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TUSCC: COTA, Race Report, Ganassi Ford Win, BMW In GT After Porsche Pratfall

In the extreme heat at COTA, some tempers flared may have flared, but in the end cooler heads prevailed, with Scott Pruett starting and Joey Hand finishing it off to take the overall win for Ganassi Ford.

In GTLM, the CORE entered factory Porsches were forced to make a stop for fuel late, costing them a 1-2 finish and allowing the 25 BMW with Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner to take the win, followed by the Risi Ferrari in second.

CORE solidified their class lead in PC by taking their second win this year. It wasn’t easy though as Colin Braun was forced to finish the race without the benefit of power steering. He held off a charging Bruno Junqueira by a comfortable margin to further extend their points lead in the season long championship.

In a very eventful GTD class race, it was Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen overcoming a stop plus 60 penalty early on the win again here at COTA. The Turner BMW finished second just over a second back.

Prototype

It was a dominant display for the Ganassi team and their Ford Riley as Pruett and Joey Hand combined to win their first race of the season. It was a combination of pace, efficiency and strategy that earned them the win today at COTA.

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WTR finished second, essentially staying out of trouble when the majority of the other Prototype competitors made mistakes. By finishing 3rd overall, The Spirit of Daytona pairing strengthened their points lead, thanks in part to a rough and emotion filled race from the No. 5 Action Express Corvette, which fell down to a 6th in class finish, one spot back of the Whelen sponsored Corvette.

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At the start, Pruett was able to keep the lead, but a hard fought first turn saw the second qualifying Ligier of Ozz Negri drop back to 5th and the rest of the grid get shuffled around. Also victimized was the 31 Whelen Corvette, which was forced wide at turn 1 and fell back in the field. As the race progressed, it settled down to Pruett leading the WTR Corvette with Jordan Taylor at the wheel. This duo pulled away from rest of the pack, opening up more than a 5 second lead over the 3rd placed Spirit of Daytona Corvette.

In the first caution, 23 minutes into the race, the majority of the class opted to stop for fuel, but the Ganassi team stayed out, choosing to stay on course for what they hoped would be a two stop race. Just before that yellow, the Deltawing made a strategy stop for a driver change, Rojas out and Legge in.

That left Pruett leading over Negri, until Pruett pulled into the pits about an hour into the race. When Negri stopped and handed over to John Pew. The stop was not the cleanest, with the car stalling and then not firing cleanly for Pew. This promoted Eric Curran to the lead.

One hour and 14 minutes into the race, pits stops commenced again and when they all settled out, it Joey Hand was leading, who had taken over the Ford at the last stop. When another yellow came out, Hand held a 7 second lead over Taylor.

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At approximately the 1:50 mark, the prototypes started what would be their last stops. In these stops WTR opted to go fuel only, while Ganassi went fuel and tires. This vaulted the PC entry from CORE into the lead, then the Deltawing.

Memo Rojas held the lead for three laps, before a charging Hand swept by, with Taylor soon following through. The Deltawing was gambling on a fuel strategy and knew they’d have to make a quick stop, but that strategy misfired as the tires were going away under Rojas. A spin dropped them out of a podium finish, but a resulting necessary fuel/tire stop would have done the same anyway. As it was, a 7th in class finish was not what the team had earned, but they could take solace that this was their 3rd consecutive race finish with their home race coming up next.

Meanwhile, both of the Action Express Corvettes had issues. The Whelen 31 received a drive through penalty for contact with the No. 8 PC car, while the race for the 5 was ruined by two related incidents. In the first, contact from Townsend Bell and his Ferrari cost the Corvette some track time, but the big hit for the team was that Joao Barbossa opted to retaliate against Bell later on, making side to side contact. For his reaction, he was served a stop plus 60 penalty that dropped them to an eventual 6th in class.

Once Hand took the lead, there was no looking back, as he brought the Ford home 16 seconds clear of the WTR Corvette.

Pruett: “The good Lord has blessed me with this incredible career. I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years. Joey fits me really well so far. He grew up across town where I live, and its been great. You’re never as good as your last race. Its been a tough season, without a doubt. We had some bad luck this year or strong cars and didn’t capitalize. Coming here, everything came together. I can’t say enough for Ford and EcoBoost. The Ganassi boys are good boys. Look at what Scott Dixon did, winning a championship being over 40 points back, it shows the kind of team they are. Getting win 60 is incredible, it’s been an incredible run. When you’re behind with a group of guys like the Ganassi boys, we pull everything from the Nascar side and the Indycar side, we work harder when we’re behind than when you’re out in front. For anyone that has run a turbo engine, you know that turbo lag is a really problem, so we worked a lot on getting the car to have power every time you come out of a corner. But the last few races the car has been really nice to drive. If you have a car that drives nice, its fun. If you have a car that drives wicked, it makes for a long day, a long run and a horrible time. So its about making every day getting better and better. “

Hand: “For me its a big one, my first win with the team as a full-time guy. I’m so thankful to be a part of this team, its a bunch of winners and champions. I knew it would be a good place for me. We all get along so well. We struggled right after Daytona. We couldn’t find it. We had a few good races lately but couldn’t capitalize on it. This weekend we showed up and had a lot of confidence. The boys did a great job tuning it in. Thats what its all about. We knew we had a fast race car so we tried to get out in front and stay in front. Thats what we do best. When you have a good race car it makes everything a lot easier. I like the boring races, I like being in front. Its a great win today, its good to get that first win. I’m happy to win here. it’s my 14th win, it’s not 60, but I’m coming for Scott Pruett.”

