The Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin was held under a bright sky and on a dry track. As the lively tones of John Hindaugh and Jeremy Shaw echoed around the track’s PA, the grid of cars rolled off for the 2 pace laps that preceded the race start.
The polesitting #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley DP of Joey Hand led the field away into turn 1, with both the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP of Christian Fittipaldi and the sister #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP of Eric Curran right on the Ford’s rear bumper. The #10 of Wayne Taylor Racing driven by Ricky Taylor charged ahead and took third place from the #31 of Curran while the #90 VisitFlorida.com Racing Corvette DP of Michael Valiante chased down the cars ahead of him. In LMPC, the #38 Park Place Motorsports prototype of James French lead into turn 1 ahead of the #11 RSR Racing machine of Chris Cumming. The #8 Starworks Motorsports machine of Mirco Schultis was close behind in third place as the race began.
The GT field saw a race start with great action for the closed top cars. In GTLM, the #912 Porsche 911 RSR of Earl Bamber, this year’s overall Le Mans winner, got away from the field as though he had been shot from a cannon. In third place going into the first few corners was the #62 Risi Compitizione Ferrari 458 Italia of Giancarlo Fisichella.
As the two groups surged off into the opening corners of the race, the #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2-Honda of John Pew and the #07 SpeedSource Mazda Prototype of Tom Long both started from the pitlane due to mechanical issues that arose in the morning warm-up session.
By the end of the first lap we saw Joey Hand pulling away at over half a second in his #01 machine, with the #5 of Fittipaldi and the #31 of Curran in close quarters. The three DP’s raced nose to tail for much of the opening 15 minutes of the race, but with no change of position. In GTLM the story was a bit different. While the #912 of Bamber continued to carve out a second or more a lap over the rest of the class, the #3 Corvette Racing C7.R of Garcia was on a charge. First the #3 of Garcia dispatched the #62 of Fisichella and then passed the #24 Team BMW RLL Z4 of John Edwards, now placing the Corvette in 3rd place in class, but still no match for the flying Earl Bamber and his 911 RSR. Meanwhile the #911 Porsche 911 RSR of Nick Tandy was slowly making up positions through the GTLM field and soon found himself up amongst the lead pack.
GTD early on was dominated by the #007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage V12 of Christina Nielsen leading into the distance and generating a comfortable gap over the second placed #48 Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 LMS of Dion Von Moltke. Third place was the #33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper SRT GT3 driven by Ben Keating. A few times the #33 of Keating looked primed for an overtake into Canada Corner on the #48 of Von Moltke, but decided to hold station and seemingly run to a pace.
The race began to calm and find it’s endurance rhythm, but only for a moment, as just past 20 minutes of racing had gone, huge problems began to develop for the overall leader. Into Turn 1, the chasing #90 of Valiante suddenly passed the leading #01 of Joey Hand who had moments before been over 5 seconds up the road. Then by Turn 2, the #5 of Fittipaldi and the #10 of Ricky Taylor also flew past the slowing #01 of Hand. Radio transmissions from Hand were telling a story of a sudden loss of engine power and that he felt ‘very slow on the straightaways’. With Hand sinking like a stone through the running order, Ricky Taylor could smell blood now as he was now in second place, still chasing Valiante, who was now no more than 1 second ahead.
The #911 of Pilet had a great duel with the #3 of Garcia as they went fender to fender and bumper to bumper for a number of corners. Clearly demonstrating their superb skill to the huge crowd of fans at Road America today.
With Valiante now elevated to first place, Ricky Taylor is now chasing down the leader and on his bumper through the kink to try and set him up into Turn 12 at Canada Corner. They continue to trade best lap times between the two of them.
All the while in GTLM, Earl Bamber still had a healthy lead in his #912 Porsche, with Giancarlo Fisichella chasing after him, now nearly 8 seconds back. Patrick Pilet has gotten past Antonio Garcia however, and now has Garcia right on his tail, just over a second back.
Chip Ganassi Racing eventually reported that Joey Hand is losing pace hand over fist due to a possible ECU issue. Horrible luck to Hand after so much hard work in qualifying yesterday.
The first full course caution of the afternoon was seen on lap 11, just 23 minutes into the 2 Hour and 45 minute race. The safety car was deployed when the #97 Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 of Michael Marsal caught too much exit curb out of the fastest corner on the track, the Kink, and spun into the wall hard, coming to a rest in the middle of the track. Within moments of the crash, Marsal did open his door and was able to remove himself from the car and walk away unassisted. Furthermore, only a few minutes later, the seemingly lightning quick Road America and IMSA Safety crews were able to get the crashed racecar loaded onto the flatbed.
