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


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).

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500