Overall podium for Sheena Monk in Michelin Pilot Challenge at Lime Rock Park
After an unlucky start of the season, a positive trend is picking up pace for the #877 PF Racing Ford Mustang in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge: with a great race at Lime Rock Park, Sheena Monk claimed her first overall podium of the season - her third in the series.
After a 2021 season full of positives, Sheena Monk's third year in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge was off to a bumpy start. Having switched from McLaren machinery to the Toyota Supra GT4, a huge shunt at Sebring for teammate Kyle Marcelli - luckily with no consequences for the driver - was a difficult moment for their season. With now an unrepairable car, the drivers elected to move to the PF Racing-operated Ford Mustang GT4, always with support from JG Wentworth. After a few rounds of adaptation, Monk and Marcelli were back in the top ten at Mid Ohio and aimed to keep the positive trend. Bad luck and a few technical hiccups prevented Monk/Marcelli to get closer to the top five; braking issues hampered their weekend at Watkins Glen, but the team found a solution for Mosport, where Monk qualified in P10 overall at her first ever outing at the Canadian track. A ninth place in the race further confirmed their upward trend, but it would be Lime Rock Park that finally brought Sheena Monk and Kyle Marcelli where they belong - fighting at the top of the GS class.
“The weekend at Lime Rock was a bit of a rollercoaster", Sheena told us. "The first session was quite promising but as track conditions changed throughout the day on Friday, I struggled for feeling and confidence during the later parts of the afternoon. We debated the setup and by race time on Saturday, the car was back in the window again." The young American lady had qualified in P14, with John Dubets taking pole position in the #28 RS1 Porsche 718 GT4 from the Riley Motorsports' Supra and the #56 Murillo Racing Porsche of Koch/Foss.
Dubets retained the lead in the early stages of the race, with the Toyota of Najri dropping to third, behind the Murillo Racing Mercedes driven by Kenton Koch in the first stint. Sheena Monk took the start in the #877 Ford Mustang and had a good getaway, passing McCan and moving into 11th position. There was drama for the Turner Motorsports' BMW of AMachavern/Auberlen, who were soon one lap down after an issue at the start. Positions settled in the first minutes, until the first caution of the race with 1 hour and 27 minutes to go: Pesek (PF Racing Mustang) was tagged by the #59 Kohr Motorsports Ford of Michaelian and made heavy contact with the barriers. The Safety Car was out and shuffled the order, as Kenny Murillo (#72 Murillo Racing Mercedes) opted to stay out when most of the teams pitted. After a solid stint, Sheena Monk pitted and handed over to Kyle Marcelli, who rejoined the track just outside the top ten and soon showed great pace once the race went back to green. Stevan McAleer (RS1 Porsche) claimed the lead with a good pass on Murillo and opened a gap as the battle for second heated up. A second Safety Car, though, would further change the order in the overall classification: the #46 TGM Porsche of Plumb was hit by the Murillo Mercedes driven by Eric Foss and went into the barriers, triggering a lengthy neutralization. Kyle Marcelli - who was navigating through the field at impressive pace and had climbed to third - found himself into the lead on lap 66, when the leading duo pitted for their final stop. The race went back to green with 33 minutes left on the clock and the #877 JG Wentworth Racing Ford Mustang held the lead in the hands of Kyle Marcelli, ahead of Tim Probert (Murillo Racing) and Mike Skeen. An outstanding battle from third all the way down to tenth in GS gave Marcelli a bit of breathing space and the Canadian enjoyed a few second margin until 17 minutes to go. The Rebel Rock Racing Camaro of Robin Liddell, though, was climbing the order and hunted down Marcelli for several laps before neutralizing the gap. Making the most out of the lapped Porsche of Davis with 12 minutes to go, Liddell made a first move stick for the lead - but Marcelli fought back. After a stunning battle - that had also brought the Mustang of Billy Johnson and the Volt Racing Aston Martin of Trent Hindman in the mix - Marcelli, struggling for tyres, had to give up first place. The #7 Volt Racing Aston Martin also made its way past, but Marcelli was then able to defend third and, after 114 laps around the 1.530 mile long Lime Rock Park circuit, he could bring the #877 Ford Mustang home in third place. It was his and Sheena Monk's first podium as driver pairing - and Monk's first podium since Watkins Glen 2021. The 33 year-old American has now scored at least one overall podium in all the seasons she has entered so far in the championship. After an overall unlucky start of the season, Monk and Marcelli now sit 15th in the drivers' standings with three rounds to go - and will aim to keep momentum coming into Road America.
"I was able to charge for a few positions on the start and manage pressure from cars behind during my stint" - Monk explained. "A clever pit strategy by the team and Kyle’s precision allowed us to capitalize in the end.” "This season has been difficult but I’m proud of the perseverance from everyone involved to finally bring home a podium finish", she added. "Thank you to Kyle Marcelli for the monster drive, JG Wentworth for allowing us to do what we love, and Ford Performance and PF Racing for the wickedly fun race car." IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge is scheduled to return to the track on August 5/7 at Road America.