Photos courtesy IMSA

IMSA: Five takeaways from Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen

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Courtesy IMSA Wire Service

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Sunday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen featured outstanding competition throughout all three classes and somewhat surprising winners in at least two of them.

No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LPM2 drivers Misha Goikhberg, Chris Miller and Stephen Simpson took the first victory of the season for an LMP2 car and the first since Renger van der Zande and Marc Goossens took the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Ligier to the win in the penultimate round of the 2017 season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

In the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, No. 66 Ford GT co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller capped off a tremendous weekend at Watkins Glen for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. And in GT Daytona (GTD), Turner Motorsport took its first Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen win since 2014 with the driving trio of Don Yount, Markus Palttala and Dillon Machavern prevailing in the No. 96 BMW M6 GT3.

Here are five key takeaways from a hot one in upstate New York:

1. One Point Separating First from Second in All Three Classes

The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen was the sixth of 10 races for the Prototype class and the fifth of 11 for both GTLM and GTD, and the championship battles in all three classes are shaping up to be legendary. Just a single point separates first from second place in all three.

The championship race in the Prototype class actually “opened up” a tiny bit at Watkins Glen, as the pair of Action Express Racing teammates that came into the race tied now have one point between them. Leading the way is Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R by virtue of his sixth-place finish in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen with co-drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Gabby Chaves.

Albuquerque leads Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran – who took seventh in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi at Watkins Glen with third driver Mike Conway – by a count of 169-168.

It’s another pair of teammates atop the GTLM standings, as Hand and Mueller parlayed their Watkins Glen victory into the WeatherTech Championship points lead in the No. 66 Ford GT by one point, 147-146, over Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, who now are second in the No. 67 Ford GT. Those two had led the GTLM championship from their season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona throughSunday’s race at Watkins Glen where they finished sixth.

And while they’re not official teammates, there are a pair of “Team ATL” members battling it out for GTD supremacy. Madison Snow and Atlanta’s Bryan Sellers continue to lead the standings – as they have since winning March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts – in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3.

Sitting second is another Atlanta resident, Katherine Legge, who co-drove to a second-place finish in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 with Alvaro Parente in Sunday’s race. Legge trails Sellers and Snow by a count of 155-154.

The championship battle moves north of the border this Sunday for the two-hour, 40-minute Mobil 1 Sports Car Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. It will be televised on FS1 on a delayed basis beginning at 4 p.m. ET and will be carried live by IMSA Radio on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio.

Tickets are available now on CanadianTireMotorsportPark.com.

2. LMP2s Have Great Weekend at Watkins Glen

While Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars had won every race and Motul Pole Award of the 2018 season prior to last weekend, the tables were definitely turned at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.

Friday’s pair of practice sessions ended with Romain Dumas atop the time charts in the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA. In Saturday qualifying, Colin Braun showed that Dumas’ Friday performance was no fluke, putting the No. 54 on pole with a Prototype class track record.

What’s more, he led a 1-2 sweep of qualifying for LMP2 cars, as Paul Di Resta put the No. 32 United Autosports Ligier second on the grid.

It was more of the same in Sunday’s race. ORECA swept the top two spots, with Simpson, Goikhberg and Miller taking the victory in the No. 99 GAINSCO machine ahead of Dumas, Braun and Jon Bennett – who ended up starting the race from the rear of the Prototype grid in a strategy call and put in yeoman’s work in his opening double stint before giving way to Braun and Dumas.

And for good measure, Di Resta and co-drivers Phil Hanson and Bruno Senna made it three LMP2s in the top four with a fourth-place run in the No. 32. In total, the Nos. 99, 54 and 32 combined to lead 64 of the 202 total laps run in the Six Hours

3. No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Squad Riding Podium Streak

One of the key storylines of the GTD championship-winning performance by Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan last year was the then-No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari squad’s impressive run of six consecutive podium finishes.

Well, don’t look now, but the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini team and co-drivers Sellers and Snow now have finished on the podium in all five races this season. They’ve actually got one more win than Nielsen and Balzan had at this point in the season last year, and four other third-place results, including the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.

“What a good race,” Snow said. “In practice, we didn’t quite have the pace to win the race, but once we got into the race, we knew we could be consistent and run the whole race and get faster in the end. That’s how we’ve been able to get on the podium at all the other races this year. It was definitely hot for us to only run two drivers, but it worked out just fine. We’ve had a great season so far, and everyone has done a great job to just keep this momentum going.”

