Thrilling Petit Le Mans caps of stellar IMSA season


BRASELTON, Ga. – The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi did everything it could in an attempt to repeat as Daytona Prototype international champions in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Even by winning Saturday’s thrilling Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, the No. 31 couldn’t unseat the No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi from the 2019 season title. By placing fourth on Saturday, No. 6 drivers Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya held on for the DPi crown by five points. And along with third driver Simon Pagenaud, they sealed the team title in the Acura Team Penske program’s second season.

In a race that saw a record 465 laps completed on the 2.54-mile Michelin Raceway road course (1,181.1 miles) – 22 laps more than last year’s previous standard. But it came down to a 25-minute trophy dash to the finish following the last of four full-course cautions in the iconic 10-hour race to close the WeatherTech Championship season.

The final restart saw the No. 31’s Action Express teammate, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi, take the green flag in the lead with Filipe Albuquerque at the wheel. Pipo Derani, celebrating his 26th birthday, was in the saddle of the second-place No. 31 – which needed to win the race and have the No. 6 finish ninth or worse to pull off the championship repeat.

Derani hounded Albuquerque until the No. 5 suddenly skidded off track in Turn 10 with just under 20 minutes remaining. As the No. 31 zoomed into the lead, the No. 5 pulled into pit lane, the victim of a badly damaged left front brake rotor that ended its night.

From there, the No. 31, shared in the race by co-drivers Derani, Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran, took the checkered flag .996 seconds ahead of the defending race champion, the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. shared by Renger van der Zende, Jordan Taylor and Matthieu Vaxiviere.

 “I’ve been trying to win this race for the last three years,” Derani said. “I finished second on my first time here in 2016, and last year I was close for the overall win and it slipped away in the last few minutes on both occasions. To finally have it this year is fantastic.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t take the full championship,” Derani added, “but we’ll take a strong end to our season that can hopefully be the success we carry on for next year.

The victory was the second of the year for the No. 31, as well as its fifth podium result of 2019. Curran earned his 10th career IMSA victory, Derani his seventh and Nasr his third. The No. 31 also overtook the No. 10 to win the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup that awards points at different junctures in the four endurance events on the schedule.

“I’m pretty happy with the final result and the victory itself,” said Nasr, who joined the WeatherTech Championship full time in 2018 after two years in Formula One. “Just looking back at how the weekend started, from the time we hit the track, the work we did through every session, Action Express Racing did an amazing job to get the car together in every kind of condition out there.”

Cameron and Montoya wound up five points ahead of Derani and Nasr in the driver’s championship, the same gap that the No. 6 defeated the No. 31 by for the team title. Cameron earned his third WeatherTech Championship crown, following the GT Daytona title in 2014 and the Prototype championship in 2016 – ironically with Action Express.

“It’s cool to just win the championship for something you’ve had so much influence in its development and its growth,” Cameron said. “It’s a nice rebound from the learning year we had last year to come back and win three races and win the title, it’s fantastic.

“For me, it’s the first time to be in this tight and in-depth with a manufacturer, so it’s something I’m excited to be a part of. I think Juan and I said earlier in the year we were excited to come to this program because it had potential. We fell a bit short of it last year and this year we got it to the level it should have been all along.”

For Montoya, whose many racing accomplishments include two Indianapolis 500 wins and seven Formula One victories, it was his first season championship of any kind since taking the CART title in Indy cars 20 years ago. The thought of it brought a smile to the 44-year-old’s face.

“I think it’s great, I think it’s fun,” Montoya said. “When you join Team Penske when you come to this program and with Acura, they expect this. It’s great that we won it, but if we didn’t, they’d be disappointed. As hard as everyone works in the program, and how well we prepare the cars and how everything is done, it’s great. You’re so proud of the guys. They are so pumped.”

McMurry, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Win LMP2 Race and Championship

The Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class was decided by the halfway point of Saturday’s 10-hour race. By just taking the green flag, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 wrapped up the team championship, with driver Matt McMurry clinching the driver’s title.

