Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves overcame pit penalties on consecutive laps during the first hour to win the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race Saturday at Michelin Road Atlanta.
After winning the pole position for the six-hour event Friday, Castroneves was nailed for being too fast on pit entry for the first stop in his No. 7 Acura.
While serving his drive-through penalty, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner ran a red light at pit exit, necessitating a stop and hold penalty for 60 seconds that dropped him and co-driver Ricky Taylor a lap down.
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The Team Penske duo rebounded, though, for a second consecutive victory this season after a rain-soaked triumph at Road America that also featured an impressive display of driving by Castroneves, who has joked about being “open for business” while lobbying for a ride next season.
Congratulations to the DPi and overall winners of the https://t.co/BvTXVSBVAO Grand Prix at Michelin Raceway @RoadAtlanta the No. 7 @acura @Team_Penske @RickyTaylorRace @h3lio!#IMSA / #TireRackGrandPrix pic.twitter.com/GTQJ4X4GVC
— IMSA (@IMSA) September 5, 2020
“People say I’m driving like 20, I’m also making mistakes like I’m 20, so thank God for Team Penske,” Castroneves said. “Nobody lost faith. Everybody was, ‘Oh, it’s cool.’ Finally, the yellow came to our favor.
“Man, as soon as I got to the lead, no turning back. Absolutely fantastic.”
Castroneves and Taylor won the TireRack.com Grand Prix by 0.983 seconds over the No. 55 Mazda of Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The No. 31 Cadillac of Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Filipe Albuquerque was third.
The No. 6 Acura moved up to fifth in the DPi standings after starting the season with a crash in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“We’ve been fighting back all year, and today was just a synopsis of our season coming from a lap down and a complete nightmare of a start to the race,” Taylor said. “But those mistakes are so easy to happen. We’ve all done it. And then when helio went back out, I told my brother on text, ‘Helio’s angry now. Look out.’ And man, he fought back so hard. He made it look easy at the end.”
Another penalty kept the championship tight as the No. 10 Cadillac of Ryan Briscoe and Renger van der Zande maintained a narrow four-point lead.
Briscoe was penalized for avoidable contact after hitting Juan Pablo Montoya while entering the pits for his final stop. Team owner Wayne Taylor said Montoya was at fault for brake-checking Briscoe.
“It’s disgraceful for a professional driver to do that,” Taylor told NBCSN’s Dillon Welch about Montoya. “This would have put us into the lead in the championship by a long way. He just screwed our race.”
— Motorsports on NBC (@MotorsportsNBC) September 5, 2020
Briscoe said he was running 15 mph under the speed limit but still hit the brakes too late to avoid Montoya. “I’d like to talk to him,” Briscoe said. “I think he must have missed his mark or something. But again, unfortunately in this series, there’s no tolerance, you hit someone in the back. It was his mistake.”
It was an eventful race for Team Penske’s No. 6 Acura as Montoya crashed with less than 10 minutes remaining after contact while trying to complete a pass between two cars. Teammate Dane Cameron spun the car on the opening lap after being squeezed by Nasr, who was penalized for avoidable contact.
In other classes Saturday:
–No. 25 BMW drivers Bruno Spengler and Connor De Phillippi scored their first victory of the season in GTLM. “We didn’t have the fastest car over one lap, but we did a mistake-free race,” De Phillippi said. “Flawless execution.”
–Mario Farnbacher and Matt McMurry, joined by third driver Shinya Michimi, took over the GTD points lead with their first victory of the season in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing w/Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3. “We just did everything right,” McMurry said. “All the pit stops were super fast.”
–In LMP2, the PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA of Simon Trummer, Scott Huffaker and Patrick Kelly Twon as the rival car in the class had an incident on the opening lap.