IMSA celebrated its 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season Monday night at Chateau Elan in Braselton, Ga. A recap of that, as well as a look at the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup champions as well are below.
WeatherTech Night of Champions Honors IMSA Victors
Champions across the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship came together Monday night to be recognized for their achievements and to celebrate the conclusion of a thrilling 2017 season.
Held at the Chateau Élan Winery and Resort in Braselton, Georgia, drivers, teams and manufacturers received awards for their performances throughout the year. The four class champions received new TUDOR watches to honor their titles.
Receiving awards for their championships in the twelve segments at the series’ four endurance events were the four Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup champions.
Those races include the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, and the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans.
FOX Sports personalities Justin Bell and Brian Till hosted the proceedings, which began with a one-hour reception, followed by a two-hour presentation ceremony, before ending with a lively after-party featuring live music from The Business.
“Of course, the four teams, drivers and manufacturers that we honor as class champions earned that right through near flawless execution and extraordinary performances against fierce competition on and off the racetrack,” said IMSA President Scott Atherton as he opened the ceremony. “I’m fortunate to be among the first to offer my congratulations here this evening. To our champions: Well done, all of you.”
In the Prototype class, brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor as part of their father’s team, Wayne Taylor Racing, dominated the first half of the season in their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. to take home the Prototype driver and team championship. After winning five straight races to open the season, the Taylors are now the winningest drivers in WeatherTech Championship history with 12 victories apiece.
“This is something that obviously our family has been around my whole life, and I built it up in my mind what it’s going to be like,” said Ricky Taylor. “This is obviously a dream come true. I never would’ve imagined that I’d get to share this experience with my family and such a great group of guys and great group of partners we all have here tonight. I’m just really going to soak this in. It’s nice we’ve got another three months until Daytona to enjoy being the champions.”
One of the highlights of the evening was when Wayne Taylor came out on stage to receive his team owner’s award. He was wearing his trademark blue glasses and before his interview started Till reached into his suit pocket to produce his own pair of blue sun glasses. The crowd laughed and then enjoyed an emotional speech from Taylor about his family and their life in racing.
Cadillac also took home the Prototype and Patrón Endurance Cup manufacturer championships with additional wins from each of the two Action Express Racing teams. Those teams were the No. 31 Whelen Engineering team of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran and the No. 5 Mustang Sampling team of full-time drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa with Filipe Albuquerque who won the Patrón Endurance Cup team and driver championships.
Performance Tech Motorsports came just shy of winning everything the Prototype Challenge (PC) class had to offer in 2017. The team won seven of eight races, while James French took home seven TOTAL Pole Awards and co-driver Patricio O’Ward posted the fastest lap at each event. Performance Tech, French, O’Ward and endurance driver Kyle Masson received the following awards – the Patrón Endurance Cup driver and team championships in PC’s final year of WeatherTech Championship competition.
In the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, Chevrolet and Corvette Racing outlasted intense competition to bring home all three class championships. In what many consider to be the closest GT racing in the world, the No. 3 Corvette C7.R duo of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen recorded a top-five finish in every race this season, including three victories. These championships were the second consecutive for the manufacturer and team.
“This Manufacturer Championship is so special because of the amazing team effort in this intensely competitive GTLM class,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president of General Motors. “Corvette Racing’s passion, dedication and perseverance made the difference. We love racing and learn from every lap about how to deliver the right combination of power, reliability, efficiency and overall performance. We apply those lessons to every Corvette on and off the track. I’m so proud of everyone on the team.”
In a close competition, the Patrón Endurance Cup championships went to two GTLM separate entities, neither of which won the class championship. Ford was presented with the manufacturer trophy, while the No. 911 Porsche GT Team with full-time drivers Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner took home the team and driver championships.
Finally, the GT Daytona (GTD) class saw exponential growth heading into the 2017 season, which saw a total of eight manufacturers compete full-time and seven of which won at least one race this year. However, it was defending champions Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 that were crowned yet again after finishing on the podium seven times.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge,” stated Nielsen. “We always come in with the mentality that every championship, we have to come in starting from zero and you can’t rely on any of the results that you’ve had. We had the championship for Ferrari in mind, but honestly, at Scuderia Corsa, we always go into every race to fight. That’s the beauty of this team, and that’s what makes it so special.”