As the pits opened the next time by under safety car, the full course caution played into the hands of Chip Ganassi Racing, as they now can pit Hand and get a handle on their ECU issue. Another team to benefit from the caution was the #60 Michael Shank Racing Machine with John Pew at the wheel, as they started from the pit lane and now will be able to bunch up with the entire field now being under safety car. The rest of the prototype field also pitted with the Wayne Taylor Racing crew leap frogging their entire class during the simultaneous pitstops of their competitors. As all the prototypes began to leave the pits, it was the #10 of Ricky Taylor reentering the track first, with 31 minutes of the race in the books. The #38 of French, a native to the track, growing up only 10 miles away, lead the race in LMPC through this first pit stop cycle.
Next time by saw the GT field pit almost all at the same time, with the #62 Ferrari of Fisichella jumping past early race leader Bamber in the #912. On the other end of the spectrum, the car to lose the most from the first round of pit stops was the #25 Team BMW RLL Z4 of Bill Auberlen, who emerged in last place.
On lap 15, with 2 hours of the race remaining, the safety car dove into the pit lane and Ricky Taylor lead the field into Turn 1. But seconds later, the #90 of Westbrook was hit in the rear and spun out onto the grass on the inside exit of Turn 1. While no damage was done to the car, he would have to wait for the majority of the grid to pass by until he would be able to rejoin the track. Up the road Ricky Taylor was absolutely flying away from the #5 and #31 cars of Action Express Racing, building a gap of just under 2 seconds. But only laps later, the #5 of Fittipaldi began to slowly reel in the Black and Blue Konica Minolta #10. And, only a lap later, Fittipaldi was now only .3 of a second behind the #10 going into Turn 1 and Turn 2. Ricky Taylor stayed on the offensive though and did not even for a moment decide to compromise his entry line and take the bait from Fittipaldi.
In GTLM, Bamber retook the lead on the restart, relegating Fisichella’s #62 Ferrari back to second place with the #17 Falken Tires Porsche 911 RSR of Wolf Henzler chasing the Ferrari in third place just a few seconds adrift. James French continued to lead in LMPC over Chris Cumming with just .4 of a second between them after 44 minutes of racing. GTD had pole sitter Patrick Lindsey in the lead with the #63 Scuderia Corse Ferrari F458 Italia of Bill Sweedler jumping up to second place after the pit stops, just .5 second back. 3rd place in GTD is the bellowing #33 Viper SRT of Keating.
The race then really heated up at the front with Fittipaldi in the #5 pressuring Ricky Taylor in the #10 even harder into Turn 1 but Taylor’s nerves weathered the storm and he didn’t give any room and held him back all the way into the braking zone at Turn 5. But, with Fittipaldi and Taylor going head-to-head for the lead, this had allowed the #31 of Curran to close up to second place and as they turned into the apex, both Action Express Racing cars were seemingly glued together, bouncing off each other as they drove through mid-corner and then through track out to the exit curbing. As they accelerated up the short hill, they continued to bang fenders and were side-by-side through Turns 6 and 7. By the braking zone into Turn 8 you’d think both Fittipaldi and Curran had forgotten they were teammates! And of course, meanwhile, Ricky Taylor was slowly pulling out a lead of just over 1.2 seconds. Moments later, Curran came over the radio stating, “I am not okay that (Fittipaldi’s driving).”
Now with 50 minutes of the race gone, race leader #10 of Ricky Taylor seemed to have found a rhythm, holding a steady .5 of a second gap over the Action Express Racing cars who had finally stopped trying to end each others races. At this point in the race, news also came from the pitlane that the spin of Richard Westbrook hadn’t caused any damage with the team reporting that they were now just watching radiator temperatures with the car having run through the grass. The spin had however dropped the #90 of Westbrook down to 8th in class, 11th overall. In LMPC, hometown favorite French in the #38 continued to lead over the #11 of Chris Cumming, while in GTLM Bamber in the #912 continued to absolutely thrash it around the 4.0 mile circuit, building a gap of over 5 seconds to the second and third placed #62 and #911. GTD saw a new leader rise to the top, with the #007 further establishing it’s superiority around Road America with Christina Nielsen still at the wheel.
With the race having now broken the hour mark, the fans were able to take a breath, but not moments later, a spin for the #8 Starworks Motorsports LMPC car occurred in the braking zone for Turn 12 at Canada Corner. As the LMPC car went to pass the #3 Corvette of Garcia, the LMPC car just caught the left front of the GTLM car and was spun out onto the sizable runoff area on the exit of Turn 12.
