IMSA Circuit of The Americas Post-Race Notebook
|Last year's action|
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — And then there was one.
After a grueling season that began in January at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, last weekend's Lone Star Le Mans at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas left the points battles for the four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship shaken, but not quite stirred.
Leading up to the last race of the season, the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, none of the points leaders have the championship wrapped up, and in two classes, the margin is so small that a good performance at Road Atlanta could easily elevate the second- or third-place drivers into the championship.
The closest battle of all is in fastest class, the Prototypes. First and second swapped places after COTA, and third place narrowed the gap to the top two.
In post-COTA points, the No. 31 Action Express Whelen Corvette DP is on top with 285 points. Just one point behind is its sister car, the No. 5 Action Express Mustang Sampling Corvette. The drivers of the No. 5 car, Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa, came to COTA with a one-point lead, but Eric Curran and Dane Cameron, drivers of the No. 31, finished second to the No. 5's third, thus the reversal.
The day belonged to still another Chevrolet, though — the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Corvette DP of brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor. Their win moves them to just seven points out of the lead in a battle that will come down to who does best at Petit Le Mans.
Petit will be the last race for the Daytona Prototypes, which were the foundation for the formation of the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, and continue to be stalwart performers in the WeatherTech Championship. But it's time for an update in technology, and there will be a new Prototype debuting at Daytona next January.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Also very tight is the battle in GT Le Mans, between the stalwart Corvette Racing C7.Rs, and the overachieving newcomers, the Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GTs, which made disappointing debuts at Daytona and the second race of the season, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, before a stellar recovery that made the Nos. 66 and 67 Ford GTs winners at best, contenders at worst for the rest of the season.
The GT Le Mans points have No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette drivers Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin with 314 points. In second are the drivers of the No. 67 Ford GT, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, with 303 points. A fifth-place finish at COTA for the Corvette was lackluster but acceptable, as the car never really performed as it should.
"This could be a real turning point for us in the championship," said Gavin. "I think we will have to go to Petit Le Mans and get a seventh or an eighth place if the No. 67 [Ford GT] was to win. It's not a super comfortable cushion, but we just need to execute at Petit."
Teammate Milner agreed. "Coming away with the points lead we have was best-case scenario. It's not really how I would have liked to have gotten that points lead. We struggled all day, and really all weekend," he said. "Now it comes down to Petit Le Mans where the gap is fairly large, but we still need to execute for the whole race. We certainly can't just jog across the finish line there; we still have to push hard. It will be a big challenge."
The No. 67 Ford GT, which qualified on the pole, made contact with the No. 4 Corvette, which damaged the Ford's steering rack, requiring a pit stop for a replacement, leaving the car 13 laps down and ultimately in ninth place.
"Obviously we were disappointed, but it doesn't change the plan for Road Atlanta," said Ford driver Westbrook. "We're still going there to try and win a championship. It's a 10-hour race, and a lot of things can happen. We'll dust ourselves off and come out fighting."
ENDURANCE CUP TITLE TO BE DECIDED AT PETIT: Not only are the four season championships up for grab at Petit Le Mans, but so is the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, a championship-within-a-championship that takes the season's four longest races — Daytona (24 hours), Sebring (12), Watkins Glen (6) and Petit Le Mans (10 hours) — and bases points and the championships on a team's performance in that quartet of events.
The No. 5's drivers, Fittipaldi and Barbosa, lead the PatrÃ³n Endurance Cup points with 35, but just two points behind is the No. 2 Tequila Patron Honda-Ligier of Pipo Derani, Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek who, along with team principal and Tequila Patron executive Ed Brown, have only contested the longer endurance races in the U.S., with the rest of their season spent overseas.
In Prototype Challenge, Kenton Koch leads; in GT Le Mans, it's Corvette drivers Gavin and Milner, and in GT Daytona, it's Porsche drivers Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas. All four classes are close enough that Road Atlanta will definitely be the decider.
SPEAKING OF ROAD ATLANTA: Former Road Atlanta owner Dr. Don Panoz, founder of the American Le Mans Series and current owner of the No. 0 DeltaWing Prototype, will be honored next Wednesday at the Panoz Museum in Hoschton, Georgia, for his 20 years in sports car racing. Essentially entering the sport on a dare, Panoz, 81, has been a consistent, valued supporter of motorsports as a man who puts his money where his mouth is. Here's to another 20, Doc.
CORE MOVING TO GT DAYTONA: Five-time IMSA Prototype Challenge Champions CORE autosport will move to the GT Daytona class for the 2017 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with a Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The switch from PC to GTD means CORE will continue to compete in a Pro-Am class. The choice of Porsche was a natural fit considering CORE's history of running a customer Porsche entry in 2013, team owner/driver Jon Bennett's experience in the 2013 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, and CORE's multi-year partnership with Porsche to run the German marque's factory GTLM program.
"The move to GTD evolved pretty naturally," Bennett said. "We knew we wanted to compete at a Pro-Am level. The competition in GTD is incredible and we've had a relationship with Porsche for four years now, so the 911 GT3 R stood out as a smart choice. As a Porsche owner myself, I'm really excited about the opportunity to team up with Colin Braun and race one."
PORSCHE NORTH AMERICA BACK IN FORM: After a trying season, Porsche North America's two-car team, No. 911 and 912, were back to their winning ways at COTA, with the No. 912 of Earl Bamber and Frederic Makowiecki taking the class victory, with the No. 911 of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet.
The fastest car in the class, the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE suffered an electrical failure in the closing stages of the race, essentially deeding the top spot over to the Porsche, but 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Bamber said he'll take it. "It shows that we continue to fight every weekend. We have to maximize every effort, and when the people are there to make a few mistakes, we are there to be able to get a great result or a podium."
IT'S A FULL SCHEDULE AT PETIT: Aside from the Petit Le Mans 10-hour race for the IMSA WeatherTech cars on October 1, there will also be the season-ending Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Road Atlanta 150, the Mazda Prototype Lites and the Porsche GT3 Cup USA. For information, log into IMSA.com or RoadAtlanta.com.
Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort is on Saturday, October 1; the race begins at 11 a.m. ET with live streaming coverage throughout the race on the FOX Sports Go app and television coverage across FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2 and IMSA.tv with IMSA Radio coverage available at IMSA.com.