based circuit in 2020. And she delivered once again, with a brilliant performance in the Road America 240 event on Saturday. Monk/Marcelli had a strong run in practice, where they finished P4 in the opening session, before they qualified in P15 for the race. 16-year-old Luca Mars (Kohr Motorsports Mustang) claimed his first pole position and preceded Kenton Koch (Murillo Racing Mercedes) and Kohr teammate Billy Johnson. In a rather clean start for both the GS and TCR fields, Mars led into Turn 1; Monk had a great getaway and gained one position in the opening lap, before she attacked and passed the Hardpoint Porsche of McAlister and the sister PF Racing car of Pesek, climbing to 12th place. The first stages of the race, though, turned out to be quite troubled, with several incidents and Full Course Yellows to disrupt the action. The first caution was brought out by the #71 Rebel Rock Racing Chevrolet Camaro of DePew, who made heavy contact with the barriers. A second FCY was deployed soon after the restart, following a big crash at the Kink corner for the #9 Porsche of Owen and the Road Shagger Racing Audi TCR entry.
Meanwhile, Monk had managed to further climb the order and moved up to eighth place overall; having pitted during the first caution, the driver of the #877 Mustang gained two more places when the leaders pitted. The restart was once again hectic: there was contact between Kenny Murillo and Matt Plumb and Monk seized the opportunity and grabbed fourth place. Another neutralization occurred when the #59 Mustang of Michaelian was tagged by the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 driven by Barletta, resulting in a big crash under the bridge. When the green flag waved again, almost 2 hours into the race, Monkl made a brilliant move for third place on the Volt Aston Martin driven by Alan Brynjolfsson, then chased the overall leaders Koch and Plumb. Sheena Monk continued her impressive run with great defensive driving in the following laps, when Brynjolfsson tried to fight back. Unfortunately, the Aston Martin ended up making contact with Monk's #877 Mustang, as the young lady was pushed off track and got beached in the gravel. While it seemed it was game over for the JG Wentworth Racing's crew, Monk managed to get out of the gravel trap on her own and returned to pit road without losing a lap, while the race went back to FCY. Despite some damage to the rear of the car, Kyle Marcelli got behind the wheel and could resume the race - this time having to charge back from P24 overall and 15th in GS class. Brynjolfsson received a drive through penalty for the contact. Finally in a lengthier green-flag period, Marcelli was protagonist of an equally-strong second part of the race and, with great pace, he was soon back in the overall top-ten. The Canadian made up position after position and, after the fourth round of pit stops, he would settle in eighth place. With one hour to go, Koch led the race from Skeen and Dubets. After a pit lane incident between front runners Dubets and a spin on cold tyres by Plumb, the two dropped down and Kyle Marcelli - who had completed his final stop on lap 68 - moved into P5. Meanwhile, the #66 Kelly Moss Porsche of Udell had gambled on the fuel strategy and was out in the lead having not refuelled.
As the clock ticked down, Udell knew he would have to stop again for a splash and dash, unless for a long caution. The Full Course Yellow eventually did come out with 34 minutes to go, when the #65 Murillo Mercedes of Probert crashed. The #21 Riley Motorsports Mercedes driven by Scott Andrews then lost a wheel under Safety Car conditions, which played in favour of the leader as the caution was extended. The race went back to green with 10 minutes to go and Kyle Marcelli had a great restart; he battled for third place but, in the final minutes, he was overtaken on the main straight by the Aston of the recovery Trent Hindman and dropped to sixth. Now running on fumes, the Kelly Moss Porsche was passed by Kenton Koch for the overall lead, with Liefooghe (Stephen Cameron Racing BMW) also snatching second. Despite a car that, after the contact, wasn't in its best condition, Kyle Marcelli crossed the finish line in sixth position, gaining plenty of valuable points for the championship. Sheena Monk/Kyle Marcelli are in fact climbing the drivers' standings and are now sitting 12th in the points after another very positive weekend. Monk's extraordinary first stint - and save from the gravel trap - was certainly one of the highlights from the Road America 240. "I'm usually the most critical person of a performance, and I tend to struggle with finding the silver linings sometimes" - Monk told us. "But I must say that I was extremely proud of everyone on the team for the performance of the #877 JG Wentworth Mustang on Saturday." "Everyone showed a ton of fight and no quit whatsoever, despite the really difficult circumstances and the way the race unfolded", she continued. "I was picking up some places and moving the car forward - and adversity struck. We had the car in the stones, and I was able to get freed out. But overall the strategy and the persistence of every single person on the crew just allowed us to continue - despite some pretty heavy contact." "Mechanically, the car was sound but there were some things that didn't feel 100% after the hit", she recalled. "It's just the testament of how the car is built that we were able to continue after something so big." "Kyle was still able to keep pushing and moving the car forward. It was one weekend when we can keep our chin up, and we can keep building from where we are. We just are on a very good trajectory right now and I'm getting significantly more comfortable with the car." Next up is the ninth and penultimate round of the IMPC season for Sheena Monk, who will head to VIRginia International Raceway on 26/28 August. Eighth in last year's race, Monk aims for another solid result to continue the positive trend.