SEBRING – Four drivers entered in this weekend’s IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge race at Sebring International Raceway may be new names to sports car fans, but most are definitely not to NASCAR fans.
Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Myatt Snider – all ThorSport Racing drivers in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series – are entered with Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports for Friday’s Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 at Sebring.
The opportunity comes as part of Ford Performance’s NASCAR Driver Development Program, which was first announced in 2017. The program gives road course experience to NASCAR drivers, as well as learning to work together, bond and depend on each other as teammates.
“We’ve been thrilled with the program so far and the experience it is getting to some of our NASCAR development drivers,” said Mark Rushbrook, the Global Director of Ford Performance Motorsports. “The 2018 season was the first year we tried it, and outside of Austin Cindric, we had three other drivers in NASCAR Xfinity with little or no road course experience. The IMSA GS class provided them a chance to not only practice being better road course drivers, but also better road course racers, learning road course race craft like how to set up passes, and what kind of feedback to give to their crew chiefs and their fellow drivers.”
This will be the first start in the Pilot Challenge for each of the four drivers and they sure picked one of the toughest tracks to make their debut, as Sebring has long been known for its bumpy and physically demanding surface.
Matt Crafton, the veteran of the group and the first driver to ever win back-to-back Truck Series titles (2013 and 2014), knows that road course skills are crucial to have in NASCAR.
“You have to be good on all types of tracks to compete for a NASCAR championship, and this opportunity with Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports, to race a Mustang GT4, will give us the valuable road course experience we need as we get ready to race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park later this year,” Crafton said. “I love road course racing, and I have a blast doing it, so I’m really looking forward to the added seat time, and the challenge of racing in a new series, and on a new track.”
Crafton will be co-driving the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 with Grant Enfinger, who currently leads the Truck Series standings by six points, three races into the 2019 season.
“I hear Sebring is a challenge because the track is tight, and there’s a lot of congestion, but it will be a great opportunity to hone in on my road course racing skills for Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, later this year,” said Enfinger, the 2015 ARCA Racing Series Champion. “Just getting seat time, and making laps in a competitive car, with a competitive team, with the backing of Ford Performance, is imperative as I continue to develop my road course racing skills.”
In the No. 15 Ford Mustang GT4 will be Snider, the 2018 Truck Series Rookie of the Year, and Rhodes, who won the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Championship and Rookie of the Year.
“Last autumn I got to test with Multimatic in a Mustang GT4,” Snider explained. “I had a blast wheeling the stallion around Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and ever since then I’ve been itching for a taste of IMSA racing. So, I’m happy to be racing Sebring this weekend in a Ford Performance MICHELIN Pilot Challenge Mustang. Myself and Ben Rhodes have been working hard at getting ourselves up to par to go compete this weekend, so overall, I’m very excited to get going for my first IMSA race.”
“IMSA is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time; so I have to give a huge thank you to Ford Performance and Multimatic for this opportunity,” Rhodes added. “Sebring is such a historic venue, and it’s pretty awesome to make my first start there. It’s going to be a fun challenge, and will hopefully make me a better road course racer.”
The first on-track action the NASCAR drivers will see will be on Wednesday morning and early afternoon as part of a promoter test day. On the official schedule, three practices for the Pilot Challenge are slated for Thursday before qualifying that evening at 5:55 p.m.
The two-hour Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 goes green on Friday at noon and can be streamed live on IMSA.tv with IMSA Radio commentary.