Seefried and Lally bounced from win for drive-time mistake. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Bittersweet end in GTD sees Viper win, Magnus lose at Petit Le Mans

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BRASELTON, Ga. – A beauty of sports car racing is that there is a lot of variety you can embrace – from different cars, drivers, teams, classes and sounds of pure glory.

A downside of sports car racing is that this mesh of variety also comes together to create what at times can be confusing or perplexing, and controversial, in the moment.

And while both IMSA and Magnus Racing were in agreement – eventually, anyway – about that their race win in GT Daytona in Saturday night’s Petit Le Mans was lost, it doesn’t make it any easier for Magnus to swallow the how.

The No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Marc Miller emerged with the GTD race win after a review of the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS car’s drive time found the incorrect Silver-rated driver, John Potter, failed to complete his minimum drive time of three hours in the 10-hour race. This moved the No. 44 car to the back of class in results.

Potter, longtime co-driver Andy Lally and ace third driver Marco Seefried, won on the road following a titanic scrap between Lally and Bleekemolen in the final stages of the 10-hour race. And for the fans able to see the race, they’ll have known that both drivers left everything on the line in pursuit of victory.

But in the end, all that amazingness on the track was taken away owing to Magnus’ rule violation, which was its second in the last three GTD races (VIR saw the car excluded for a ride height violation).

The crux of what happened Saturday night actually started one year earlier in the 2015 Petit Le Mans, and the new rule implemented for 2016 was actually created to help avoid situations as happened last year.

At the 2015 race, the trio of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal co-drove the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3. Segal, who like Sweedler was a Silver-rated driver, became the driver to who completed the minimum drive time requirements in the rain for the Silver/Bronze-rated driver to ensure the car was good to the regulations. Sweedler, who was Bell’s full-season co-driver, completed only one lap in the race, which ensured he scored points along with Bell. No provision existed at the time to say that Sweedler had to be the driver to complete the minimum drive time.

As it turned out, that strategic move from Scuderia Corsa helped deliver Bell and Sweedler the GTD championship, over Christina Nielsen in a hard-luck second for TRG-AMR.

This is key background for understanding the rule in play applied here on Saturday night, as IMSA enforced Rule 12.3.3 of the SSR.

Here’s the rule in all its official rulebook glory:

12.3.3.

(SSR)

For PC and GTD, in any two (2) or three (3) Driver combination Car that finishes the Race, one (1) Silver/Bronze rated Driver must individually achieve the minimum drive-time for that Driver or their paired Driver to be eligible for finishing points. The other paired Driver must drive the Car in the Race to be eligible for finishing points. Any third (or unpaired) Driver must individually achieve the minimum drive-time in order for that Driver to be eligible for finishing points regardless of driver rating. If the paired Silver/Bronze rated Driver does not achieve the minimum drive-time, the Car is placed behind all other Cars in that class for the purpose of finishing positions and awarding any finishing points. All other Cars are elevated in the finishing positions and finishing points

In layman’s terms, that means that Potter and Lally – as full-season co-drivers – were considered the paired drivers for Magnus’ No. 44 car in GTD and that Seefried, while also Silver-rated, would not be eligible to register the car for finishing points.

This was instituted by IMSA as a fail-safe so a team couldn’t essentially utilize that loophole as Scuderia Corsa did last year, when Sweedler gave up needing to do the minimum drive time himself so long as he completed just one lap.

Potter started the race and drove the first 53 minutes of the race before handing off to Seefried. Seefried drove from that point until the 2 hour, 23-minute mark, when Lally took over. Seefried was back in at the 4:08 mark, under the yellow flag which actually lasted more than hour from when 4:02 was completed in the race until 5:04 when the green came out, and got out with 5:49 complete to hand back to Lally. Seefried was back in at the 6:55 mark, and in until 8:12, when he handed back to Lally for the duration. The strategic misfire, in hindsight, was not running Potter longer in the earlier stint and then during the hour-plus yellow.

All parties involved were aware of the situation but by the time Magnus Racing realized the gaffe, there was no turning back in terms of getting Potter his drive time. I’d had a weird feeling during the race when during a chance pit lane encounter with Seefried not long after his middle stint – which was great fun to watch – was getting called back into action for another stint relatively soon thereafter, and that raised a bit of a question mark to me at the time.

That’s the micro picture of what happened Saturday night. But the macro picture also needs to be identified here.

With driver ratings even enforced to begin with, that’s what has led to the need for the rule, which then created a bit of confusion in the media center at the time.

Because Seefried completed the minimum drive time of three hours himself as a Silver-rated driver; the problem was, per the latter portion of this rule, he was the incorrect Silver driver to have done so for Magnus.

So the first half of this rule confirms a Silver driver did the minimum drive time, and the second half of the rule confirms the wrong one did so for purposes of pairing.

Keating, Bleekemolen, Miller and Riley. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Keating, Bleekemolen, Miller and Riley. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Secondly, the Viper team led by Bill Riley doesn’t want to win this way. The Viper had the measure of the GTD field on pace all weekend, but still found itself locked in a battle for the win in the later stages.

Bleekemolen’s not going to come out and say “Yeah, we had a great battle, but thanks mainly to Rule 12.3.3 of the SSR for ensuring we won only because Potter didn’t do his drive time.”

No, the Dutchman’s quote in the post-race press conference was more appropriate, because it highlighted the win battle before the regulatory foul:

“I mean a couple of things, great to end the run of the Viper with a win. When I started sports cars in 2001, the first car I drove was a Viper, it gave me my first couple of wins in international sports car racing. I remember my test, I remember every single lap – it was a big powerful car, a great feeling.

“The race, and the fight with Andy (Lally) was unbelievable, I did the last 4 hours, I had no A/C and no drink for the last two. It was the toughest stint of my life. I rate Andy very high, he is always a great fighter, very aggressive but fair. And right on the end, even though it was the last lap of the race, he kept it fair.

“I feel bad about the situation, he crossed the line first, but we saw the numbers, John had to go in for a long time and maybe go back, but in the end, we won. We’ll go out on a high. We couldn’t get the championship, so we wanted the win, and we’ll take it.”

Thirdly, the unknown result for Magnus then has a trigger effect on the rest of the class. Nielsen, who ironically now won her GTD title on Saturday for Scuderia Corsa after completing the first three hours and eight minutes of the race to ensure she and Balzan paired points, and the rest of the team got promoted to a podium in the race only after the Magnus ending. So the ripple effect goes there.

Finally, the end result could alter Magnus Racing’s trajectory as a team going forward. Yes, it’s a case where you have to know the rules going in and which portion of the rule supersedes the others.

But Potter, who’s sunk so much of his own money into sports car racing for nearly a decade, may not feel fussed with doing so in this arena following this bitter blow. If VIR was enough of a setback for the team, quite how they move beyond this one remains a big question mark.

I saw the team on pit lane immediately after the race and the reaction was more of sheer shock than pure anger. Perhaps the anger came earlier.

In brief though, the fact it takes almost 1,500 words to explain a regulatory ending to a great battle for a win on track says all you need to say.

This was a bittersweet ending for the season in class, for the Viper as it won its last race albeit not in the manner they probably would have liked, and for Magnus – who despite the mistake provide crew with jobs, the paddock with humor, and the fans with one hell of a battle for the win.

Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
Mark Sutton - Pool/Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

YOU’RE INVITED: Bubba Wallace hopes to see Lewis Hamilton at Daytona

History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.