Race Weekend Central

TCR Class Ends In Controversy In Sebring

In the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 Thursday (March 16), KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering’s Tim Lewis Jr. and Roy Block claimed their first win of the year. It was far from a normal victory, though.

After the Hondas of LA Honda World Racing’s Mat Pombo and HART’s Steve Eich had contact while racing for the lead, Bryan Herta Autosport’s Robert Wickens assumed the lead in his Hyundai Elantra N TCR. Wickens had a pretty fast car, but Lewis had the advantage of a little more straight-line speed in his Alfa Romeo Giuletta TCR.

With 11 minutes remaining, Lewis got a run on Wickens on the run to turn 10. Lewis got the Alfa Romeo on Wickens’ inside, but Wickens was able to hold him off.

Lewis kept charging on Wickens’ side headed towards turn 13. However, at the same time, the full course caution came out due to two separate cars, Fast Track Racing’s Toby Grahovec and VGRT’s Karl Wittmer, stalling on course with separate mechanical problems.

Replays seemed to indicate that Wickens was in front of Lewis when the caution flew. In addition, Wickens’ Hyundai had an in-car camera pointed back towards Lewis’ Alfa Romeo. It did not appear that Lewis got any part of his car ahead of Wickens until after the caution was out.

Note that a double yellow flag, as shown in the clip, denotes a full course caution. It appears that Wickens was still just a little bit ahead when the yellow was displayed.

After a couple minutes of deliberation under the yellow, IMSA officials declared that Lewis was in the lead. The explanation given on the broadcast was that Lewis was “in the process of making the pass” on Wickens at the time of caution.

Needless to say, this whole explanation confused some people. Wickens was in that camp.

“I don’t think [we were completely] side-by-side,” Wickens said after the race. “To be honest, the visibility in these cars is quite challenging and I could see that he was close and wasn’t sure if I was exactly clear, so I left him some space and then I saw the flashing light [signifying a caution flag] in my car, so I lifted. And he proceeded to overtake me.”

Once the track was clear, Lewis was in front for the one-lap shootout to determine the winner. He was able to put the Grand Sport-class McLaren of Motorsports In Action’s Jesse Lazare between himself and Wickens in turn 1, while allowed Lewis to easily take the win by 1.671 seconds.

Afterwards, Lewis was completely confident that IMSA had made the correct call.

“I did [believe that I was in front],” Lewis told NBC Sports’ Hannah Newhouse in victory lane. “I knew where the disabled car was and…Robert [Wickens] and I were side-by-side for three corners, but I was watching the corner stations [to see if the yellow was out].”

Lewis was likely referring to Grahovec’s BMW that had stalled the previous lap between turns 15 and 16. Wittmer had pulled off at the end of pit straight on the very lap the yellow came out.

That said, he has absolutely nothing bad to say about Wickens. He enjoyed his race with the former INDYCAR racer.

“Robert [Wickens] drives flawlessly,” Lewis continued. “I was just waiting and waiting and waiting for the smallest of mistakes. That is what got us to the front.”

Ultimately, this decision from the officials will likely keep BHA team members up late at night for the next two months. Points-wide, the call only cost Wickens and teammate Harry Gottsacker 30 points. At the moment, it is only the difference between being in a three-way tie for the TCR points lead and being third. It could mean a lot more come October.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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Paula Brown

Hey love the Alfa article. They are great guys. So good at there jobs. One of the principal is my cousin Louis Milone TMG engineering. Smart as a whip. New car and a win. Crazy. I’m there number one fan. Yep our drivers are very good. Nice and humble. Hope you are an Alfa fan now. Go Alfa!! Paula

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