IMSA

IMSA: Simpson, JDC-Miller win thriller at Watkins Glen; Ford, Turner claim GT honors

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“David” slayed “goliath” in Sunday’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, as Stephen Simpson made a spectacular three-wide pass on Jordan Taylor and Juan Pablo Montoya to take the lead in the final hour.

Simpson, in the the No. 99 Oreca 07 Gibson “Red Dragon,” then hung on as they battled through GT traffic to give co-driver Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller, along with the entire JDC-Miller Racing team, their first Prototype victory in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The battle was set up after Andy Lally suffered a cut tire in his No. 44 Audi R8 LMS GT3 for Magnus Racing, which dropped bodywork and a tire carcas on track after the tire started coming apart.

A round of pit stops saw Jordan Taylor come out with the lead in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R – the Wayne Taylor Racing team elected to take fuel only, which gave them a much quicker stop and vaulted them into the lead.

Montoya, whose No. 6 Acura ARX-05 had dominated the race with he and co-driver Dane Cameron, came out in second, with Simpson’s No. 99 Oreca in third. CORE autosport, which entered the pits as the leader, came out in sixth with the team electing to change drivers – Colin Braun got out, with Romain Dumas finishing the race in their No. 54 Oreca. (Of note: although Braun qualified the No. 54 on the pole, the team elected start Jon Bennett to get his required drive time in, which saw them start at the back of the Prototype field).

A subsequent restart saw Montoya immediately challenge Taylor for the lead as they entered the esses, but their battle opened the door for Simpson, who took advantage and passed both on the back straightaway approaching the bus stop chicane.

Simpson stretched out the lead to nearly four seconds, but GT traffic allowed Montoya and Dumas, who quickly climbed up to third, to close in. But, their efforts were to no avail, as Simpson pulled the lead back out to nearly two seconds to take the win.

Dumas nipped Montoya at the line to finish second. Behind them, Paul Di Resta brought the No. 32 United Autosports Ligier JS P217 Gibson home fourth, while Taylor ended up fifth.

In GT Le Mans (GTLM), Dirk Mueller and Joey hand emerged from a tough race-long battle with Porsche GT Team and Corvette Racing to take the GTLM victory in their No. 66 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.

Both entries from Gansssi, Porsche, and Corvette fought hard with each other for all six hours – Ganassi and Porsche slugged it out in the first half of the race, while Corvette emerged as a threat in the second half – Jan Magnussen was leading in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R with just over one hour left.

But, the aforementioned caution and pit stops saw Mueller emerge in the lead, and he held on during the final hour to take the GTLM win by 1.5 seconds. It’s Ganassi’s first GTLM victory since the Rolex 24 at Daytona, won by Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe, and Scott Dixon.

Antonio Garcia, who took over the No. 3 Corvette from Magnussen at their final stop, came home second. Patrick Pilet and Laurens Vanthoor finished third and fourth their Nos. 911 and 912 Porsche 911 RSRs, with Tommy Milner finishing fifth in No. 4 Corvette.

In GTD, Turner Motorsport inherited the lead late in the race after the leading Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi, in the hands of Sheldon van der Linde, incurred a penalty for pitting in a closed pit – they tried diving in to take their final stop before the pits closed for the aforementioned caution for Andy Lally, but did not make it in time.

Their penalty saw Turner driver Markus Palttala move to the lead ahead of Meyer Shank Racing’s Alvaro Parente – the MSR squad bad been battling Turner, Montaplast, and Paul Miller Racing in an extremely intense GTD battle that saw all four entries engage in a six-hour slugfest.

In the end, Palttala, who co-drove with Dillon Machavern and Don Yount, hung on for the win ahead of Parente, who returned to MSR as a co-driver with Katherine Legge. Bryan Sellers brought the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 home in third for the Paul Miller squad. Jack Hawksworth, the GTD pole sitter, finished fourth in the No. 15 Lexus RCF GT3 for 3GT Racing, with Jeroen Bleekemolen finishing fifth in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 for Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports.

Full results can be found here. IMSA heads to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park next week for the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix.

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Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500