Most drivers opted for wet tires before the 20th Petit Le Mans started, but they pitted by the end of the first half hour to switch to slick rubber with the track drying quickly. Competitors at Road Atlanta raced under cloudy skies in the humid heat of Georgia.
Throughout most of Saturday’s 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, the pair of ESM Nissan DPi cars were the class of the field.
The team’s No. 22 machine shared by Pipo Derani, Johannes van Overbeek and Bruno Senna, and the No. 2 Nissan DPi of Ryan Dalziel, Scott Sharp and Brendon Hartley were fixtures inside the top five for most of the race and ran either first or second for several hours. There were other challengers, to be sure, but it was readily apparent throughout the race that the Patrón cars would figure in the outcome of the race.
In the end, it all came down to the race’s final restart with 28 minutes remaining. Derani held the lead, with Filipe Albuquerque second in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R, Hartley third in the No. 22 and Dane Cameron fourth in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi.
By the end of the first lap following the restart, Derani was leading Albuquerque, while Cameron relegated Hartley to fourth in the running order. But incidents and costly penalties wreaked havoc on the top three.
Teammates Albuquerque and Cameron tangled, resulting in an unjustifiable risk penalty for Albuquerque. Derani had a dustup with the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, bringing the No. 22 Nissan onto pit road to serve a penalty for incident responsibility.
In the end, Hartley had the cleanest closing stint. He and co-drivers Sharp and Dalziel were rewarded with a victory in one of the crown jewels of sports car racing, by 7.633 seconds over Cameron. It was Hartley’s first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory and second IMSA win, taking a GRAND-AM Rolex Series victory at Road America in 2013.
“We had a really strong middle of the race,” Hartley said. “We had a comfortable lead, actually. We had a little problem halfway through, which put us P4 or P5, so we had to fight back. I got past Filipe Albuquerque just before the last safety car. He got me back in the pits.
“Then, with the last restart, that was nuts. I mean, the three or four race contenders were at the back of the GTs and it was mayhem. In the end, I kept it clean, and the other two didn’t and that’s how I ended up in the lead. I was looking forward to a good scrap at the end with Filipe. It was a shame he got a penalty. It would have been a nice finish of the race, but I’m so proud of everyone involved, Ryan, Scott, the whole team. Not a scratch on the car after 10 hours of hard racing, and around here that says a lot. Awesome race.”
For Sharp, Dalziel and the ESM team, it was the third major North American endurance race victory in the past two years, after taking both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Twelve Hours of Sebring last year. It was the ESM team’s second win this season, as Derani and van Overbeek won in the No. 22 Nissan DPi at Road America in August. It was Sharp’s 15th IMSA win and Dalziel’s 10th IMSA.
“We came back fighting, a great effort from ESM, both cars,” said Dalziel. “I think either car could have won it. Its a shame we had the penalty. Super, super stoked for Scott and for the 2-car guys, they did an amazing job as always.”
Despite the late-race incident, 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champions Cameron and Curran – who were joined for this race by Conway – came home second in Cameron’s final race with the team before going to the new Team Penske Acura DPi program next year. That was one spot better than his future teammates, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, who finished third in the No. 6 Team Penske ORECA LM P2 car.
Taylor Brothers Wrap Up WeatherTech Championship Prototype Title
Brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor brought home the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship title for their father’s Wayne Taylor Racing team, ending a dominant campaign in their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R.
The brothers swept the first five races of the season, opening with their first Rolex 24 At Daytona victory in January alongside co-drivers Max Angelelli, in his final start as a driver, and four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon. In the next race, they teamed with British racer Alex Lynn to win the Twelve Hours of Sebring, accomplishing the 36 Hours of Florida sweep 21 years after their father accomplished the same feat.
Then it was the Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, which they won for the third consecutive year, followed by a dominating performance in the Sportscar Showdown at Circuit of The Americas. Their fifth and final victory in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park was somewhat surprising, as Ricky Taylor crashed in qualifying and started at the rear of the field.
The five victories proved to be insurmountable for the rest of the competition, and two more podium results over the final five races was more than enough to bring home the title. For Ricky Taylor, the championship was his first.
“Jordan and I did the best we could, but I think it really comes down to the team,” Ricky Taylor said. “Cadillac and Dallara worked together to get the car ready on track in September last year and then (we were) the first team with the car testing, learning.
“All of our guys were really open to learning how this new style of the cars work and what makes them fast. Then down to the mechanics, they’re like specialists in each of their areas and they’ve really shown this year how good people can all step up and do their job and really create a separation from the rest of the field.”
Jordan Taylor already knew what it felt like to win a title for his father’s team, having done so in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype class with Angelelli in 2013. But this one was different.
“I think the first one was obviously special because it was my first one,” said Jordan Taylor. “But I think being with Ricky the past four years now, we’ve been close a lot of times and it means a lot more to do it with family. Max is like family but I think it means a lot more having Ricky in the car.”
