Sunday GT/GTA/GTC winners. Photo: PWC

PWC weekend wrap: Long, O’Connell split COTA wins

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The two guys who opened as the headliners for the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge GT championship chase were the two top stories of the weekend at Circuit of The Americas: Patrick Long and Johnny O’Connell. They split the wins, with Long winning Saturday and O’Connell winning Sunday.

But the bigger story to emerge – unfortunately – was that Long’s EFFORT Racing is now in another race this week to repair its car ahead of next week’s St. Petersburg races.

In Saturday’s race, Always Evolving driver and past Nissan GT Academy champion Bryan Heitkotter delivered a rocket start in his Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 and launched to the lead after starting sixth. But Long doggedly pursued him and as Heitkotter’s tires began to fall off, Long seized the moment and passed him at Turn 14 – a right-hander – barely keeping his wheels within the track limits to secure the lead and a win on his return to the series.

The win was the first worldwide for the new Porsche 911 GT3 R, which premiered at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Incidentally, Long finished best of the new Porsches there, second place in the Black Swan Racing entry he shared with Tim Pappas, Nicky Catsburg and Andy Pilgrim.

Sunday, though, things went awry for Long at the start. Heitkotter’s teammate James Davison contacted Long in the rear, which pitched Long into the outside wall and sustained heavy damage.

The video is below, followed by Davison’s take on the situation.

Davison received a stop-and-hold penalty for the avoidable contact and Heitkotter’s win chances ended later when O’Connell got by inside of 20 minutes to go.

Two popular podiums followed behind “Johnny Red,” who scored the first win for the new “Velocity Red” Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. Teammate Michael Cooper banked his second podium in as many races in his first weekend with Cadillac, while Jon Fogarty banked the first podium for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing’s new McLaren 650S GT3, and did so in front of hundreds of GAINSCO agents in the company and team’s home race.

Bob Stallings on the Race: “What a special weekend. Our first competitive situation and it was clear early on that a…

Posted by GAINSCO Bob Stallings Racing on Sunday, March 6, 2016

Martin Fuentes swept the GTA class both days, while Alec Udell and Sloan Urry won in GT Cup on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Udell, from The Woodlands, Texas, scored a popular win on home soil while Urry ended his streak of “nearly” races with his first career win in class.

A stream crash meant most of the second race was hard if not impossible to watch, although an impromptu Periscope from the media center proved a capable backup plan.

GTS

Sandberg. Photo: PWC
Sandberg. Photo: PWC

The new-look GTS class had, like GT, a mix of old and new rise to the top of the table in its two races. Upon his return to the series, Lawson Aschenbach won Saturday’s race and finished second on Sunday in the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R. The winner on Sunday was Brett Sandberg (right), a talented sports car veteran who added a GTS win to his past Touring Car wins, posting the first U.S. win for the new KTM X-BOW GT4 in the hands of ANSA Motorsports.

Outside of the on-track situation, there was disciplinary action taken against Mantella Autosport team principal Anthony Mantella, who allegedly got into an altercation with another team member and was both disqualified from Saturday’s race and excluded from participating on Sunday.

A statement from the series read: “Following the March 5 GTS Round 1, a competitor exhibited unsportsmanlike conduct governed under Rule 1.5.11 (Driver Conduct) leading to exclusion from Round 1 as well as the entire meeting as in Rule 1.30.1 (Disciplinary Action).  Any further disciplinary action will be reviewed by the SCCA Competition Board and announced in the future.”

TC

Grahovec. Photo: PWC
Grahovec. Photo: PWC

Two entertaining Touring Car races occurred as well, featuring the biggest fields of the weekend, among the TC, TCA and TCB classes.

Vesko Kozarov, Elivan Goulart and Ted Hough claimed the Friday wins in the respective categories. Of those, only Kozarov’s was straightforward; Goulart won after two-time TCA champ Jason Wolfe sputtered on the final lap and Hough inherited the TCB win after Will Rodgers’ car flunked post-race tech.

On Saturday, Toby Grahovec (right), Wolfe and Rodgers scored the class wins. Grahovec’s win was the first for the new BMW M235i while Wolfe and Rodgers atoned nicely from their Friday disappointments. Shea Holbrook also delivered her Shea Racing team’s first top-five of the year in her Bubba Burger Honda, fourth in TC following original third place driver Tony Rivera’s disqualification.

NEXT UP

GT/GTA/GT Cup and GTS head to St. Petersburg next week, while the TC classes are off until Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, May 20-22.

RESULTS

GT

  • Race 1: 1. 31-Patrick Long (Porsche), 2. 05-Bryan Heitkotter (Nissan), 3. 8-Michael Cooper (Cadillac), Pole. 31-Long
  • Race 2: 1. 3-Johnny O’Connell (Cadillac), 2. 8-Cooper, 3. 99-Jon Fogarty (McLaren), Pole. 05-Heitkotter

GTA

  • Race 1: 1. 07-Martin Fuentes (Ferrari), 2. 46-Michael Mills (BMW), 3. 16-Michael Schein (Porsche)
  • Race 2: 1. 07-Fuentes, 2. 66-Frankie Montecalvo (Mercedes), 3. 46-Mills

GTC (all Porsche Cup)

  • Race 1: 1. 17-Alec Udell (GMG), 2. 20-Sloan Urry (TruSpeed), 3. 18-Will Hardeman (WPD/MooreSpeed), Pole. 20-Urry
  • Race 2: 1. 20-Urry, 2. 17-Udell, 3-18-Hardeman, Pole. 20-Urry

GTS

  • Race 1: 1. 10-Lawson Aschenbach (Chevrolet), 2. 14-Nate Stacy (Ford), 3. 19-Parker Chase (Ginetta), Pole. 46-Scott Dollahite (Lotus)
  • Race 2: 1. 13-Brett Sandberg (KTM), 2. 10-Aschenbach, 3. 46-Dollahite, Pole. 13-Sandberg

TC

  • Race 1: 1. 3-Vesko Kozarov (Nissan), 2. 26-Toby Grahovec (BMW), 3. 34-Carl Rydquist (Nissan), Pole. 91-Nick Wittmer (Honda)
  • Race 2: 1. 26-Grahovec, 2. 91-Wittmer, 3. 3-Kozarov, Pole. 34-Rydquist

TCA

  • Race 1: 1. 70-Elivan Goulart (Mazda), 2. 12-Jason Wolfe (Kia), 3. 23-Eric Powell (Mazda), Pole. 46-Johan Schwartz (Honda)
  • Race 2: 1. 12-Wolfe, 2. 70-Goulart, 3. 49-Joey Bickers (Mazda), Pole. 23-Powell

TCB

  • Race 1: 1. 68-Ted Hough (Mazda), 2. 94-Tom O’Gorman (Honda), 3. 14-Henry Morse (Mazda), Pole. 68-Hough
  • Race 2: 1. 65-Will Rodgers (Mazda) 2. 94-O’Gorman, 3. 14-Morse, Pole. 68-Hough

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.