Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: CORE scores breakthrough win at CTMP; Ford, Mercedes score GT class wins

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Courtesy IMSA Newswire

BOWMANVILLE, Ontario, Canada – Canadian Tire Motorsport Park has been a strong venue for co-drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun dating back to their days racing in the American Le Mans Series Prototype Challenge (PC) class.

Coming into the weekend, they’d won three PC races at the ultra-quick, 2.54-mile circuit, the most recent coming in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship PC class in 2016. In Sunday’s two-hour and 40-minute Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix, the longtime teammates took it to another level.

Driving the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA 07 Gibson LMP2 entry, Braun took the lead from Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R with eight laps remaining in what would be a 116-lap race. It capped a last-to-first run for the No. 54, as for the second consecutive week, the team elected to have Bennett start the race after Braun had captured the Motul Pole Award in qualifying.

The penalty for changing starting drivers is to start from the rear of the class field, but Bennett turned in a solid opening stint before handing the controls to Braun. He went on to win by 3.431 seconds over Taylor to take the first WeatherTech Championship Prototype class victory for himself, Bennett and the whole team.

“Since we unloaded, it’s been a Cinderella weekend for us,” Bennett said. “It’s nice to see our program and the Porsche program at the top of the charts in all the session and pole positions. Our team was working well all weekend. Colin was amazing all weekend, walk-on-water amazing.

“I don’t have to tell you what kind of momentum that gave us. Qualifying is qualifying, and racing is racing, so it carried over to the race. My job and our strategy has always been: return a square, damage-free car to Colin and go and that’s what we did. A lot of great strategy from his dad (engineer) Jeff Braun, and holy cow, here we are.”

It was Bennett’s 15th career IMSA victory (nine WeatherTech Championship, six ALMS) and was Braun’s 16th IMSA win (nine WeatherTech, five ALMS, two GRAND-AM). This is the team’s first year in the Prototype class. The longtime PC class competitors raced a Porsche in the WeatherTech Championship GTD class last year before moving to the Prototype ranks.

It was their second straight podium result in a week after taking the runner-up spot in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen last Sunday and was the third podium run of the season for the No. 54 team, which finished third in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.

“It’s so cool to get the first win for CORE at this level,” Braun said. “It’s been a pleasure driving with Jon all these years. We’ve had a lot of firsts together and done a lot of cool things and this is another one of those things in a long line.

“Hats off to the CORE guys. We had great strategy all day. We saved fuel when we needed to, we saved tires when we needed to and we just played our cards the right way and got it done when it mattered. It was important in this race to not get too excited at the beginning. We just sort of laid in the weeds all day and slowly worked our way up and we were there when it mattered at the end.”

Taylor and co-driver Renger van der Zande combined to lead a race-high 71 laps en route to second place in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. It also was their third podium result of the season and first since a third-place outing in April’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.

Finishing third were Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R for Action Express. It was the fourth consecutive Canadian Tire Motorsport Park podium for Curran, who also finished second in 2015 and won the race in each of the past two years with then-co-driver Dane Cameron.

It was Curran and Nasr’s fourth podium result in seven races and enabled them to take over the WeatherTech Championship Prototype class points lead by one marker, 198-197, over their Action Express teammate, Filipe Albuquerque, in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi.

Albuquerque and co-driver Christian Fittipaldi finished fourth with Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor rounding out the top five in the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi race car.

The WeatherTech Championship Prototype class returns to action next month in the two-hour, 40-minute Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America on Aug. 3-5.

Perfectly-Timed Pit Stop Sends No. 67 Ford GT of Briscoe, Westbrook to Victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe scored their second win of the IMSA season on Sunday. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Some IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races are won on the track and some are won in the pits.

During Sunday’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP), it was a case of the latter for the winning No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.

After starting second – one week after collecting the pole position at Watkins Glen International – the No. 67 paced itself throughout the first half of the race, as each of the four manufacturers in the class took their turns atop the leaderboard.

