IMSA Wire Service
BRASELTON, Ga. – The world renowned Motul Petit Le Mans is a 10-hour endurance test that on Saturday was dramatically decided in the final seconds in the final three corners of the scenic 2.54-mile Road Atlanta road course nestled in the rolling hills of North Georgia.
The No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. driven by Renger Van Der Zande, took advantage of the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi running out of gas three turns from the finish line to take the victory in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale by 5.3-seconds over the No. 77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda DPi.
A little further behind on track, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi benefitted from a different fuel situation – driver Felipe Nasr saving enough gas by a consistently slow and steady late race pace to finish eighth overall, one position behind the closest title contender. But that was still good enough to earn the season Prototype championship – the Action Express Racing Team’s fourth championship in the last five years.
“Literally down to the wire, it was unbelievable,’’ said Eric Curran, co-driving the No. 31 with Nasr, who celebrated his first IMSA Prototype title. It was Curran’s second championship trophy in the last three years. “Why did it have to be so close? But it came out in our favor. Just an unbelievable day. Hats off to Felipe Nasr, my teammate. We had a fast car all day long, but we had to go slow at the end to not pit again.
“So,’’ he added breaking into a grin. “We went slow to win the championship.”
“Just a great season. All the Action Express guys do such a great job and thanks to Sonny Whelen for 11 years of sponsorship for me. First year with Felipe and he’s such a top shelf guy and thanks to [co-drivers] Gabby Chaves and Mike Conway.’’
The Wayne Taylor Racing team was equally as excited to close out the season in such an iconic race in such dramatic fashion. Van Der Zande was still smiling widely – partially in disbelief – as he celebrated with his teammates, Jordan Taylor and former Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“I was asking over the radio and they said he’s not going to make it and I said we’re on the last lap now, it’s not going to happen guys,’’ Van Der Zande animatedly recalled. “Then at the end, I saw he (driver Felipe Albuquerque) was running kind of slow and I thought, is he really going to run slow or is this a dream? It wasn’t a dream and I saw the move and just went for it.
“I’m super happy. This is just unbelievable. I was screaming on the radio.’’
Cadillac also clinched its second consecutive manufacturer title in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. And the No. 31 team of Curran and Nasr earned the Prototype team title.
The No. 7 Acura Team Penske car co-driven by Helio Castroneves, Taylor’s brother Ricky and Graham Rahal led the most laps (128) on the day and finished fifth overall after overcoming a pit road violation late in the race. There were seven different leaders on the day.
The last lap victory was the first win of the season for the Wayne Taylor Racing team and extends a winning streak, that begin in 2004, for the championship organization.
“I’d say it was one of the toughest Motul Petit Le Mans I’ve ever competed in and I’ve been coming here for a long time,’’ Taylor said. “The Prototype category this year, I feel like it was an extremely strong grid and I feel like this year’s race, all 10 hours was extremely cut-throat, getting through traffic, none of the GT cars wanted to give way and there was a lot of bumping and banging.
“It was up to the driver to keep it clean on track and the team called the perfect strategy like you saw in the last few minutes. Every pit stop we made up a position. That’s what it takes to win a 10-hour race.
“He [Van Der Zande] drove a heckuva stint and it was one of the more spectacular finishes I’ve ever seen,’’ Taylor said. “For 10 hours of racing, the way it went, to have it come down to the last two corners is incredible. You never give up in these types of races, you never know what’s going to happen. You could win a race. And that’s what happened today.’’
GT Le Mans
It wasn’t exactly how the team drew it up, but Corvette Racing won its third consecutive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) class championship Saturday in the Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
The 10-hour race was won in class by the No. 911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR and co-drivers Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki, but it was the No. 3 Corvette C7.R team and co-drivers Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, joined at Road Atlanta by Marcel Fassler, who defended their title from one year ago with an eighth-place finish.
In what was an ultimate display of teamwork, the No. 3 team – who entered the race needing to finish fourth or better to clinch the championship – was forced to cheer on its sister car, the No. 4 Corvette C7.R of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Fassler, as it held off the No. 67 Ford GT in the final hour to secure a second consecutive championship for the No. 3.
With a little over two-and-a-half hours remaining and their car in contention for a race victory, Garcia spun exiting pit road and made contact with the inside wall, forcing him to go behind the wall to make repairs. He returned to the track in ninth, three laps down, setting up a scenario where all the No. 67 had to do was finish second or better to win the championship.
While in position to just that, Briscoe pit the No. 67 from second with 48 minutes to go, but was beat back out on track by the No. 4, who ended up holding on to the second position while the No. 67 fell to fifth.
“It probably went from one of my best races of my career to the most embarrassing moment of my career,” said Garcia. “Thank you to the (No.) 4 car for keeping the pressure up on the (No.) 67 car, which had to go for the win for the (championship) result. That’s part of this championship, the 4 car keeping the pressure up at the end. I’m very happy. It will take me a little bit to forget that mistake, but I’m very happy for the whole team.”