The No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA won the LMP2 pole in qualifying on Friday but was eliminated less than 90 minutes into the race. Cameron Cassels slowed in the esses to let the No. 6 Acura Team Penske DPi go past. But the trailing No. 7 Acura Team Penske DPi ran into the rear of the No. 38, sending it into the Turn 4 barrier and bringing out the first full-course caution of the day.

That left the No. 52 driven by McMurry, Dalton Kellett and Gabriel Aubry alone in class on track. Just past the halfway point, however, smoke erupted from the rear of the car, and it headed to the paddock and didn’t return.

“I wish we could have raced into the night to see how the track is and how the lead would hold,” Aubry said. “We had a good car. I think something happened on the rear suspension and took us out of the race. The track is tough on the car, but that’s how it goes.”

The victory was the sixth in a row to close the LMP2 season for the No. 52. It propelled McMurry, the 21-year-old from Phoenix, to the first major championship of his young racing career.

“It’s amazing,” McMurry said. “I’ve been watching IMSA my whole life. My dad drove in LMP2 and P1 for years, and to be the champion is pretty special.

“The team did great all year, I couldn’t have done it without them. They performed pretty flawlessly all year. There were a couple of unfortunate things that happened, but it was nothing the team could have done to prevent it. The team, all the pit stops were perfect, the suspension and setup were almost always spot on as soon as we pulled it off the trailer.

“It’s special, and I’m glad I did it with PR1, and with Dalton and Gabby.”

Risi steals win in GTELM

BRASELTON, Ga. – In the weeks leading up to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, all eyes were on the four full-season manufacturers in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.

There was the last IMSA race for the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, in anticipation of the 2020 competition unveil of the C8.R; the swan song for Ford’s GT factory program; and Porsche’s Coca Cola-themed throwback livery ahead of its championship-winning efforts.

But throughout the weekend, the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 stole much of the attention.

Starting on Friday, James Calado qualified the car on the pole position for the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans. Then on Saturday, Calado and co-drivers Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra combined to lead over one-third of the laps, 157 of 434, to secure Risi Competizione’s first victory in exactly three years, as the team’s last WeatherTech Championship win came at Michelin Raceway in 2016.

“It’s one of the hardest races in all the series,” said Calado. “The track is very much a driver’s track. You can easily go over the limit and going over the limit is a gravel barrier. Concentration levels are seriously high. We’ve won together before, and we’ve won together today. Thanks to Ferrari. It will be nice to go to (the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January) and try to win again.”

“This is my first time at Petit Le Mans,” added Pier Guidi. “I was happy to be here and have the opportunity to fight for this amazing race. Every time I come to the U.S., I see a lot of fun and a lot of people loving motorsports. It’s fun to be in front of these people. It’s something special. It’s something that will stay in my heart for a long time.”

Second place, 7.8 seconds behind the No. 62, went to the No. 67 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and co-drivers Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon in the program’s final race of its four-year tenure in the GTLM class. They capped it off by taking driver, team and manufacturer honors in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup as well.

In third place were Connor De Phillippi, Tom Blomqvist and Colton Herta in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE.

It wasn’t a smooth race for the season champions – the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR pair of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor. With endurance driver Mathieu Jaminet, the car ran mid-pack for the majority of the race and in the closing minutes was involved in a spin following contact with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi that wound up the overall winner.

However, with the checkered flag, Bamber and Vanthoor finished with three victories and four additional podium results in 2019.

“We fought our hardest at the end of the race there for a podium and it didn’t quite come off,” Bamber said. “So that was a tough day. We managed to do what we did all season and be right there and be in the points, make no mistakes all day long and score points.

“Tomorrow it’ll definitely sink in. I think it is definitely one of the toughest championships to win here. Everyone’s at the highest level and I’m super thrilled to take the championship home for Porsche.”

