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Petit Le Mans: ESM Nissan Take Control

GTLM Battle of the brands continues, Risi drop back after penalty

Through Halfway and almost immediately there was major drama, Nick Heidfeld in the race leading #13 Rebellion ORECA coming out of the pits tangled with the #38 Performance Tech PC class leading (and Championship winning ORECA of Kyle Masson, the German going up the inside of the PC car to take the line into T2, tucking in a micron too early and pitching himself into the wall with damage to the front right of the car, Heidfeld was able to walk to the Medical Car en route for his check up but#13 was out of the race.

All of that put the race under caution – again – and the #6 Penske ORECA to the lead before the pitlane opened, the misfortunes and misadventures for the #13 proving to be a godsend for Brendon Hartley now aboard the #2 ESM Ligier Nissan and getting their lost lap back, the car in close company with Pagenaud’s Penske.

Fisichella led into, through and beyond the caution in the #62 Rise Ferrari. Behind the Vettes and Porsche were fully engaged Fassler passing both but then dropping back behind the #912 of Earl Bamber, Rockefeller too was on the move, going by the #911, Dirk Werner also losing out to an opportunistic move from Bourdais in the #66 Ford.

Back up to the lead as the pitstops wound out were the Action Express pair, Dane Cameron holding off Albuquerque with van Overbeek in the #22 Nissan Ligier a couple of seconds back.

As the Prototype train caught the GTD pack Hartley found a way by Pagenaud, and then Bomarito in the Visit Florida Ligier, Caddys 1, 2, Nissan’s 3, 4.

A short caution for the Stevenson Audi spun at T1 saw Hartley up to third at the restart, up the inside of his team-mate into T1.

Further tangles for a GTD saw Fisichella briefly lose the lead in traffic as Wittmer in the #25 BMW took advantage but then found his path blocked by Scott Pruett in the Lexus, firm contact seeing the RC-F into the pits and Fisichella grabbing back the lead.

 Moments later and the 10th full course caution, again for a GTD drama, Mark Wilkins into the wall at T5 in the #93 Acura.

The pitstops under caution this time though saw some big changes as Brendon Hartley emerged in the lead of the race ing the #2 ESM Nissan ahead of Goikhberg in the #85 JDC Miller ORECA Gibson, Eric Curran cycling back to third in the #31 Cadillac.

In GTLM Risi retained the lead but there was a front brake change for the #911 as Patrick Pilet climbed aboard, Corvette getting Mike Rockefeller in the #3 C7.R out ahead of the sister #912 of Earl Bamber. Risi though would be in trouble next time around, a driver through for substantially exceeding the pitlane speed limit! he fell down to 8th in class.

That made it a Corvette 1,2, Fassler having also passed the #912 together with Joey Hand in the #66 Ford, the Porsche now fourth until Bill Auberlen stormed around the outside of T1, the BMW taking the position as Joey hand went by Fassler for second, Auberlen also going by into third.

After being harried by Goikhberg at the restart Hartley was soon into his stride, breaking the lap record with a 1:12.800 as he found space and going faster by another couple of tenths again next time around. Goikhberg meanwhile would soon be down to third, then fourth, Goikhberg trying to regain that position with a highly inadvisable attempt back up the inside of the Nissan leaving the #85 stranded broadside across the exit of T10 where the tenth car to come along, the Stevenson Audi swept away its rear clip. FCY number 11 

The #85 crew would feel fortunate that the incident left them with only a rear clip to replace, no such luck for the Stevenson crew! (though they’d be pinged for a stop when the pits were closed), a stop and hold.

3 Hours 40 to go as the race went green, very green as it would turn out as Bruno Senna got the jump on the rest in the pack behind an untroubled Hartley, up to second for an ESM Nissan 1,2. Bomarito and Fittipaldi meanwhile were duking it out and swapping places.

Hartley though was pulling away, 3 hours 20 remaining and the lead was 15 seconds.

into the next pitstop cycle and the #5 Action Express Cadillac suffered a wheel gun issue, dropping back from the pack.

Hartley stepped out of the leading #2 car replaced by Ryan Dalziel, as back on track in the Penske ORECA Helio Castroneves relieved Marc Goossens’ #90 Visit Florida Ligier of fourth place.

Marcel Fassler meanwhile hot trouble, and an advertising hoarding, the #3 C7.R carrying a large ZF advertisement implied sin the car’s rear wing after a run across the infield, the car pitting for its removal, together with a lawnmower full of grass from the front air intake, and for the installation of Oliver Gavin. Fisichella grabbed another place back on his recovery run, the Rise Ferrari back up to 5th in class as the 8th hour approached.

After the latest pitstops it was the #66 Ford to the lead in GTLM, Hand, and then Bill Auberlen getting by Antonio Garcia in the #3 Corvette, before grabbing the class lead in the #25 BMW.

Alessandro Pier Guidi meanwhile was by now aboard the Risi Ferrari and catching the man he replaced in the Ferrari factory roster, Gimmi Bruni for fourth in GTLM. He’d make the move and pull away.

Coming towards the end of the eighth hour the overall lead was dropping into single figures again, Senna catching Dalziel, but being caught by Castroneves.

5 minutes to the top of the hour and Bruno Senna, trying to escape the gathering clutches of Helio looked up the inside of the #911 but tapped the rear right of the Porsche and spun away the place, Penske second as the 12th FCY came along for the #16 Change Racing Lamborghini stationary off track, Jeroen Mul at the wheel.

The top of the charts in Prototype Challenge has received a shake up in the past three hours. The #26 BAR1 Motorsports car now controls the PC field leading its sister car, the #20. The #38 Performance Tech car which lead for most of the race’s first half fell off the pace after making contact with the #13 Rebellion Prototype car. The #38 spent some time in the garage before making a return, albeit 18 laps off the leader.

Meanwhile in GT Daytona the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi which has floated around the top of the charts all day has captured the top spot, though they made their pitstop moments before a FCY which dropped them down to third. This promoted the #73 Porsche with Patrick Lindsey, and the #33 Mercedes AMG with Jeroen Bleekemolen to first and second in class respectively.

GTD has experienced the most wounds, starting shortly after the half-way mark. Bryan Sellers, and the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini suffered a sheared front right control arm after contact at the top of the esses. That was repaired and the car returned to the track, four laps behind the leader in class.

The #93 Acura NSX, and the #57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi both joined the list of retired cars, the Acura, with Mark Wilkins behind the wheel made hard contact with the tyre wall in the esses after trying to along side the #54 Porsche. Stevenson’s final IMSA race ended after the right front of the car made contact with the JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca, the Audi finding the ORECA broadside across the road.

The #63 Scuderia Corsa emerged from the garage after a long repair session. The team needed Christina Nielsen to secure her minimum drive time to secure the championship win, which they have, effectively crowning the #63 as the GTD driver and team champions for the 2017 IMSA season.

Townsend Bell ha a huge moment across the line as dusk settled in, the #23 Audi suffering a massive spin out of the final turn but the driver catching the errant car and rejoining with minimal time lost, the car continuing 4th in class.