BMW Team RLL Scores Petit Le Mans Victory In GTLM Class At Road Atlanta
BMW Team RLL capped off an impressive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season Saturday with its second win in a North American Endurance event this year Saturday in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Alexander Sims held off Antonio Garcia over a final 28-minute sprint to the checkered flag to give the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM co-driven by Bill Auberlen and Kuno Wittmer its third GT Le Mans (GTLM) win of the season. The team’s other two wins came at Mosportand the six-hour Endurance Cup race at Watkins Glen.
It was a milestone victory for Auberlen, who was making his 400th career start with BMW. It was his 58th career IMSA win, putting him two behind Scott Pruett who leads all-time with 60 wins.
“I'm the most fortunate person in the world,” said Auberlen. “It’s been a privilege driving for BMW for 21 years, and on my 400th race to win … I'm amongst a lot of great guys here, a lot of great teammates. A lot of the smartest people in the world here working for BMW. I'm very thankful and so happy.”
“Co-driving with such a legend, I mean this guy is amazing to drive with,” added Wittmer. “He teaches every young kid out there a trick or two. And Alex (Sims) at the end, a ball of talent. It’s just really, really pleasant to be with these two guys.”
The No. 25 BMW team finished the season second in the GTLM standings.
Three different manufacturers made up the top three spots with the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Alessandro Pier Guidi.
Corvette Racing Finishes Second, Wins GTLM Class Championship
Garcia finished second in the race, but along with co-driver Jan Magnussen and the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R team, went onto win the GTLM driver and team class championships. Chevrolet also won the manufacturer championship. The duo was joined by 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller in the runner-up effort at Road Atlanta.
“It’s been a hard-fought year for Corvette Racing,” said Magnussen. “We haven’t always had the fastest car, but I think we got the most out of it. We overachieved on the bad weekends and got a little more out of it than we should have. To be in a category that is this competitive where the cars are so close and you are fighting every lap, to have a points margin this big at the end of the year means we did a lot of stuff right.”
Garcia, Magnussen and the No. 3 Corvette team will be crowned Monday night at the Chateau Élan Winery & Resort in Braselton, Georgia. The WeatherTech Night of Champions will recognize team, driver and manufacturer champions in all four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes – Prototype (P), GT Le Mans (GTLM), Prototype Challenge (PC) and GT Daytona (GTD) – as well as recognize champions of the North American Endurance Cup.
Montaplast Audi Team Wins GTD Class At Petit Le Mans
The Montaplast by Land-Motorsport team may not campaign a full-season entry in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but when they show up at a track they have to be considered one of the favorites.
That was certainly the case this weekend with Connor De Phillippi, Sheldon van der Linde and Christopher Mies co-driving to an impressive victory in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. It was the team’s third start of the season in the No. 29 Audi R8 LMS GT3, after finishing second at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and fourth at the Twelve Hours of Sebring.
It was the first career WeatherTech Championship win for the team and each of its three drivers.
“We almost got our first win at Daytona,” said De Phillippi. “We left there with a very sour taste in our mouth because we knew it was right in front of us. We recovered, we did some homework. We improved in some areas we knew we needed to after the first two rounds and we came here and gave it all we had.”
Despite a lengthy lead in the final hour, a late-race caution set up a 28-minute dash to the checkered flag with De Phillippi suddenly just ahead of the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Michael Christensen. It didn’t take long, however, for De Phillippi to pull away, eventually winning by 15.518 seconds.
Christensen held on to second for he and co-drivers Daniel Morad and Michael de Quesada. The No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Lindsey, Jörg Bergmeister and Matt McMurry rounded out the podium.
Nielsen, Balzan Win Second Consecutive GTD Championship With Ferrari
Scuderia Corsa co-drivers Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan won their second consecutive class championship despite a ninth-place finish in the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3. While it wasn’t the finish the team was hoping for, the champions rode remarkable consistency to the title with seven podium finishes and one win on the season.
“We did a thing that not a lot of people have done,” Nielsen said. “One is fine, but twice is even greater. This one is even tougher than last year. The mentality of never resting on previous results, and always pushing and working harder than we ever have before has been our advantage. And that’s why we’re standing here today.”
Despite running in the top-five for much of the day, a broken axle in the race’s fifth hour sent the team behind the wall for lengthy repairs. The team was looking to sweep both the season championship and the North American Endurance Cup, but the mechanical issue eliminated the team from Endurance Cup contention.
“At the very end, we were also able to win the manufacturer championship for Ferrari on its 70th anniversary so it’s great honestly,” said Balzan. “The race was not easy, but I’m focused on what we won. And I really want to thank everybody because it’s a great season.”
- IMSA press release -
Photo (Richard Dole / LAT - IMSA): Brendon Hartley is getting ready to race at Petit Le Mans.