“I joined Porsche three years ago,” added Vanthoor. “I wanted to go to America. It was kind of a dream to race here at one point and race for Porsche. When I came here, I basically didn’t know anything. I didn’t know the teams, the tracks, the rules, not the car, nothing. For me to come away now with the championship in the books is something I’ll be really proud of.”

Turner takes GTD prize

On Saturday night, the now-51-year-old matched Scott Pruett’s record for the most IMSA victories by a driver at 60 following a spectacular performance to win the in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

It came down to the final 10 minutes of the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans, the season finale for the 2019 WeatherTech Championship season. In the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, Auberlen had been hunting the leader, Felipe Fraga, in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3.

Following a restart with 25 minutes remaining, Fraga impressively kept Auberlen at bay. But on the final lap, Fraga suddenly drove off course in “The Esses” and Auberlen was able to get by to earn the record-tying victory. Fraga, who pitted seven minutes sooner than Auberlen’s final stop, ultimately ran out of fuel.

The victory, to which Auberlen co-drove with Robby Foley and Dillon Machavern, had been hard to come by for the IMSA veteran. He sat at 58 wins for nearly two years before collecting 59 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July.

“I’m so glad BMW still sees I can get it done,” said Auberlen. “To tie 60 wins with Scott Pruett, it just shows how great of a career BMW has allowed me to have — winning in these BMWs day in and day out. Now to be tied with the most wins in America.

“When you look back, you get to see how many unique wins there have been,” he added. “When I look at my trophy case and I get to add this to it, all of it is a bunch of great memories. I’ll never forget all the joy it brings from the camaraderie. Every single weekend you go to battle with a group of guys who would die for you and you would die for them. You come with everything you have, and to get to do that with BMW for 23 years now, it has been a great road that I wouldn’t trade for anything. ”

Saturday’s results put Auberlen and Foley in another tie – for second place in the final GTD championship standings. The duo and Zacharie Robichon both own 262 marks apiece and two victories this season, but the No. 96 BMW scored one runner-up finish at Watkins Glen International in June to break the tie.

Finishing second on Saturday but also looming large in Auberlen’s mirror during the closing laps was the No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Christopher Mies, Daniel Morad and Ricky Feller. Rounding out the final podium of the season was the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Robichon, Scott Hargrove and Lars Kern.

Meanwhile, entering Saturday’s race with a 32-point lead in the GTD standings, Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman locked up the 2019 WeatherTech Championship GTD title merely by taking the green flag in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3. The race didn’t quite go as planned, however, as the No. 86 was forced to retire midway through the race after debris broke through the front of the car and caused several mechanical issues.

It was an unfortunate end to the race, but in the end, the full-season title is a first for both drivers in the WeatherTech Championship – as well as for team co-owner Michael Shank. Farnbacher previously won the 2017 Michelin Endurance Cup in GTD and Hindman’s resumé already boasts championships in the Michelin Pilot Challenge and Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America.

“This is certainly the most significant,” said Hindman. “It was an unbelievable opportunity to be in the WeatherTech GTD paddock. It’s a championship that I’ve been trying to get myself in for so long now. From the time I won the Pilot championship to now, it’s been a full five years. This is my first full season in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship competition, so I think that amount of time has prepared me correctly for this opportunity, and ultimately, working with some great people also made this happen. This is certainly the highlight of my career.”

“I have grown up here,” said Farnbacher, who has competed in a variety of sports car racing series around the world. “I drove the (Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring) back in the ALMS, but it was my first race here and it was my first in the U.S. racing. Then later on, I got my first full-season ride here and I just built myself up here. My brother was around here, my father, with some teams. It’s nice, if you look at the whole picture, my whole family was here. Now to be successful, to put my family name in the book, it means a lot to me.”

For the third consecutive year, the No. 33 Riley Motorsports – Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3 earned the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup in the GTD class with drivers Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen. As the team’s endurance driver, Fraga scored the IMEC driver title as well.