Austin-IMSA-2015-Prototype-Podium

Entering the Petit Le Mans finale the points are as follows:

Vailante/Westbrook – 279
Barbosa/Fittipaldi – 273
Cameron/Curran – 273
Hand/Pruett – 268

GTLM

In GTLM, it was expected to be a Porsche show. As the race progressed it continued to look that way with Porsches running 1-2-3 at one point. In the first yellow, the 24 BMW stayed out, splitting the BMW strategy, but as the race progressed, it was Porsche back to the fore. The middle stretch of the race is when the Falken Porsche inserted itself into the race, taking the lead momentarily in traffic, only to be repassed on that same lap by the 912 Porsche.

After what was thought to be the last pit stops, it appeared like Porsche had the race under control, but it didn’t work out that way at all. With just over 2 minutes to go, both Porsches dove into the pits for a quick splash of fuel. Any chance of the win was over at that point for Porsche.

Gladly stepping in to take the win was the 25 BMW, in a great drive by Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner.

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Bill Auberlen: “The win is amazing. I’ve won here a couple of times and it just keeps getting better and better. This came from the command center in our team, Bobby Rahal, Bruno Capri and Jeff. Coming out of the last stop they knew we were going to be tight on fuel. They leaned him out some more and pretty soon, we were on a pace-car map. I was like, “can we even race on this thing?” Then he was making it go. It was a hot day, it was a really great day. We are very close on the championship, and this is what we wanted. We wanted to go to Petit Le Mans and we want to fight and bring this in for BMW. The BMW Z4 hasn’t won a GTLM championship and we want to see if we can do it. When you have a co-driver like Dirk, it makes it a lot easier.”

Dirk Werner: “This race was meant for us, already at the start we went from 2nd to 6th I think. It just seems like we were standing still when everyone else went full throttle. That made it very difficult. When I came back in the pits, we were pretty good I guess. But still there was not a lot we could do with the competition. There are little differences in pit stops. In one hand, we had to make up ground and overtake the others, but we also had to save fuel. That made in the end, our race. We could drive 2 more laps than the Porsches. We did a lot of saving fuel. That was just great work by the team. I could overtake a few guys, but then the last few spots the team did for us with strategy. We are getting close in the championship, I think that’s where we belong, and its great to go into the last race for a fight. That’s how it should be.”

Coming home 2nd in a quiet, efficient and very efficient race was Risi Ferrari. The strategy and pit work helped make up for a car that hadn’t been all that competitive throughout the event.

Pierre Kaffer: “First of all, thanks to the whole Risi Competizione team. After this weekend we are all a lot stronger because it was a team effort. We struggled a lot in all the practice sessions, and especially in qualifying, where I have to say we ran out of ideas. In the race suddenly we picked up some pace and could stay clean. When it comes to the points and we need to perform in the pits, we are always there. I think that was the biggest key today. I could stay in touch with the BMW and we came in bumper-to-bumper and had an awesome pit stop. We went out in fourth position. In the end, thanks to our strategy guys, they calculated the fuel perfectly and we did not have to do a splash. That was the key to the race and set the other competitors under pressure, like at VIR. Nobody expected to finish second here and I think this is a great result. I believe the championship is still open now. I’m really happy for the whole team, for Giuseppe Risi and thanks to my teammate, Giancarlo. He really stayed focused and did a great job in the second stint.”

Giancarlo Fisichella: “It was a fantastic finish. We were last in the qualifying session and at the beginning of the race the pace was not there. Then I made a different choice of the tires and that was the right one. But the key was the pit stop where I got out (of the pits in) fourth and overtook the Corvette. The BMW was a bit quicker than us today and at the end the Porsche was limited on fuel and had to do an extra pit stop. I was saving fuel and that’s why we could go even quicker, but we decided to run like this and go through to the end of the race.”

The 911 Porsche was able to recover and take the last spot on the podium, but the team had expected so much more. But the optimistic Nick Tandy tried to look for a positive in the result. “The positive thing is that, despite everything, we finished on the podium and still earned good points for Porsche towards the manufacturers and team classifications with our podium result. That takes the edge off the disappointment a little, although it’s of course bitter to lead the entire race and lose the victory just before the finish.”

The official Porsche Tweet after the race took a different approach, “We couldn’t make it to the end without an additional splash as the rules give our 911 RSR a 6 Liters smaller fuel tank than the winning car”

For Corvette Racing, nothing much was positive. They simply didn’t have much to offer on the track in what was yet another long, long day for the yellow cars.