The next pit stop seen in this race was seen on lap 21, 53 minutes into the race, when the #44 Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GT was brought in for fuel, tires and a driver change from race starting John Potter to Andy Lally. While the pitstop was completely uneventful and routine for the Magnus Racing Pit Crew, just over the pit wall there was drama on the front straightaway as a local yellow was shown for the the #85 JDC/Miller Motorsports Oreca FLM-09 from spinning out and then ultimately retiring from an alternator failure.
With one hour of the race run, Ricky Taylor still leads overall with a .5 second lead over the #5 of Fittipaldi. More green flag pit stops started to cycle through at this point of the race, with a change in lead being seen in LMPC as Chris Cumming went into the lead as the #38 of French pitted for tires/fuel and driver change. James French handed the car over to Conor Daly. Daly was bullish all weekend about the teams chances of victory and was looking to set the record right after a controversial coming together with a GTD car at the previous race in Lime Rock Park last month.
GTD continued to be lead by Christina Nielsen, who had built a more than adequate 7 second gap over Dion Von Moltke in the Audi R8 LMS. Third place in GTD at this time was the #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche of Cooper MacNeil a further 5 seconds back from the second placed Audi.
Meanwhile, in GTLM, a titanic battle had begun with 1 hour and 5 minutes completed of the race. While the Flying Earl of Bamber still lead with Fisichella just over 3 seconds behind the Porsche, the race had developed to see Nick Tandy in the sister Porsche 911 RSR rise to 3rd place, just a second further back from the #62 Ferrari. However, the #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner was right on Tandy’s bumper. With Milner chasing a German Porsche, his rearview mirror was full of a different German manufacturer, the #24 of John Edwards was right behind him. This perfect train of manufacturer GTLM cars circulated around Road America for lap after lap running nose-to-tail trying to find a way past each other.
One of the first drivers to provide comment on the race thus far was early LMPC leader James French, who said, “It was a very intense battle with traffic and the way the rules play out. I need to get an hour in the car, so that can play up with the fuel strategy. We went the fuel conservation route, which is a new strategy for me, and we will see if it plays out. Car feels good, but we might have a little damage from a restart.”
While Ricky Taylor had now completed lap 30 in the #10 Corvette DP, a story that would be a great highlight of the race was developing because the #60 of Negri, the car that started from the pit lane, had now risen to 4th place overall with just 1.5 hours of the race remaining.
Green flag pitstops for the leaders started on lap 32 with Dane Cameron pitting his #31 Action Express Racing car. No driver change though with the stop only yielding new rubber and fuel. With this pit stop the Michael Shank Racing LMP2 entry of Negri was promoted up to third place overall. A great result developing for the #60 car.
With the #62 Ferrari of Fisichella pitting first out of the GTLM runners to change driver from Giancarlo to Pierre Kaffer, the action on track now was between the Le Mans winners of Bamber and Tandy who were teammates just 2 months before at Le Mans, but now seen battling each other for the lead in class. Only .8 tenths of a second separated Bamber from Tandy as they circulated on worn tires and quickly emptying tanks.
On lap 34, Fittipaldi pitted the #5 Corvette DP. Fittipaldi would hand the controls over to his just as capable teammate Joao Barbosa, with fresh tires and a full tank of gas also to be taken during the stop. The #10 of Ricky Taylor now leads from the second placed #60 of Oswaldo Negri. Also on lap 34, GTLM favorites Corvette Racing pitted the #3 with Magnussen having only just gotten in the car the stint before, he was handing the wheel back over to teammate and starting driver Antonio Garcia.
Just a lap further into the race, lap 35, Ricky Taylor pitted from the lead. The Wayne Taylor Racing pit crew refueled the car and changed tires while Jordan Taylor took over from his older brother. Further up the pitlane, the race’s early leader, #01 of Joey Hand, pitted for fuel and tires, with Hand hopping out of the car and veteran race car driver Scott Pruett getting behind the wheel.
Now with only 1 hour and 20 minutes remaining, the #10 of Jordan Taylor was in second place, behind the yet-to-stop Action Express Racing #31 of Eric Curran.
Lap 35 would see pit stops from the #54 and #11 LMPC cars of Braun and Cumming respectively. They would emerge from the pits in the same positions.
