Under extreme and very hot conditions, the Taylor brothers combined for what was in essence a flag to flag win in their Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette in the Lone Star Le Mans race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas. The win was anchored with a 2-hour stint by Jordan to close the race, in which he held off Dane Cameron and the #31 Whelen/Action Express Corvette by just over a second for their 3rd win of the season.
In GTLM, Porsche took a 1-2 win, with Frank Makowiecki/Earl Bamber taking the win in the 911. Earlier in the race, it appeared as if Risi was going to take a long overdue win, only for a critical electrical connection to go awry.
The #8 Starworks staged a come from behind effort to take PC, with Renger van der Zande narrowly holding off Tom Kimber-Smith for PR1-Mathiasen, while Turner Motorsports BMW won GTD by a comfortable margin, winning class by 15 seconds over the Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini.
At the green flag, Ricky Taylor took advantage of his pole, taking and keeping the lead throughout the first 40 minutes, stretching out the lead in a gradual manner, only to see that lead evaporate due to a caution period. By design, Jordan got into the car, allowing Ricky some down time before doing double duty in the later WEC race. Between the races, Ricky explained, “it was by design. The intent was to save me some for the drive in the Corvette in the WEC race, but I was available at the end if needed. Jordan didn’t need me after all and drove a great 2-hours to bring us home the win.”
On his stint, Jordan said, “it was obviously a good day, our third win of the year. We had a strong car so I knew we had a shot at it when Ricky won the pole. Then Ricky had a flawless run, pulled out a 10-second lead and I knew, basically with me finishing it, it was up to me to lose it. I think we pulled it out to 15 seconds and then something happened – either I made a mistake by spinning or we had a traction-control problem. I spun, and then turned off the traction control in order to do the snap spin and get moving in the right direction. Then the next five laps we were fighting what turned out to be traction-control problems and I was probably freaking out on the radio a little bit. Thankfully, the guys got it sorted and we fixed it. By that time, we only had a two-second lead so the race was back on. It got a little close, but the only thing that made it close was traffic coming and going. It was a good race. We had a little battle, but obviously a great day for us.”
An incident in that first stint ended up having a strong influence on the overall race though. On lap 7, Eric Curran and his Action Express teammate, Christian Fittipaldi had a come together in turn 1, which caused Fittipaldi to spin and resulted in Curran getting a drive through penalty. With both cars delayed, Action Express had to fight back in order to complete the podium, but they received help from both some timely yellows and also attrition.
Mazda started strongly with the #55 and #70 running 2-3, but were beat out of the pits after the first stops. They were still in the hunt, but 1:20 into the race the 55 lost power on track and couldn’t restart. The diagnosis was that a fuel pump failed. The 70 lasted the race to finish 4th overall, despite a late stop for fuel.
Visit Florida Racing lost a driveshaft to cause the initial caution but pulled a zombie and returned to the track late in order to keep alive their streak of finishing races.
On the restart after the first caution, the Delta Wing got into the rear of the MSR Ligier, pushing John Pew into one of the WeatherTech signs along the track. When Pew pulled back onto the track, he continued to push the sign along, snowplow style until it eventually became wedged on the nose of the prototype, between the fenders. No matter what he tried, Pew was not able to shake that sign and eventually another caution was called in order to remove the sign which was completely Pew’s forward vision.
About the sign incident, Pew said, “I’ve never had that happen before, but I was just glad that I didn’t hit the wall. I figured the sign would just fall off, but it wouldn’t, it just stuck there. I tried going back and forth to shake it off, then I couldn’t see, so even though everybody had gone by, I couldn’t go out on the track to try to shake it off, because I didn’t know where I was! So unfortunately I had to wait to have someone come take it off. And then to top it all off, we ended up with a flat tire and I had to pit for a new tire!”
As a result of the finish, the points tally heading into Petit Le Mans has Curran/Cameron taking the lead by a single point over Barbosa/Fittipaldi, with the Taylors sitting 7 points out of the lead.
In GTLM, the lead group was decided at the start, when the pole winning #67 Ford GT dropped to 4th, being ambushed by the Risi Ferrari and also the two CORE Porsches. In an attempt to fight back and gain track position later in the race, the 67 tangled with the point leading #4 Corvette, resulting in damaged steering. The team made repairs, but they lost 14 laps doing so. Also at the start, the #66 was tagged into a spin by the #25 BMW, losing most of a lap, a gap they never truly recovered from.
That left the battle up front to the Risi Ferrari and the two Porsches. Risi held the lead, only to lose it in traffic. As has become the norm, contact between the makes was again common here, with one instance 1:17 into the race resulting in warnings to both Fisichella and Tandy. Despite the tight battles, it appeared entering the last 40 minutes of the race that this race was due to go Risi’s way.
Unfortunately for them, it all went bad with about 25 minutes to go. Suddenly the Ferrari slowed on track without power. Somehow Vilander got it re-fired and made it back to the pits where an electrical issue was repaired. An 8th in class finish was not just reward for their effort this race.