4. Montoya, Cameron Have Longest Active Prototype Podium Streak in No. 6 Acura

While they haven’t yet stood atop the victory podium, No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi co-drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron have been familiar faces around the victory podium lately.

Since finishing a season-best second in May’s Acura Sports Car Classic at Mid-Ohio behind teammates Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi, Cameron and Montoya have finished third twice – in last month’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic in Detroit and on Sunday in Watkins Glen.

But while the podium run is appreciated and has helped them move into third in the Prototype championship standings, just 13 in arrears of leader Albuquerque, the No. 6 duo really wants a win. They came close on Sunday, leading a race-high 124 laps.

“The podium’s really good, it was a really good points day,” Cameron said. “It was disappointing to be third after pretty much leading the entire race, but that’s the box we have to work in right now and it kind of reared its head with a poor-timed yellow for us for what we could do on fuel.

“We were a bit of a sitting duck in a straight line horsepower-wise, so those two things kind of played out poorly for us there at the end and cost us those two spots. Acura Team Penske is doing a great job right now and three podiums in row so we’ll keep digging our way up to the front of the points here, hopefully.”

5. Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup Battles Still Alive After Three of Four Rounds

The battle for the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup is already three-quarters of the way over with the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and Sunday’s race now in the rearview mirror with only the season-ending 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in October still to come.

Nevertheless, the battles for 2018 Patrón Endurance Cup honors in all three classes are still alive. The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi team of Curran, Nasr and Conway currently has the largest lead of any of the three classes, with six points (31-25) in hand in the Prototype standings over their teammates, Albuquerque and Fittipaldi with the four-time defending Patrón Endurance Cup No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac team.

However, the Prototype class also features the most cars still mathematically in contention. There is a total of seven still with a shot, including both the Nos. 6 and 7 Acura Team Penske entries, which have 24 points each; the No. 22 Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi team of Pipo Derani, Johannes van Overbeek and Nicolas Lapierre with 23; the No. 32 United Autosports squad with 23 points and the No. 54 CORE autosport team with 22 points.

In the GTLM class, it’s down to the pair of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing entries and the No. 911 Porsche GT Team. Watkins Glen winners Hand and Mueller now lead the standings in the No. 66 Ford GT by four points, 33-29, over Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR. The No. 67 Ford GT team of Westbrook and Briscoe is the only other one still mathematically eligible with a total of 28 points.

The GTD battle for the Patrón Endurance Cup is a four-team battle royale with the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 trio of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Luca Stolz leading the way. They have 31 points compared to second-place Legge and Parente in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Acura NSX GT3 team, which has 29 markers.

The No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini squad of Sellers and Snow is still in it with 26 points, while the No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 co-driven by Christopher Mies and Sheldon van der Linde also remains in contention with 24 points.

Each team can score a maximum of 15 points and a minimum of six points from the three final scoring intervals in the Motul Petit Le Mans on Saturday, Oct. 13.

Whether dinner or driving, Montoya and Cameron fast friends at Penske

Courtesy of IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dane Cameron’s reaction to being told he’d be paired with Juan Pablo Montoya on Team Penske’s DPI Acura didn’t signal the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“I sign my contract with (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric, and he says, ‘We’re going to put you with Montoya,’ ” Cameron told NBCSports.com, pausing to laugh. “I’m thinking ‘Did I do something wrong? Is he mad at me? Why is he giving me that guy? This is going to be a lot of work.’

“At first I wasn’t really sure what I was in for because (Montoya) definitely has a bit of a reputation. I was like, ‘Oh man, how is this going to go?’ ”

Actually, it’s gone really well.

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Entering this weekend’s season-opening Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Cameron and Montoya are the reigning champions of IMSA’s premier division. In their second year together, the No. 6 duo scored victories last season at Mid-Ohio, Detroit and Laguna Seca while finishing on the podium in seven consecutive events.

But it’s easy to understand why Cameron initially might have had reservations about a working relationship with Montoya.

Over a Hall of Fame career spanning more than two decades, the outspoken Colombian famous for his cutthroat indifference and swashbuckling sizzle has been embroiled in controversial rivalries with many of the world’s greatest drivers while blazing a winning trail in IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One.