Austin-IMSA-2015-GT-Podium

Entering the Petit Le Mans finale the points are as follows:

Patrick Pilet – 279
Bill Auberlen – 276
Dirk Werner – 276
Antonio Garcia – 269
Jan Magnussen – 269

PC

In PC, CORE won, further extending their points lead. Colin Braun had to muscle the car through a large amount of the race without any power steering and RSR made a stunning climb through the field late to claim second, with Bruno Junqueira seemingly passing cars on every lap at the end.

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It wasn’t an easy race for anyone in the class. Given the pro-am requirements, this is always a difficult race to read as the driver talent varies so much.

During the initial yellow, the JDC/Miller Motorsports entry stopped, setting them into a different sequence that the rest. This served them well, allowing Matt McMurry to lead a total of 13 laps and his teammate Mikhail Goikberg to lead 5, before fading late when under pressure from the pro-drivers. The all silver pairing ended the race 5th in class.

CORE, in taking the race win saw Jon Bennett keep it close in his first stint and then Colin Braun bring it home to a convincing win, despite losing powersteering. RSR came through in second, 25 seconds back, courtesy of the ever swift Bruno Junqueira who was on a tear.

Jon Bennett: “Its a super great result for Colin and I. Any day you end up wet with champagne is never bad. This leads to Petit well in position for the championship which is when Murphy’s law likes to jump in. Lots of contact during the start and the restarts. I had to thread the needle a few times to escape from that. I was able to hand Colin a square car and he was able to jump off like a rabbit. Unfortunately the power steering went out, the second time this season. Lets say all his time in the gym has paid off today. It’s a great win for the team today. This is the first race where Colin’s dad was calling the race, and it was a joy to watch the father-son bond that’s been there a long time, unfold during the weekend.”

Colin Braun: “Jon had a really nice opening stint keeping things clean. Then we had a really fast racer. We had good stops, great strategy and nice pace. We’ve been heads down this whole season and that hard work has paid off. We’ve had some races that didn’t go our way, and certainly without power steering isn’t as much fun. John pays me to drive the car as fast as I can, and when you get second or third there isn’t an asterisk that says ‘oh it would have been a win with power steering’. So it was a great win carrying this on to Road Atlanta. It was definitely motivating, leading the race, it gives you a bit of extra juice to get it done. That is part of the job. You wouldn’t be as motivated if you were sitting in 4th or 5th.”

Austin-IMSA-2015-PC-Podium

Entering the Petit Le Mans finale the points are as follows:

Jon Bennett – 289
Colin Braun – 289
Mike Guasch – 277
Tom Kimber Smith – 277
Chris Cumming – 275
Bruno Junqueira – 275

GTD

Just like last year, Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen won in Texas. This time it wasn’t as easy though as they had to overcome a stop plus 60 penalty early on the win again here at COTA. The Turner BMW finished second just over a second back.

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Ben Keating: “Its obviously good to be home. You like coming to a track where you’ve been successful. I have about 50 guests here with the Viper club on one side. I told everyone to keep their expectations low, I didn’t think we had a car capable of driving to the front. I’m excited and humbled that we had a middle of the pack car but the race came to us. Rather someone made a strategy mistake, or making contact, or getting a penalty, but the race came to us. It’s just awesome to be on the top step again at COTA. its a great track. It’s special to win at home.’ … “From a drivers standpoint this was really unique, I don’t know if its the surface after 3 years, or the heat, but the tires would fall off over the course of a stint and it made the race much more interesting. The good news is, in our class, spec tire, the Conti tire, everyone was dealing with the same heat issues that the track expects so much. While predictable, it made for a really exciting race. I had one spin that was my fault that didn’t cost us too much time. It affected lots of cars differently. We saw Porsches with their front struggling with power-down stuff, it made it interesting at the end of the stint.” … “I have four Dodge dealerships in Texas, and it means a lot to win. It’s a car I’m passionate about. It doesn’t have the large volume as some of the other cars, but there are a lot of passionate fans out there. We refer to the owners as the Viper Nation, and to be out there representing the brand and community at the top level of Sports Car racing is really special. I’m getting to do what I love and represent what I sell.”

Jeroen Bleekemolen: “It was great, it was one of the nicest races I’ve ever done. I got in the car after a yellow. We got in a fight with 5 or 6 cars. It was a lot of respect and good fight, but you couldn’t put a piece a paper between us. I had to push there at the end because Paltala was right on my back. It was a great day for us, it was the maximum result we could get out of it and that was what got us the win.”

This was a race for comebacks, as the 3rd place finishing Paul Miller Audi too had to overcome a stop plus 60 penalty to come back and finish 3rd in the race.

For the championship hunting Scuderia Corsa, a strong start from Bill Sweedler moved the Ferrari from third starting position to the lead before the car was taken over by Townsend Bell during the team’s first pit stop. However, multiple incidents during Bell’s stint prevented them from challenging for the lead and led to an eventual 6th in class finish.

That 6th place finish for the Ferrari was two better than the championship leading TRG Aston Martin of Christina Nielsen was able to get at the end.

Austin-IMSA-2015-GTD-Podium

Entering the Petit Le Mans finale the points are as follows:

Christina Nielsen – 256
Christopher Haase – 255
Dion von Moltke – 255
Townsend Bell – 252
Bill Sweedler – 252

Gary Horrocks