With less than an hour remaining, Westbrook took the reins from starting co-driver Briscoe and ran second behind the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia. Garcia then ducked into the pits as the class was set to cycle through another round of stops and Westbrook cycled into the lead.

Drama quickly began to unfold as the No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi of Juan Pablo Montoya lost a tire on track, bringing out a full-course caution. Aware of the situation, the No. 67 Ford dove into the pits immediately before the caution was called and completed its stop as the safety car exited pit lane.

“You never stop believing,” said Westbrook. “We really improved the car after first practice. It was a real handful. And at period of times during the race, it was still a handful. We see stuff from the pickup. But when the guys gave me some clear track, I managed to clean up the tires and the pace wasn’t too bad.

“They just did a great call, so this goes to the team and my fantastic teammate giving us a fantastic chance putting it on the front row, which was definitely over-achieving. It just gives us great confidence knowing we can win in this way. It’s just great to be part of.”

The win at CTMP is the second of the year for Westbrook and Briscoe, who also delivered Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s 200th team win at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.

And for the first time this season, the team entered the race weekend not in the GTLM championship lead, but in second place behind teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford GT, who won last Sunday at at Watkins Glen. However, with their victory and a fifth-place finish for the No. 66 at CTMP, Westbrook and Briscoe reclaimed their position at the top.

“Unreal,” said Briscoe of getting the championship lead back. “This result today, as Rick said, played the strategy perfectly, play the traffic, and Rick just drove unbelievably. I mean the car was not easy to drive today. He was just masterful. What a result. We’ll definitely take that.”

A pair of Corvettes rounded out the remaining steps on the GTLM podium, with the No. 3 of Garcia and co-driver Jan Magnussen holding on to second place and the No. 4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin in third. With the runner-up result, the No. 3 moves into second place in the point standings, six points out of first, 181-175.

Keating, Bleekemolen Drive Mercedes-AMG to Victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports took their first win of the year on Sunday. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Mercedes-AMG returned to victory lane Sunday in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen co-driving to the win in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Bleekemolen capitalized on a late-race restart to get around the No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Kyle Marcelli for the win. The pass came with 14 minutes remaining, one lap after the restart, with Bleekemolen leading the final 13 laps en route to winning the race by 2.919 seconds.

It was the first win of the season for Keating and Bleekemolen and the No. 33 Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3, and the team’s first since Circuit of The Americas in May, 2017.

“I’m excited to be back in victory lane,” said Keating. “It’s been over a year since we’ve had a win, so it’s nice to be back. We had a really good car today. We came out of the truck with this setup. We really hit it well.”

“The Lexus was struggling a little more than I was,” added Bleekemolen. “We were fighting and I got a little bit of a gap, and then we tried to keep it and just bring it home. (Marcelli) had a little slide going through Turn 9. I tried for Turn 10, I got inside of him there. He gave me the space, so I took it.”

The win also keeps Keating and Bleekemolen alive in the GTD championship hunt. The duo entered the weekend 21 points behind the points-leading No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers – who finished fourth – and 20 points behind Katherine Legge in the No. 86 SiriusXM Acura NSX GT3 for Meyer Shank Racing, who finished fifth co-driving with Alvaro Parente.

Sellers and Snow now lead Legge by three points, 183-180, while Keating and Bleekemolen are 14 points out of the lead.

The runner-up finish for Marcelli and co-driver Dominik Baumann was the duo’s second podium of the season. It also caps off a special weekend for Barrie, Ontario native Marcelli, who won Saturday’s IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race.

“Of course, we’re competitors and we want to win and it’s a good thing when you’re upset with second,” said Marcelli. “We had a fast car, but we really struggled at the end of the stint with our rear tire and we knew that, so we did not need the yellows. I needed it to stay green.”

A hard-charging Andy Lally rounded out the podium, moving from fifth to third in the final 15 minutes in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 co-driven by John Potter. Lally just missed a second-place finish, falling 0.095 seconds short of Marcelli at the stripe.

Five races remain in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season for the GTD class. Up next is the GT-only Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park on July 21.

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Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.