The North American IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship concluded its 2023 season at the famed Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta this past weekend with the 26th running of the famous Petit Le Mans event claiming several champions throughout its multiple classes.
One of this year’s champions happens to be American race car driver, Mike Skeen, who claimed the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup alongside teammates Kenton Koch and Mikael Grenier behind the wheel of the #32 Korthoff Preston Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo.
Skeen sat down with GT-REPORT after Petit Le Mans to discuss how his title winning weekend went, next year’s plans, his extraordinarily busy month of September, and his sights on achieving Nürburgring success.
Petit Le Mans, what a race!? Record setting attendance with IMSA President John Doonan announcing attendance was up 22% over last year. Did you notice the increase in fans?
I didn’t get to explore the grounds on race day, but even from inside the race car you could tell the place was full. The fan walk before the race was certainly very busy. I heard multiple stories of fans camping in every little corner of the facility and how long it took just to drive around in traffic to the other side of the track. It’s great to see the enthusiasm IMSA fans are bringing to the events every race week.
Tell us about your race.
The race went very well for us overall. Qualifying didn’t go so well in mixed conditions on Friday, so we were starting a bit further back than we wanted to be. We also knew that we had to get up to the front to score good points at the 4 and 8-hour marks for the Michelin Endurance Championship. I was able to get a few spots on the track at the start and the first restart in the early laps, then the team made a great call to go off sequence to the other GTD cars when they first started pitting, which put us up towards the front. I was able to save enough fuel and maintain pace with the leaders so that we could keep this track position when the time came for us to pit. Fortunately, this strategy put us in the Top 3 consistently throughout the afternoon and we just started logging laps and trying to stay out of trouble. We were second at the 4-hour mark, which put us in good position for the championship. Kenton and Mikael did most of the laps in the middle of the day, and then I got back in just before sundown. I was able to keep the car up front and finish the 8-hour mark in first place, which gave us the lead in the Endurance Championship. Unfortunately, our strategy at this point to make sure we could secure those points put us in a position where we needed the race to stay green while the GTD field cycled through pit stops, but we got a yellow that moved us back quite a way. We worked our way back a little with Mikael in the car over the last two hours, but only made it back to P6. Not a terrible finish to the battle, but a great way to win the war.
Excellent segway and congratulations on winning the Michelin Endurance Cup! How does that feel for you to win an IMSA Championship?
It feels amazing to secure a championship in IMSA, especially in the GTD class. This field is so competitive and full of excellent teams and drivers. It was disappointing not to get a race win this year, but we lead 27% of the total laps in the endurance races this season, which was the most of any team.
In fact, the last three endurance championship winners did so without winning a race. It just goes to show what a high level of performance Korthoff Preston Motorsports as a team competed at all year long. We just couldn’t get the right luck at the end of the day to win some races. I’m still just as satisfied and happy to have been a helping hand in Mercedes winning the manufactures championship.
Where does this leave you for next year? Back with the team? Other plans for racing?
I am planning to be back in IMSA again next season–hopefully in GTD and the Michelin Pilot Challenge again if I can find a ride there. I did successfully get my Nordschleife Permit A following all the travel to Germany in September, so I hope to be back racing NLS and the N24 next season. Beyond that, I’m looking for opportunities in SRO and Trans-Am TA2 again to stay busy.
Speaking of the Nürburgring, you had a busy month leading up to the final race of the season. You flew to Germany for the NLS 12 Hours, you then flew back to the United States for the penultimate IMSA race at Indy, and then you flew back to Germany for NLS round 8. Can you give us a rundown of the past month? How did you handle all that travel?
Yeah, September was a very busy month. After the IMSA weekend at VIR at the end of August, I had a two-day test at WGI the following week, then flew to Germany for the NLS 6/7 weekend, spent a couple days in Germany and Switzerland immediately following, and then flew back to the US for the IMSA race at Indianapolis. I went home for one night following that race, then flew back to Germany for NLS 8, and finally back to Road Atlanta for a test with the IMSA car in preparation for Petit Le Mans. There were some tight turnarounds, but fortunately, all the flights and connections worked out according to plan and we were able to get everywhere necessary without any major hiccups.
How much time did it take you to prepare for the NLS races?
I didn’t have to do too much preparation specifically for these races because I have been there many times before, but I did make sure to watch a few videos from each of the cars I would be driving to get an idea of the brake points and gear selections. The first weekend I also had the opportunity to get reacclimated with some laps in the Touristenfahrten session on Thursday night in a BMW 125i and the Alpine A110 S from Rent4Ring with our friends Alex and Will. I also got a little seat time in Alex’s BMW M4 GT4 (G82) with Black Falcon during the Friday test sessions.
What cars did you drive there?
For NLS 6/7, I was driving the #444 Adrenalin Motorsport Porsche Cayman in the V5 class, which is a 2.7L Cayman without any significant modifications beyond some suspension. It’s about 275 hp, 1330 kg, PDK transmission, no aerodynamic add-ons, but it was very well-balanced and fun to drive. For NLS 8, I was back with Adrenalin, but this time in the 340 hp #652 BMW M240iR, which is a very popular and competitive spec class in NLS.
Can you tell us more about Adrenalin as a team? Did you work on setup with the cars? How were your codrivers?
Adrenalin has been around for many years and has grown to the point they typically run 8 or 9 cars for every NLS event. They have a crew that I would estimate at about 25 people, and with 3-4 drivers per car, their guests, etc. It makes for a busy garage area! My co-drivers in the Cayman were a father and
two sons that have plenty of experience in the NLS series and then I was with two younger guys in the BMW–one of which was taller than me! All of them did a great job and were very welcoming.
Is it true you set a lap record at the NLS 12 Hours?
This is technically true, but mostly because the layout that was used for NLS 6 was unusual. There are several different versions of the GP Circuit that is used in addition to the Nordschleife, and we were on the longest possible version, which uses the Mercedes-Benz arena following Turn 1, but goes all the way down to the Dunlop Hairpin without shortcutting after Turn 5. This layout is 25.9 km, or 16.07 miles, and I had the fastest lap in class in the race at 10m13.0s; therefore, the lap record as well.
How does traffic compare between the Nürburgring and IMSA races?
There are many cars out there, but with the track being so long, I wouldn’t say it was that bad. There’s almost never a lap where you aren’t affected by some sort of traffic, whether it’s slower or faster. The GT3 cars are the fastest class in the NLS and the closing speed is certainly significant, but really not any worse than driving a GT3 on track in the IMSA WeatherTech series with GTP and LMP2 cars passing you all the time. The good thing at the Nürburgring is that everyone is used to the system of using turn indicators to help with the flow of traffic just like you would on the highway, so it’s a bit easier to communicate with other cars about where you intend to go.
Is the plan for next year to win the Nürburgring 24 Hours overall?
The goal for the N24 is mostly just to be a part of it. It’s an awesome event that is high on my bucket list and I just want to experience it. It would be a stretch to think I could get the opportunity to be in an overall winning car in my first attempt, but that would be amazing. Being in any GT3 program there would be big, and really any class would be a success.
Interview by Christian Rodriguez
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