A disappointed Fisichella said after the race, “We did our best. Everything was perfect. We were quickest and pulling away with over ten seconds to the Porsches. And then we had an issue. It’s really frustrating. It was really important for us, for the guys, and for the fans, for us to win and get a first victory of the season. We are here in our home circuit. It’s a shame. Very frustrating. We did our best anyway. We have a good package to do well for the next race and looking forward to going to Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.”
That left the battle up front to the 2 Porsches, with Garcia making inroads on the pair late in the No. 3 Corvette. Such was the pressure from Garcia that Porsche called team orders, making Nick Tandy to allow Bamber to pass and take the lead and eventual win.
After the race, Bamber stated, “We weren’t necessarily the fastest car, but we tried to conserve our Michelin tires early and we were the most consistent over the long runs. The Porsche team has continued to fight hard all season and the 1-2 finish here is a great result.”
Makowiecki added, “I’m really happy to win here. So many times we were close to a win, but we missed it. We showed again today we were strong. We were consistent there in the long run. We got some contact, but we were in P2 speed with the Porsches. The car was fast in the long distance. We always did a great job, and we were really strong with our teamwork. I’m really proud of today’s achievement because we always give our maximum. Today, we finally got the result from all the hard work we’re used to putting in.”
After what had been shaping to be a rough weekend for Corvette Racing, they rebounded, finishing 3rd (Garcia/Mags) while Gavin and Milner settled for 5th. While it wasn’t a highlight reel race, it was the type of race that wins championships and went a long ways to solidifying the points lead for the No. 4 with one race to go stretching their drivers points margin from 7 to 11 over the #67 Ford with one race to go.
About salvaging those points for the championship, Milner said, “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 today and really all weekend… just looking for pace and just sort of comfort driving the car. That part wasn’t so much fun, but yeah, we lucked out today for sure. Today it looked like we had none and then we had all of it pretty quickly there. Part of me feels bad for the #67 guys, but that is kind of a bummer way to lose some points. But I can’t say I’m too unhappy about it. We’ve all fought really hard all year long and some races we’ve had some good races and so have they. 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 for sure, but we are in a good spot.”
After what had been a rough weekend, BMW came through for 4th and 7th in class. Not a podium, but a reward for what at times has been a trying development year. Bill Auberlen, who combined with Dirk Werner in the #25 may not have been happy with the end result, but he couldn’t fault the effort. “I don’t think you are every happy with fourth, but we moved up and we moved up solidly. The team did a great job. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, as we have this new car and it doesn’t always work out how you want it to. But we will always keep our heads up. The one thing I know about BMW is they will never quit.”
While a BMW M6 did not win GTLM, Turner Motorsports was able to capture a strong win in the GTD class. Bret Curtis and Jens Klingmann combined to win by 15 seconds over the resurgent Paul Miller Lamborghini, which won last time out at VIR.
At the last stop, Klingmann entered the pits in 3rd, but came out with the lead, a lead they never relinquished. Bret commented about the win, “we had a really tough race at VIR a few weeks ago with high hopes of having a good result. I didn’t think we had the car to win today going into the race, but when we got in the car it was really strong and I was just hanging in there in the fast corners. I knew if I brought the car home clean and gave the car over to my co-driver, he’d have a shot of bringing it home, and he really did. He made some moves and did a great job.”
A strong race and likely 2nd place finish for the No. 23 Alex Job Porsche ended up as a 7th, as they pulled off track on the last lap, apparently out of fuel. For Farnbacher, “the track conditions changed quite a bit from the beginning of the race to the end of the race. I just couldn’t turn the car at all. After about five laps, the power down got really bad. So, I struggled quite a bit to find my rhythm. I did my best to drive my pace and stay with the BMW. There was no chance to stay behind him. I just tried not to make any mistakes and turn good lap times, and even that was quite challenging. Then, we ran out of fuel on the last lap.”
In the points chase, the 3rd place finish for Scuderia Corsa Ferrari solidified their points lead over the 34 Keating Viper, which settled for a troubled 13th in class finish. The Balzan/Nielsen Ferrari pair now hold a 299-267 lead with one race to go.
In PC, the battle went right to the wire, with van der Vande and Popow hanging on by a scant .8 second with for Starworks. van der Zande, who brought it home said, “when I came out of the pits, we were like 4th, and there was an overlay of strategies with pitstops. I pushed really hard on the out lap and was able to pass Tom Kimber-Smith on his out-lap. Then I had to push really hard to keep him behind me for the next 52 minutes which was the key to the race. I had to manage the tires, keep them under me and also try to keep Kimber-Smith behind me. It wasn’t easy. With a few laps to go, I overtook James French for the lead. I’m really enjoying this, this car is so fun and so is the team. For the championship, we are getting close. If we finish 7th at Petit and anyone else wins, we can still get the championship. Alex has to do the drive-time and then we’ll see if we’re in the position to go for the win.”
Another lap and it might have been a different situation though, as Kimber-Smith was charging and making things very difficult for van der Zande. Both Performance Tech (French/Boulle) and BAR1 Motorsports led significant portions of the race, but faded late to take 3rd and 4th in class, respectively. Matt McMurry ran a strong and long in the race before handing off to Bruno Junqueira, who faded at the end, reportedly due to braking issues.
In two weeks, the 2016 IMSA series come to an end at Road Atlanta with Petit Le Mans.