In GTLM, with only 1 hour and 15 minutes remaining in the race, on track action continued to be fierce between the #912 and #911 Porsche’s of Bamber and Tandy. But while battling into the braking zone of Turn 5, the #911 of Tandy caught a left-front brake lock and slid straight into the escape road. Tandy was able to instantly recover the car and rejoin the track just in front of the #62 Ferrari of Pierre Kaffer. By the end of the lap, Porsche called in the #911 for a driver change, fuel and tires; earlier than scheduled because of the flat-spotted tire. Nick Tandy would hand the 911 RSR over to the equally capable Patrick Pilet. But, because of having to stop sooner than originally planned, the car would need to stop once more for a splash of fuel at the end of the race. Only a lap after the drama for the #911 Porsche, the #912 of Bamber was brought in for a driver change. While Bamber handed the car over to Jörg Bergmeister, the pit crew changed all 4 tires and fueled the car. Bamber once out of the car said to IMSA Radio Pit reporter Greg Creamer, “Porsche has given me an excellent car and it is a pleasure drive. The race today has gone to plan, touching wood. I’ve really loved driving this track. It puts a huge smile on my face.” When asked if he thought he would need to stop once more for a pit stop, Bamber said humorously, “I honestly have no idea. I just drive.” With these two stops, the #62 of Kaffer was now leading in GTLM.
Further back in the running order, the GTD leader, Christina Nielsen in the #007 Aston Martin Vantage V12, was brought into the pits on lap 41. Nielsen handed the British racing car to Kuno Wittmer while fuel was filled and tires were changed. The V12 engine screamed out of it’s pit stall and rejoined the race in second place behind the #48 Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 LMS.
Now with just 1 hour and 7 minutes remaining, Action Express were leading the race with the #31 of Dane Cameron in the lead. Cameron had by now built up a 6 second gap between him and Barbosa in the #5. The #10 of Jordan Taylor now just a further 10 seconds behind the second placed car.
GTD had been lead by the #48 of Von Moltke since the pit stop of the #007 car, but minutes later the #48 pitted as well for a driver change to Christopher Haase; fuel and tires were also taken. With this pitstop the #007 Aston Martin of Wittmer retook the lead in the class with one hour of the race remaining.
LMPC at the 1 hour remaining mark saw Bruno Junqueira in the lead with the #11 car. He had a 8.5 second lead over second placed Conor Daly in his #38 Park Place Motorsports car. 3rd in class with 60 minutes remaining was Colin Braun in the #54 car, with a large gap of 22 seconds between him and Daly.
With just 56 minutes in the race remaining, Jordan Taylor came over the radio and told his crew, “Something is wrong with the steering. I need to pit. It feels like the car is wandering around on the track.” This pitstop would last well over 3 minutes and proved to be disastrous for Wayne Taylor Racing. Ricky Taylor was seen shaking his head as he stared at the car, with his Father Wayne Taylor behind him looking equally as distraught and disappointed. Needless to say, the Taylor boys never give up and minutes later, Jordan Taylor was sent back out on to the track, now in 18th overall and 11th in class. At the 50 minute mark, the race leader was still Dane Cameron in the #31, ahead of the #5 driven by Barbosa. 3rd place overall would be held by the #60 LMP2 machine of Negri.
LMPC saw #11 still leading the race with Junqueira at the wheel with a 3.6 second lead over Conor Daly and the #38 machine. 3rd place in class was Colin Braun still, with a .7 second gap off of Daly. GTLM saw #911 in the lead with Bergmeister at the wheel on lap 50. Second place in GTLM is #912 with Pilet at the wheel. 3rd place was Pierre Kaffer, 12 seconds behind Pilet.
In GTD, #007 of Kuno Wittmer was in the lead, with the #22 of Leh Keen in second place and 3rd place in GTD being held by Christopher Haase in the #48 Audi R8 LMS.
With less than 45 minutes remaining in the race, the #912 of Bergmeister pitted for fuel and left side tires only. Porsche made the strategy call to minimize time in the pits as the race headed into it’s final stages. Meanwhile, at the head of the field on lap 55, Joao Barbosa brought the #5 into the pits. Their sister car, the recently pitted car #31 hunted them down and accelerated up the straightaway to blast into the lead just as the #5 exited the pit lane.
With 40 minutes remaining and the leaders having finished their final stops, the #31 lead from the #5. LMPC saw pitstops with 35 minutes of the race remaining. No change to the lead in class. GTD still had #007 in the lead, with the Paul Miller Racing in second place with car #48. The #33 Viper held third place into the closing stages of the race.
GTLM would see some very interesting strategy play out at the end of the race with the #62 Ferrari having pitted last of the leaders, with the car taking on a seemingly 1 second of fuel more during the stop according to IMSA Radio. The #62 car emerged just behind the Porsche ahead in class.