Cameron, meanwhile, is a low-key native of Sonoma, California, who is the first three-time champion of the WeatherTech Series (since the IMSA merger of 2014) but whose professional driving experience is limited nearly exclusively to sports cars.

Yet since their first conversation – Montoya called Cameron while he was driving home from signing that first contract with Penske – their rapport has been strong, and as simpatico as they are behind the wheel, they also get along famously off the track.

“We have such a good relationship,” Montoya told NBCSports.com. “It’s amazing how well we bonded. We really created a friendship. We have massive amounts of trust in each other. Whether he makes a mistake or I make a mistake, there’s no judgment. We always seem to be there for each other, and we complement each other really well.

“I like going to dinner with this guy, put it that way. That doesn’t happen often.”

Cameron said his teammate’s loose and playful style immediately was a welcome relief. During one of his first media appearances with Team Penske’s IMSA driver lineup, Cameron was nervous about maintaining the team’s well-coiffed image of professionalism.

But as Montoya and teammate Helio Castroneves traded barbs about turning gray or graining weight, Cameron suddenly felt at ease.

“Juan’s a good guy to break the ice when it’s getting a little stuffy in the room to have a little joke or make fun of Helio coloring his hair just to lighten the mood,” Cameron said of Montoya. “If things are tense, he’s good. It’s silly and childish but fun. That helped me get more comfortable for sure

“He’s probably a little more brash than I am and likes to pick on people and have some fun, but I like to enjoy myself, too. If everything’s really serious, and you’re miserable, it’s tougher to perform in the car. If you’re enjoying yourself and surrounding yourself with the right people in a good environment, then things come together a lot easier.”

Cameron and Montoya never met before joining Team Penske’s relaunched sports car program two years ago. The team used the same formula for filling each of its Acuras: Pairing an IMSA champion with an IndyCar star.

Ricky Taylor and Castroneves were aligned in the No. 7, and Montoya was teamed with Cameron, who had won the 2016 DP title with Action Express Racing.

The No. 6 Acura in testing for the Rolex 24. Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron and Simon Pagenaud will share the car this weekend at Daytona (courtesy of IMSA).

“With (Cameron) winning the championship, we knew Montoya would have respect for him,” Cindric said. “We saw pretty quickly that (Montoya) could learn from (Cameron) in this form of racing. It’s been healthy. We’ve never had any problems with them.

“It’s good to see them have success and Montoya get another championship. He was so close to the IndyCar (title) with us, it was good to get one with him.”

Montoya, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and Cameron will be paired with another Indy 500 champion at Daytona as Simon Pagenaud joins their Rolex 24 entry for the second consecutive season. Montoya and Cameron still are seeking their first endurance victory, and Pagenaud bring the resume of a former American Le Mans Series champion.

The trio will split the driving over 24 hours while also compromising on myriad details, such as the positioning of the seat and pedals. Hitting a setup that can suit each driver’s style with optimized speed is among the biggest challenges in sports car racing.

“You have to find the right balance between standing up for what you really want and what you really need so you can perform and then maybe give up here and there on certain things that aren’t bothering you,” Cameron said. “When you find the right partnership and the right guy to be with, it really can push the program to the next level.”

Said Montoya: “It’s crazy that we always want the same things out of the car. We keep helping each other. And it’s funny because when I’m really happy with the car, he struggles a bit. And when he’s really happy with the car, I struggle a bit. And we kind of found that middle ground where we know it’s good. I can make it work here, and he can make it work there.”

Each has their own track-specific strengths, too. Montoya is a three-time Rolex 24 winner who excels on the Daytona road course, where Cameron still is seeking his first win. It’s the opposite at Sebring International Raceway, where Montoya says, “I know I suck, and Dane’s freaking unbelievable.”

Such brutal honesty is part of what makes Montoya a good teammate.

“He just wants to have fun and drive race cars and really isn’t into drama,” Cameron said. “Sometimes he can’t bite his tongue, but that makes everyone love him at the same time. We just found a really great way to have fun at the racetrack and become closer friends away from the track.

“He’s just the right guy.”

Juan Pablo Montoya (left) and Dane Cameron celebrated after winning at Laguna Seca last year (courtesy of IMSA).