IMSA Article: IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge Race at Mid-Ohio a Double Homecoming for Ohio Native and Longtime Honda Driver Tom O’Gorman
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has long been a fan favorite for sports car enthusiasts, just ask IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge driver Tom O’Gorman.
Born and raised in Mason, Ohio – just two and half hours from the old-school road course – O’Gorman and his family were frequent visitors to Mid-Ohio, no matter the event.
“It’s been a staple, especially on my dad’s side of the family,” said O’Gorman. “He started going to Mid-Ohio starting in the late ‘80s with his brother. I was born in ’91 and they started taking me in ’93 or ’94, so I was two or three years old starting to go to Mid-Ohio watching races.
“No one in the family was ever a participant in racing, but especially my dad, my dad’s brother, my cousin and I, we went to every spectator event we could every year at Mid-Ohio. I grew up on the hill in the Esses basically watching racing.”
This year, O’Gorman won’t be watching from the Esses. Instead he’ll be behind the wheel of the No. 37 LA Honda World Racing Honda Civic in the TCR class for the two-hour Pilot Challenge race on Saturday, May 4 at 1:45 p.m. ET.
And if there’s one car to watch in the TCR class, it’s this one. O’Gorman and co-driver Shelby Blackstock enter Saturday’s race undefeated in 2019, with wins at the first two races at Daytona International Speedway and Sebring international Raceway.
The quick success has been a bit surprising for the team. Not only is this the first year that O’Gorman and Blackstock have paired up, but it’s also the first year for both drivers to compete with LA Honda World.
The drivers’ racing backgrounds are also quite different. Blackstock hails from the Pilot Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class and Indy Lights, and has been on the racing scene since 2010. O’Gorman, meanwhile, made his professional racing debut five years later – fittingly at Mid-Ohio – but has climbed the ladder in touring car racing from the grassroots level.
“Working together with Shelby, we’re coming to the same conclusions every time, but we sometimes say things differently because of our different backgrounds,” O’Gorman explained. “Working with our team engineer, who has never worked with either of us before and us not having worked together before, has been pretty interesting figuring out how everybody ticks. But we’ve made a lot of progress in not a lot of time.”
O’Gorman also brings to the table a longstanding relationship with Honda, which has a significant manufacturing presence in Ohio. That makes the race at Mid-Ohio doubly special for O’Gorman, looking to perform well in front of his family in addition to the manufacturer.
“On top of it being my home race, it’s as close to Honda’s home race as we get with this series,” said O’Gorman. “Having been at this race for years, you always see a huge representation from Honda, but not only from motorsports. We’re within two hours of two or three major Honda plants and research facilities. There are manufacturing plants where they build the cars in Ohio, there’s R&D plants. They invite all those employees out, plus dealerships in the area with it being the home race.
“We’ve had success at Daytona and Sebring so far, but I think being successful at Mid-Ohio for Honda and hopefully our Honda, would probably be the most special of the three and if we can keep the momentum going.”
In fact, it’s Honda that O’Gorman gives significant credit to for his rise in motorsports over the last four years.
“I’ve been racing with Honda ever since I started in a club racing car in SCCA, then World Challenge in TCB and then a TCA car and now in TCR,” O’Gorman explained. “Every level of touring car racing that you can do professionally, I’ve done with Honda and then I did Honda’s grassroots level as well. For it to be their home race and then for me to basically only be here because of Honda’s belief in me and fostering my career and helping me rise up on each rung of the ladder, I really am hoping to have a good race there.”
It’s easy to say that his success in touring car racing is one of the reasons O’Gorman loves the platform. But he sees it for more than that and a part of the bigger picture.
“I truly think this is becoming a destination, a place to be,” said O’Gorman of TCR. “I think sometimes touring car level classes and slower classes, when they’re combined with a faster class in the same race, can be considered lesser than or a stepping stone to the next thing. But I think with how fast and high performance the cars are, with how competitive the racing is and with the types of teams and drivers coming into the class, I think it’s got a ton of potential to become a destination for itself.”
Now heading into his first IMSA race at Mid-Ohio, O’Gorman’s quick success in the series – four wins in eight starts – is starting to hit, literally, close to home.
“I grew up as a fan of racing rather than a participant and it’s always been pretty clear,” said O’Gorman. “Whatever the series was called growing up, now being the IMSA WeatherTech Championship and the MICHELIN Pilot Challenge, it’s always been pretty apparent to me as a fan that it’s where the professionals make their homes and it’s the most legitimate form of professional sports car racing in North America.
“To continue to have success like I did at the other levels is not necessarily something you think about a lot, but is extremely legitimizing and prideful. To come in on this stage too, around all the people that you’re with – the best of the best in my mind – to continue to have success and when you do actually think about it, is really cool.”