Newcomer Mercedes-AMG won the Patrón Endurance Cup manufacturer championship and the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3 with drivers Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mario Farnbacher secured the Patrón Endurance Cup team and driver championship.
Additional awards presented at Monday evening’s WeatherTech Night of Champions and are listed below.
Johnny Stevenson Painting Presentation: Artwork from renowned motorsports Bill Patterson commemorating Johnny and Susan Stevenson’s achievements in the WeatherTech Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge since the team’s involvement began in 2003. Stevenson Motorsports announced its intention to cease operations in early September.
Continental Tire Extreme Spirit Award: Presented to the individuals who demonstrate respect for fellow competitors, sponsors, track operators, officials, media and fans, and act as ambassadors for IMSA on and off the track based on their qualities of sportsmanship and commitment to excellence.
GTD: Ben Keating, driver of the No. 33 Riley Motorsport-Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3
PC: James French, driver of the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09
Prototype: John Church, JDC-Miller Motorsports CEO and Managing Partner
VP Racing Fuels Front Runner Award: Presented to the team that had the most lap-leading efforts
-GTD: No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3
-PC: No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09
-GTLM: No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM
-Prototype: No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R.
DEKRA Green Award: Presented to the GTLM team that is the cleanest, fastest and most efficient on the racetrack – No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT
Bob Akin Award: Given to the top Pro-Am competitor in the GTD class – Ben Keating, driver of the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3
Jim Trueman Award: Presented to the top Pro-Am driver in the Prototype class – Misha Goikhberg, driver of the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LM P2
Patrón Endurance Cup Champions crowned after 4 races, 52 hours
With class championships all but decided entering the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans, the focus for some teams shifted to the final segments of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.
The Patrón Endurance Cup rewards top performers in the four WeatherTech Championship endurance races: the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Points are awarded at strategic intervals for each race, with five points going to each class leader at those intervals, followed by four points for second place, three for third, and two points for all others from fourth place onward. Motul Petit Le Mans points were awarded at the four-hour and eight-hour marks and the finish.
The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R and drivers Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque did just enough to win the Patrón Endurance Cup in the Prototype class by four points, 46-42, over season-long champions Jordan Taylor and Ricky Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R.
The Taylors won the opening two rounds at Daytona and Sebring, but scored the minimum two points in the five remaining segments at Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta. Those finishes, combined with a win by the Mustang Sampling team at Watkins Glen and a second-place run at the end of the opening segment at Road Atlanta, were enough to give the No. 5 team the title. The performance of both teams gave Cadillac the manufacturer championship in the Patrón Endurance Cup.
In the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, five teams went into the season finale in contention for the Patrón Endurance Cup with the No. 911 Porsche GT Team of Dirk Werner and Patrick Pilet up by two points on the No. 66 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand. That gap proved to be just enough as the No. 911 scored eight points in the Motul Petit Le Mans, four points for running second at the four-hour mark and the minimum two points in the remaining segments, with the No. 66 falling just short with nine points. The results were flipped, however, in the manufacturer battle with the season-long performance of the two-car Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team earning Ford the title.
The Patrón Endurance Cup race in the GT Daytona (GTD) class ultimately came down to the season-long, championship-winning No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 team of Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan and Matteo Cressoni and the No. 33 Riley Motorsports – Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mario Farnbacher.
The No. 33 Mercedes-AMG team trailed by one point entering the Motul Petit Le Mans. They rode a third-place run at the four-hour mark of the race and led at the eight-hour mark to separate itself from the No. 63 Ferrari to win the Patrón Endurance Cup by four points, 40-36. That effort was enough for Mercedes-AMG to win the GTD Patrón Endurance Cup manufacturer title as well.
The No. 38 Performance Tech ORECA FLM09 team of James French, Pato O’Ward and Kyle Masson clinched the Patrón Endurance Cup in the Prototype Challenge (PC) class before the Motul Petit Le Mans. The team looked to not only sweep the season in the PC class, but also every Patrón Endurance Cup segment. After leading at the four-hour mark, Masson was involved in an incident with a Prototype car, removing the team from contention. The No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09 of John Falb, Garett Grist and Tomy Drissi went onto lead at the eight-hour mark and win the race.