With pits stops now done and less than 30 minutes to go in the race, the leaders were the #31 of Cameron in the lead, with #5 of Barbosa just 5.3 seconds back and #60 Michael Shank Racing LMP2 machine of Negri in 3rd place, 22 seconds behind the #60. In GTLM, #911 leads the race with Pilet at the wheel of his recently pitted left-side tire only Porsche RSR. He has a 3.3 second lead over second placed Pierre Kaffer in the #62 Ferrari. The third place is #912 of Bergmeister just 3.5 seconds back from the second placed machine and catching the Ferrari quickly because of the Ferrari’s team decision to not change tires during their final pitstop. LMPC sees Conor Daly leap frogging Bruno Junquiera with the finals stops, with now only 1.5 seconds separating Daly from Junquiera. In GTD, The #007 TRG-AMR team reported to IMSA Radio with only 25 minutes remaining that they would need a splash of fuel to make it to the end of the race. The #007 had a 42 second lead going into the quick pit stop, but the #48 Paul Miller Racing Audi was catching them. Further radio traffic from the #007 would reveal they would be pitting for only a splash of fuel and left side tires only.
As the race entered its final 20 minutes, the sun began to lower and shadows began to lengthen across the track. At the 18 minutes remaining mark, the aforementioned splash for the #007 took place, elevating Bleekemolen’s #33 Viper into the lead.
The laps continued to be turned until only ten minutes remained in the race. The lead at the front of the field in P class seemed to have stabilized between each of the cars. In GTLM however, the stage was being set for an absolutely epic finish. The #911 of Patrick Pilet would continue to lead with #62 of Kaffer in second place and the #912 of Bergmeister hunting him down. Bergmeister with just 10 minutes remaining was still trying to pass Kaffer at any point he could. The Ferrari would seem to have the edge on the final section of the track through the beginning of the lap, while the Porsche was all over the Ferrari in the middle handling section of the track. This would be of no surprise as we need to remember that Kaffer had elected to not change tires on their last pitstop. As Kaffer continued to battle against, and try to hold back the Porsche of Bergmeister, they came upon lapped traffic, which was the equally close LMPC lead battle of Daly and Junquiera. Bergmeister with only 2 laps to go got a great run out of the Carousel and was right behind Kaffer going into the Kink. Onboard footage would show Bergmeister hardly even lifted going through the fast right hand sweeper as he got ready to set up a pass on Kaffer going into Canada Corner. Bergmeister went as late on the breaks as possible, but Kaffer, seemingly working magic on his completely worn tires, was able to hold him back and would start the last lap in first place.
As the GTLM battle for second place entered the last lap, Kaffer held Bergmeister off through Turn 1, but the Porsche RSR used all the road coming out of Turn 1 and got an amazing run of speed heading down the hill to the right hand Turn 2. Kaffer finally had to take the bait and went defensive going into the corner. This compromised the exit for the Ferrari and would see the Porsche pull level with the Ferrari going into Turn 5. As they came down the hill and into the breaking zone, Kaffer continued to be able to hold back the 911 leading into the tire-taxing section of the road circuit. While Kaffer and Bergmeister battled through turn 7, only 2 turns back, at Turn 5, heartbreak hit for the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports team when Conor Daly came into the corner too hot and lost the rear under braking. The closely following #11 of Junquiera would go through and lead Daly into the final half lap.
Further up the road however, it was far from over. Bergmeister got another absolutely physics defying run out of the Carousel and took the right hand sweeper seemingly flat and was directly on the bumper of the screaming Ferrari 458. As the GTLM drivers entered the braking zone for Turn 12, Kaffer went defensive, but ran a bit wide on the exit of the corner, this allowed Bergmeister to come back and draw level as the two ran perfectly side-by-side up through Thunder Valley to the left hand sweep of Turn 13. But the left hander would prove too much for Kaffer’s worn tires. As he braked inches later than Bergmeister into the turn to keep him back, the tires gave out and Kaffer slid off the track and onto the grass, handing second place to Bergmeister as he entered the final corner. Kaffer luckily was able to avoid contact with anything other than fresh cut Wisconsin grass.
An epic finish to a race that consistently delivers epic finishes. At the end of afternoon, once the engines had ticked cool and the rubber had cooled down, your winners in Prototype class were the #31 of Eric Curran and Dane Cameron, LMPC was won by Bruno Junqueira and Chris Cumming in the #11 RSR Racing machine. GTLM saw Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy win in their #911 Porsche 911 RSR and GTD was won by the #33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper SRT GT3 of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen.
That’s all from Road America!