Petit Le Mans winners. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Winners of 20th Petit Le Mans all hit notable milestones

Leave a comment

Saturday’s 20th Motul Petit Le Mans from Road Atlanta was a milestone event for the fall endurance classic, the brainchild of Dr. Don Panoz in tandem with the race organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest.

And for the race winners, it was a case where each race winner achieved something of note in their careers.

PROTOTYPE: DALZIEL, HARTLEY BREAK THROUGH WITH SHARP AT ESM

Hartley, Dalziel and Sharp. Photo courtesy of IMSA

While Extreme Speed Motorsports had won at Petit Le Mans before – in the GT class in 2012 with a special chrome livery for one-off sponsor Ultimat Vodka and a lineup of Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek and Toni Vilander in the team’s No. 01 Ferrari F458 Italia – it hadn’t won overall in the race.

Surprisingly, despite racing for the team for four years, Tequila Patron ESM veteran Ryan Dalziel hadn’t either. Some notable near-misses – mainly the 2014 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – stuck out as the Scot had managed to miss a win for the team by no fault of his own. Even when ESM went back-to-back at Daytona and Sebring in 2016, Dalziel was racing for the VISIT FLORIDA Racing team in IMSA, as he raced for ESM in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Either the No. 22 or 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi was the class of the field on Saturday at Petit Le Mans, and while the No. 2 car was lucky to inherit the win once the sister No. 22 car driven by Pipo Derani got assessed a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the Patron team to ensure at least one of the two cars won.

The No. 2 car survived in spite of an alternator issue that nearly defeated them again, but in the end former Starworks Motorsport teammates Dalziel and Hartley got on the board for ESM.

“When we lost the lead in the pits from the alternator issue, I thought the race was over,” Dalziel said. “Sometimes things are meant to work for you, and today was one of those days. The No. 2 definitely car needed it. I’m bummed we didn’t get a 1-2 finish.”

GT LE MANS: AUBERLEN’S 400TH BMW RACE SENDS M6 GTLM OFF IN STYLE

Special signage for Auberlen’s 400th BMW race. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Bill Auberlen celebrated his 400th start in a BMW in grand style, winning the GT Le Mans race in the final start for the M6 GTLM with co-drivers Alexander Sims and Kuno Wittmer. This was Auberlen’s second (2001) and Sims and Wittmer’s first Petit Le Mans victories.

“Obviously I’m the most fortunate person in the world, its been a privilege driving for BMW for 21 years, and on my 400th race to win,” Auberlen reflected. “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.”

There were no nerves with Sims finishing the race, as Auberlen hailed his co-driver. The only downside, he said, is that the M6 GTLM has reached its zenith at the time it ends its career before the new M8 GTE comes online next year.

A couple other tough races limited the pair in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL entry to second in points, namely a late-race mechanical at VIR that dropped them from a sure win to fourth. But Auberlen was still thankful to Sims for making their first year as co-drivers a good win.

GT DAYTONA: CDP BACK ON TOP IN U.S., AS LAND’S YOUNG TRIO BREAKS THROUGH

De Phillippi’s star shone brightly. Photo courtesy of IMSA

In a 17-car class, European regulars Montaplast by Land-Motorsport toppled the establishment with its No. 29 Audi R8 LMS in just its third U.S. start of the year. The team’s usual full-season pairing of Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Mies featured teenager Sheldon van der Linde as its third driver, who starred along with them. Track support and strategy from Peter Baron’s Starworks Motorsport operation helped aid Land’s charge to the top.

“We had an amazing car. I can’t believe how strong it was,” said De Phillippi, who won his first race in the U.S. since a Star Mazda race at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis in 2012. “My teammates did a flawless job. We proved our young guys can do it. A lot of teams don’t give a guy like Sheldon a chance to do it.”

De Phillippi, who’s since become a GT star with Porsche and now Audi since moving to racing in Europe full-time – even as he would welcome racing more in America next year – also noted the significance of winning at Road Atlanta. It’s been a banner year for him and Land, having won the Nürburgring 24 Hours as well.

“It’s huge! My first major Star Mazda win was here in 2010. It was a special point in my career then. Now it’s seven years later with my first big GT win. It’s awesome.”

PROTOTYPE CHALLENGE: BAR1 ENDS CLASS’ TIME ON TOP

BAR1 won the final PC race, pictured here ahead of GTLM field. Photo courtesy of IMSA

BAR1 Motorsports foiled Performance Tech Motorsports’ perfect season with a 1-2 finish in the final race for the Prototype Challenge class, as Brian Alder’s team took its first win in four years and young Canadian driver Garett Grist emerged on the sports car scene in just his third start.

A Silver-rated driver who like De Phillippi was a regular race winner in Pro Mazda in the Mazda Road to Indy, Grist was entrusted as the lead pro in Brian Alder’s second Oreca FLM09 with PC class veterans John Falb and Tomy Drissi. That he was as quick as he was in a car down on outright pace compared to Performance Tech spoke volumes about his potential for the future, with driver coach Charles “CR” Crews helping aid his development.

“We tested a couple weeks back. We were fast then, but we didn’t have the same pace here,” Grist said. “We dug deep and improved as much as we could under the circumstances. I did a triple stint towards the end and then pulled out a big lead.”

Falb has been a regular winner this year in an LMP3 Ligier JS P3 car in the European Le Mans Series with United Autosports and Sean Rayhall, while Drissi has been a regular in PC off-and-on since the class inception in 2010. Falb closed the race out behind the wheel, while Drissi, whose primary business is in Hollywood and often has his movies he’s working on adorn the car, explained what it meant to close the class out on top.

“To be racing in IMSA and on the same track with Indy 500 winners and sports car stars is an honor,” Drissi said. “You do your dance out there, you work to get your tires up to temperature, and you work with the factory cars in a give-and-take. We’ve had podiums before here, but not the win; so in the last race of the PC cars, to win it is pretty darn cool.”

MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

Follow@KyleMLavigne