Helio Castroneves took the lead from Renger van der Zande with just more than 5 minutes remaining Sunday to win a rain-plagued IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Road America, which featured a wild finish of multiple lead changes among all of its class winners in the final stint.
The skies opened up after the midpoint of the two-hour, 40-minute race, leading to a 21-minute red flag and a full-course caution period for 22 minutes.
The race still was restarted with seven and a half minutes remaining, and van der Zande’s No. 10 Cadillac took the lead as Oliver Jarvis’ No. 77 Mazda pitted for rain tires.
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SCHEDULE CHANGES: IMSA moving races to Road Atlanta, Charlotte Roval
But Castroneves, whose No. 7 Team Penske Acura started on the pole position with co-driver Ricky Taylor, pounced a couple of minutes later — while driving blindly through the spray kicked up by van der Zande’s Wayne Taylor Racing car.
“I couldn’t see a thing, but I noticed a little gap, and every time you have a little gap when there’s a few laps to go, you go for it,” Castroneves said. “I had a confidence in the car. I knew what to do, especially from Daytona this year we learned a lot. Put all those things together, you are confident enough to drive the car, you push it.”
It was the second overall victory — and first in more than two years — as a duo for Castroneves and Taylor, who joined Team Penske in 2018 after a successful run as a Rolex 24 winner with his father’s team.
“It’s been way too long for both of us,” Taylor said of the drought. “It’s nice to get the monkey off our backs after the start of the season. It’s really great motivation for all the teams to get some momentum back and some points. If we can keep this trend going, maybe we can get back into the championship.
“We’re so motivated. The more you struggle, you start working harder and harder to overcome it. All the Acura Team Penske guys never gave up. Everyone became more motivated to get back in it and get the momentum going.”
Beyond the mediocre results, it’s also been a tough start to the season because Penske announced its sports car program won’t be back next season after a split from Acura.
“Everyone knows the program is going be forced to an end, but we don’t think about that,” Castroneves said. “We want to finish on a high note, and that’s our goal. This is good momentum.”
The victory was well earned as Castroneves couldn’t cruise once he had the lead again. The rain began intensifying in the final two laps and created “basically a river on the back straightaway.”
The race ended under yellow after the No. 24 BMW of John Edwards crashed out of the GTLM lead — but the wrecks didn’t stop there.
Townsend Bell, who helped deliver AIM Vasser Sullivan its third consecutive victory in GTD, crashed his No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3 on the cooldown lap in the final corner at about 20 mph and barely limped back to the pit lane before his steering rack broke.
“If that happened a lap earlier, we would have lost the race under caution at 20 mph, that’s how bad the conditions were,” said Bell, who took over the GTD points leader with co-driver Frankie Montecalvo. “Kind of embarrassing, but I’m not sure I could do much. I was just driving in a straight line as slow as I could go, and it just started floating off the track.”
After the red flag, Bell thought, “there’s no way we’re going back to green, and then I remembered we got Beaux Barfield in race control. I call him ‘CowBeaux.’ Send it!”
Here’s how the finishes went in other classes:
Edwards’ spin handed the victory to the No. 3 Corvette C8.R of Antonio Garcia and co-driver Jordan Taylor. It’s the third consecutive victory for Corvette and its second 1-2 finish in a row after the No. 4 of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won at Sebring.
It also marked the second victory of the season for Garcia and Taylor and the first for both at Road America.
Garcia said he spent the final few laps battling the Porsche of Nick Tandy, who also spun on the final lap.
“We had many, many times when we were alongside and kind of sailing together instead of racing together,” he said. “The line I took on the previous lap seemed to work while defending from Tandy. I was probably one of the few cars that made it through. Luckily enough, Tommy did the same.
“The Carousel and the Kink were almost impossible to go through that part of the track, like going into a swimming pool. There is really nothing much you can do there. It depends on your car, depends on how deep the water. The Corvette C8.R survived it better than the rest. It’s a credit to how good the C8.R is in the wet.”
Bell and Mario Farnbacher traded the lead over the final two laps with Bell retaking first for good when Farnbacher’s Acura slid off course in the Kink.
“I hit that standing water and I thought I was going to lose it and for a split second I thought I was just going to lift and coast,” said Bell, who had 32 laps prior to the pass by Farnbacher. “I saw him off there, and I just put my foot down and started grabbing gears basically and the Lexus barely hooked up and got by him. That’s all it took and then the yellow came out there.”
Farnbacher, who went from fifth to first in five laps after the final restart on the benefit of a pit call for rain tires by team owner Mike Shank, hung on for second. “We should have won it, but that’s racing sometimes,” Farnbacher said.
It was the first Road America victory for Bell and the first in Montecalvo’s IMSA career. They lead by four points over the No. 14 of teammates Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz, who had won the past two races. Bell took the lead from Hawksworth during a pit stop sequence Sunday that he said was the key to the victory.
“It’s been really satisfying for the team to have the 1-2 qualifying and the 1-2 finish, but quietly we get a little frustrated because we want a chance at the top step, too,” Bell said. “We did the undercut, they did the overcut, and coming out of the pits, I got Jack (Hawksworth) exiting turn 3. I had a run and I knew that was my chance. If we didn’t make it happen there, it was probably going to be tough to get something done, so I got the position and just settled into a good pace and off we went.”
In LMP2, Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley scored their second victory in the No. 81 ORECA for DragonSpeed, taking advantage when Simon Trummer went off course under yellow with about 45 minutes left.
Hedman and Hanley also won the LMP2 class of the Rolex 24 and would have won July 18 at Sebring International Raceway if not for a penalty.
“The 52 car (of Patrick Kelly and Trummer) probably should have won this race and they didn’t, so we’re happy to take it, and this was a team victory for us today,” Hedman said. “Rules are rules, and we made a mistake (at Sebring). One of the very few that DragonSpeed has ever made. It is what it is. Today we were lucky, but a win is a win, so I’m happy.”