Mazda, AIM Vasser Sullivan sweep; Corvette wins 100th as IMSA returns

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Harry Tincknell led a Mazda Motorsports sweep of the top two positions Saturday night as the IMSA SportsCar Championship returned to the track at Daytona International Speedway.

The No. 55 Mazda DPi of Tincknell and teammate Jonathan Bomarito won the 95-lap race by more than 10 seconds over the No. 77 Mazda of Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez.

It’s the third career victory for the duo in IMSA’s fastest class.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order at Daytona

“It’s an unbelievable race; this guy did an unbelievable job today,” Tincknell told NBCSN pit reporter Parker Kligerman while celebrating with Bomartio in victory lane. “I just had the luxury of driving around at the end. We had a great car; I just finished it off.”

Harry Tincknell (left) and Jonathan Bomarito celebrate after winning the IMSA WeatherTech 240 at Daytona International Speedway (Brian Cleary/Getty Images).

The two-hour and 40-minute race started nearly 40 minutes behind schedule because of delays for nearby lightning strikes in the Daytona Beach, Florida, area.

Afternoon showers left some teams facing the dilemma of whether to start the race on rain tires around the 3.56-mile road course.

“It was tough,” said Bomarito, who began in the car and turned race’s fastest lap (1 minute, 35.446 seconds). “We started the race with rains and then it was drying out constantly.

“The team did a great job giving me the information I needed. I knew straightaway we had a car that could fight for the win. It was very aggressive, hard racing. Just what an amazing day. That was a lot of fun out here. It’s so good to be back at the racetrack doing what we do.”

Daytona marked IMSA’s first race since the series’ last trip to Daytona for the Rolex 24 in January — a layoff of more than five months because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

There were no repeat winners in any class as the fortunes shifted in a “sprint race” on the same layout as the annual endurance classic.

The No. 3 Corvette C8.R of Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor won the GTLM class Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, (Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

In the GTLM class, Corvette Racing scored its 100th IMSA victory in its second race with the new mid-engine C8.R. The No. 3 of Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor held off the No. 912 Porsche for Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor for the victory.

“We deserved this moment,” said Garcia, who finished the race for his first victory in three years. “We came up just short so many times even though we won championships. All I could think about when I went across the line was remembering about Kyle (Millay, race engineer), (ex-teammate) Jan Magnussen and us coming so close. It’s the first win for the Corvette C8.R, 100th in IMSA for Corvette Racing and the first victory with Jordan. This is huge.”

Garcia and Taylor used a fuel-saving strategy to stretch their tank an extra two laps.

“It is amazing,” Taylor told NBCSN’s Dillon Welch. “I think the off time gave the Corvette Racing guys some decent time to make some headway with our new C8.R. Our fuel mileage, engine and drivability at the beginning of the race was much better than the (Rolex 24). Pit stops were improved as the guys were training through the quarantine once they could get back in the shop.

“I’m very proud to be here with Antonio for the first win for the C8.R and the 100th win for the team. It is a very special day.”

AIM Vasser Sullivan captured the top two spots in the GTD division. Jack Hawksworth finished first in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 after taking over for Aaron Telitz, who only recently was named as the team’s co-driver full time.

“I’m wearing a mask, but I can tell you I’m smiling,” Hawksworth said. “That was an awesome race. To be honest, my job was quite easy because Aaron quite frankly put all of the hard work in the beginning with a good qualifying lap, started up front and then managed to get out front and get us a gap. Then, after that once I got in it was just about maintaining.

“I didn’t see another GTD car all day so I’m not complaining. The Lexus RC F GT3s were absolutely on rails all day. I’m super stoked to have Aaron in the car for the rest of the season.”

Townsend Bell finished runner-up in the No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3 that he shares with Frankie Montecalvo.

It was a satisfactory completion of a two-day odyssey for Bell, who spent two days commuting between Daytona and Indianapolis (where he worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst for the GMR Grand Prix).

He nearly didn’t make it to Daytona for the race. A chartered plane carrying Bell and team co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan had cabin-pressure problems that necessitated a low-altitude flight, and inclement weather forced an unexpected landing in Jacksonville, Florida.

The trio made a 90-minute scramble south to Daytona in a rental car (piloted by Vasser, the former IndyCar champion).

“Frightened is probably accurate,” Bell said of the experience. “We had an issue in the sky, any time the pilot is pulling out the owners manual midflight is generally not a good sign. It was one of those things where we could tell even on take-off, your ears, the pressurization was kind of in and out. I could hear the pressurization pump in the back of the plane going.

“I went up to talk to the pilot and they said, ‘We know we are working on it.’ We had to level off at like 12,000 feet while they worked on it. Then they said we’re not going to be able to do this, we have to go back to Indy. I said there is no way, after all the effort put into this, that I’m missing this race.”

They arrived just as the command was given to start engines (Bell was driving second).

“I don’t know what day it is,” Bell joked. “I’ve been in four or five states and had some drama in the skies. A second place at Daytona is not bad for an old guy only here for a few hours (Friday). We just rolled off the truck prepared and ready to go.”

The last few weeks have been arduous for many of the field’s drivers from outside the United States. Several arrived in late May and early June to avoid concerns about travel restrictions during the pandemic.

Tincknell has been rooming with Jarvis and Nunez in Florida as one of many groups of drivers who have hunkered down while waiting on the next green flag.

“There’s a lot of us Europeans who have been away from our families for a while now,” he said. “We love racing. We just wanted to be back and entertaining the fans as soon as we could. So happy the sacrifice has paid off.”

The No. 77 Mazda DPi of Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez finished second in the IMSA WeatherTech 240, which ended in darkness after a weather delay at Daytona International Speedway (Brian Cleary/Getty Images).