From plaid to papaya – Pfaff finding its way with McLaren

The switch from full plaid to papaya hasn’t always been smooth for Pfaff Motorsports, and not every fan was happy as the Toronto-area team left Porsche for McLaren. The results, though, are beginning to show as the team heads to its home race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

Third-place finishes in GTD PRO for the No. 9 McLaren 720S GT3 Evo in two of the last three races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and the six-hour race at Watkins Glen International plus what should have been a podium in Detroit, are showing that the team hasn’t lost anything in the switch, it’s just taking some time.

It’s been a trying start to the year.,declares Pfaff’s team manager, Steve Bortolotti. Besides Daytona, I’d say the other events haven’t really been much fault of our own. Proud of Laguna, Detroit was tough but we feel like we’re starting to get somewhere now. And the support has been fantastic from McLaren. The operating costs, surprisingly, have been well below what we’ve experienced in the past.


So there’s been a lot of positive that we’re seeing from the relationship. We’re just sort of starting to get into the bulk of our testing program for the year now, so I think you’re going to see us start to take some steps forward, and CTMP will be nice, because it’s our home track, and we’ve got a pretty solid platform to be competitive there with the McLaren.

Pfaff’s core driver lineup of the very experienced, although less so in GT cars, Oliver Jarvis, and McLaren factory shoe Marvin Kirchhöfer, seem to be a good pairing as they build on each other’s strengths. Jarvis is well familiar with the circuits on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and Kirchhöfer obviously knows the McLaren. Together they’re learning from each other.

I think it’s a really good combination,says Jarvis. Because Marvin been able to help me a lot with the car, and I can give him, hopefully, some useful insight into the tracks. But it’s definitely a lot for us to learn as a collective. The team is still learning the car, but I think we’ve made huge progress from our first rollout in Daytona. We’re definitely on an upward trajectory, we just need to get some results now.

While the team has had a new car to learn, McLaren factory driver Kirchhöfer has been getting to grips with the tracks. Brett Farmer/Motorsport Images

It’s super helpful to have him as a teammate,adds Kirchhöfer. Basically from Laguna on I didn’t know the tracks, I learned a lot from him. And I’m trying to give something back regarding the car setup. But I think we‘re both really up to speed and we just need a bit more luck now.

One area that’s been a challenge with the McLaren, the team says, is that while some cars have a very narrow window where they feel good, and that window is where the performance is, the 720S is a bit different in that regard.

The biggest hurdle is really the setup window is so big that trying to extract lap time takes a different mindset and philosophy from the engineering staff,explains Bortolotti. The drivers never come in and say the car is bad. Whereas before, if you make the car good, it usually went fast.

Now the car is always pretty good. We have to go and extract lap time and find ways to change the setup and make the car just go faster, because the drivers aren’t able to perceive a big dramatic feel in terms of balance, the car has such a big setup window. So that’s been the biggest thing for us, because we’re having to rethink our approach and rethink our process.

There will be an abundance of papaya and plaid this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park this weekend as the team heads to its home track, about an hour’s drive from the shop. The parent company has a large network of dealers and other automotive-related businesses int he Toronto area, so there are many clients to expose to the racing side of the business.

We always have 3 to 500 people at that event that we’re entertaining. So for me, it’s always felt like a big one. I know we’ve got a huge crowd this year coming out from the dealerships, from Canadian Tire and Motul and our other partners, so it should be a pretty interesting event in that regard.

Pfaff hopes to deliver a hometown victory to its partners and fans, going for the win in the 2h40m Chevrolet Grand Prix on Sunday. Green flag is scheduled for 11:05 a.m. ET with live coverage on USA Network and streaming on Peacock.

Story originally appeared on Racer