A double-digit deficit and a sputtering fuel tank wouldn’t keep Kyle Marcelli from victory in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge on Saturday afternoon.
Marcelli took the reins of the #60 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 from co-driver Nate Stacy and found himself over 10 seconds behind leader Patrick Gallagher in the #8 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4. Marcelli wiped the deficit clean with just over three minutes remaining in the race, eventually passing Gallagher, whose co-driver Chad McCumbee put the car on pole, to steal the win.
But it wasn’t without excitement.
On the final lap, Gallagher, competing in his hometown race, appeared to make significant gains back towards Marcelli in the lead, who ultimately was struggling with a lack of fuel. Gallagher pulled alongside Marcelli in the final set of turns, but the #60 regained its strength when it mattered and pulled away towards the checkered flag.
“It was one of those never give up races,” Marcelli said. “I just kept telling myself that anything can happen, to keep pushing, and our Ford Mustang GT4 was just really solid today. Really consistent. The tires held up great, the car just didn’t go off on me. I knew if I just didn’t make a mistake, that we had the pace.
“Finally, with just a few minutes to go it looked like I could make the pass and I knew when I finally caught him, I had to make it right away. We went door-to-door in Turn 2 and it was just really good racing. It was a lot of fun. Two-for-two for Ford and Roush Performance and KohR. Our strategy was awesome as well. It was a bit risky. We came in early to make our final stop shorter and it paid off with track position.”
Also recording its second podium finish this year was the #84 BimmerWorld Racing BMW M4 GT4 of James Clay and Tyler Cooke, finishing third after running well within the top 10 all day.
Controversial Finish Finds Wittmer, Sales Atop TCR Podium Once Again
While the #74 Compass Racing Audi RS3 LMS of Kuno Wittmer and Rodrigo Sales led 53 of 76 laps on Saturday afternoon in the Continental Tire Challenge TCR class, they didn’t lead the last lap. However, they walked away with the victory.
In an odd twist of events, a GS racecar pulled off track on the final lap with an empty fuel tank, creating a local caution, but not stopping the race. By rule, cars are not allowed to pass in an area of the racetrack that is under a local caution.
Wittmer held the lead, as he had during the previous 38 laps, but was overtaken in the local caution area by teammate Tom Long in the No. 77 Audi RS3 LMS coming to the finish line.
After the race concluded, the #74 was ruled the winner.
“First of all, the Compass team and the Audi RS3 LMS were amazing all weekend,” Wittmer said after the race. “We topped the charts in all of the practice sessions. My teammate Rodrigo really held up his end, he was awesome. We pitted with the perfect strategy and we ended up with a 30-second lead, but we ended up having to conserve a lot of fuel. We had to do a lot of fuel conserving thus putting a lot of debris on the front tires so when I had to push I had no grip.”
“(Long) initiated the pass and I was quite surprised, so I’m glad the stewards, the IMSA officials, acted on it because it was a straight up pass under yellow. I feel bad for them, but a regulation is a regulation. We’ll take the points, we’ll take the win. It’s a long season ahead.”
Long and co-driver Britt Casey Jr., who put the #77 on pole, wound up second, with Roy Block and Pierre Kleinubing making it a 1-2-3 finish for Compass Racing in the #75. Michael Johnson and Stephen Simpson in the #54 JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi RS3 LMS, returning for their first race of the season after Johnson suffered a broken leg during an incident at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 in early January, finished fourth after leading laps early in the race.
MINI Repeats 1-2 Performance in Street Tuner Class
When it rains, it pours for MINI in the Street Tuner (ST) class.
After recording its second career 1-2 Continental Tire Challenge finish at Sebring International Raceway back in March, MINI repeated that performance at Mid-Ohio on Saturday afternoon, with the #73 MINI JCW Team MINI JCW of Mat Pombo and Mike LaMarra claiming the class victory.
Pombo’s brother Mark, sharing the #52 with series rookie Colin Mullan, finished second, completing a reverse order of the team’s result at Sebring.
“Mark and I don’t race each other, we want to play wingman unless one of us makes a mistake we don’t go by,” said Mat Pombo. “So this one was for both of us, Sebring was for both of us. To come home 1-2, our goal is to put MINI at the lead of the manufacturer standings with BMW coming in, so we took the lead coming out of here. We can’t wait to get to Watkins Glen and continue this because there’s a lot of momentum for us right now.”
Rounding out the podium in third place were class pole-sitters Nick Galante and Devin Jones in the #81 BimmerWorld Racing BMW 328i.
The Continental Tire Challenge will return to Watkins Glen International on June 28/July 1.
Photo courtesy of Ford Performance