“The way it turned out, the way the 4 car went in there and really put pressure on changed things around,” added Magnussen. “Such a massive team effort to make this happen. I’m so proud to be a part of this. I think what really did it was the 4 car got sent super aggressively and changed the balance of things. Obviously the 4 car went for the win, but they knew why they were doing it. It turned things in our favor.”
It was the 13th team championship and 12th driver title for Corvette Racing in its 20-year history. The championship-winning No. 3 team managed to win the championship without scoring a win, riding remarkable consistency that included eight podium finishes in 11 starts. That was the first time since 2005 a team had won a championship with winning a race during the season. The runner-up effort for the No. 4 team, meanwhile, moved them up to third in the year-end standings.
“Congratulations to Antonio, Jan and the No. 3 Corvette C7.R team on clinching the GTLM Driver Championship,” said Mark Reuss, GM Executive Vice President and President Global Product Group and Cadillac. “This team never gave up all season to deliver our 12th Driver title for Corvette Racing over 20 seasons of competition. And congratulations to Corvette Racing and Pratt & Miller on their 13th Team Championship. They prepared a race car that delivered consistent performance and that great combination of power, durability and efficiency.”
Ford, meanwhile, secured the GTLM manufacturer championship with five wins on the season between its two entries.
The win for the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR was the team’s second endurance victory of the season, after winning the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts in March, and Porsche’s third GTLM win on the season.
It was also Porsche’s 20th win in the Motul Petit Le Mans, extending its record among active manufacturers.
“It still feels amazing to win this race,” said Pilet. “It’s the last race of the season. We won Sebring, but since then we had a lot of bad luck and we missed a lot of victories during the season. But like I said, we’re right here with a brand-new motivation. We know that the team was really strong. And we have our lucky charm, Fred.”
Three manufacturers made up the top three spots in the finishing order with the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTLM of John Edwards and Jesse Krohn rounding out the podium. It was BMW’s third consecutive podium to close out the 2018 season.
It was a night of firsts for two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) teams during Saturday’s 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
After earning the Motul Pole Award on Friday – the team’s first of the season – the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa WeatherTech Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 crossed the finish line ahead of the field to earn its first win of 2018 with co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette joined by endurance driver Daniel Serra. It was the team’s first win in the Ferrari, which became the seventh different manufacturer to win a GTD race this season.
“Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way to finish off the WeatherTech Championship in a WeatherTech car,” said MacNeil. “Big hat’s off to Daniel and Gunnar and the entire WeatherTech Scuderia Corsa team. Nobody put a wheel off, nobody made any mistakes, no mistakes in pit lanes and that’s what it takes to win in this competitive championship like WeatherTech. It was just about executing, hitting our marks.”
The Motul Petit Le Mans not only set the stage for a race victory, but also for a narrow GTD championship battle featuring Paul Miller Racing teammates Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow ahead of Katherine Legge in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX by six points.
A podium finish by Paul Miller’s No. 48 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 was all that was required for the team to lock in its first championship and at the end of Saturday’s race, the team met that expectation. Sellers and Snow – joined by Corey Lewis, who also co-drove with the team to victory in March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts – finished third on the podium, the team’s eighth of the season.
The GTD championship is a first for all involved – the two drivers, the manufacturer and the team.
“Our whole season was fight,” said Sellers. “The (No.) 86 is probably one of the toughest competitors that I’ve ever run against in all the seasons I’ve done this. Madison and I talked at the beginning of the year and we felt if we could just knock off podiums and top fives, we’d have a shot at this.
“Paul Miller is the reason we get to do this. This is his 10th year doing this and this is his first driver championship and first team championship. I just think when you look at someone’s commitment over the years that he’s done it, he’s a lifetime racer and without him, the three of us don’t get to do this and stand up here and stand on the podium. But it’s not just us, he employs all the guys behind the scenes that make this work.”
“Honestly to crown off a dream year, the Paul Miller Racing team has done an incredible job,” said Chris Ward, senior manager, Motorsport Automobili Lamborghini America. “The drivers have performed above all expectations, and then to come away with a championship win against fantastic competition. I’m sure the fans were given a spectacle that they’ll remember. Today’s race was an amazing event, just fantastic. I can’t wait to roll into the paddock at Daytona for the Roar (Before the 24 in January).”
Legge, co-driving with Alvaro Parente and Trent Hindman, finished runner-up for her seventh podium of the season. She also held second place in the point standings by four points.
For the second consecutive year, the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT4 team secured the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup title across all three GTD categories: driver, team and manufacturer. Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen were a part of last year’s winning lineup and this year were joined by Luca Stolz. Keating and Bleekemolen also finished third in the final GTD championship standings.