A persistent electrical storm at Lime Rock rather spoiled the day for spectators with Lime Rock Park’s Northeast Grand Prix running for just 90 minutes of its planned 2 hours and 40 minutes distance before being red-flagged due to lightning strikes in the area.
Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor led at the red flag in the GTLM and GTD-only race, with Ross Gunn and Roman De Angelis taking the GTD win.
Garcia had a nine-second lead over the #3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R’s sister car driven by Nick Tandy when nearby lightning first halted racing with 72 minutes left in the two-hour, 40-minute IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race. The clock kept running, and more lightning eventually ended the race with the cars still stopped in pit lane.
“It is what it is,” Garcia said. “We had a ton of fans out here today, and safety comes first. This time we were lucky in that we were leading when the red flag came. For sure, you need to be up there in that position to benefit from the conditions.”
After the first lightning strike, De Angelis, with Gunn and their #23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 leading, only wanted more lightning.
“We definitely knew the weather was coming,” De Angelis said. “Sitting on the pit box, we were all feeling a little light drizzle coming. We were definitely expecting something to change with the track conditions.
“Obviously, (Gunn) saw the splashes on the windshield, but we couldn’t really tell what was going to happen with the lightning. Once it started, in a way we hoped the lightning would come in a time that would allow us to not have to go out again.”
The GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory was the fourth this season and ninth in the last 16 races for Garcia, Taylor and the #3 Corvette. Tandy and Tommy Milner shared the GTLM runner-up finish in the #4 Corvette, while Mathieu Jaminet and Cooper MacNeil finished third in the #79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19.
The unusual finish reminded Taylor of the 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona, which was stopped short of the 22nd hour due to heavy rain. Taylor was part of that race-winning Wayne Taylor Racing team but had to wait out the weather delay to get to the celebration.
“You’re waiting to see if it’s going to go green again, so it’s kind of very stressful with the unknown,” Taylor said. “Today, looking at the radar, a couple of miles north of the track there were a crazy amount of lightning strikes, so I think it was going to come this way no matter what. It wasn’t as rainy as Daytona that year, but today was a similar feeling.”
The first Lime Rock win for Garcia and the third win in four weeks for the #3 car was both planned and unplanned. Garcia and Taylor knew the plan going into the race but didn’t know how it would end.
“It was about fuel mileage, saving tires and getting through traffic cleanly,” Taylor said. “Thankfully, we executed well and the driver change went well. We knew the weather was imminent at some point and that it could be red-flagged, so we knew track position was going to be important. Thankfully, we were out front when that came.”
The #23 Heart of Racing Team drivers continued a streak that began late last year, winning Saturday’s GT Daytona (GTD) portion of the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park. Originally scheduled for two hours, 40 minutes, the race was red-flagged after 90 minutes due to lightning in the area and unable to be restarted.
The result netted Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn their second win of the season in the #23 Aston Martin Vantage GT3, their fourth straight podium finish and 11th top-five performance in the last 12 races dating to last September at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. In addition, the high-riding driver duo took over the GTD season points lead and extended their advantage in the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup.
“It’s a big deal for us,” Gunn said of the season points lead. “We’ve just slowly chipped away throughout the year – got fifth, fourth, third, first (in previous races). It’s been going really well.
“I think the main strength of this team is the execution and the lack of mistakes,” Gunn added. “And I’m talking about every member of the team. The pit stops are great, the strategy is great, the setup has been getting better and better every weekend. And me and Roman have been learning the tracks quicker.”
De Angelis started from the pole position Saturday and only surrendered the lead when he made what turned out to be the only pit stop of the day 47 minutes into the race. Gunn took over the car and returned to the front as the stops cycled through. He was leading Madison Snow in the #1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 by nearly two seconds when IMSA officials ordered a full-course caution for lightning.
The red flag officially came with 70 minutes remaining. Additional nearby strikes continued to push back the mandatory 30-minute window for no lightning in the area until not enough time remained to continue the event.
“Historically it’s been a track where the guy who starts on pole usually has a pretty good chance at winning,” said De Angelis, who dedicated the victory to his grandfather Frank De Angelis, who passed away earlier this week. “I pushed as hard as I could and got the most out of the car, and the crew did an amazing job as always. Just happy to get a win after a pretty tough week for myself. Really happy to try to get that win for him.”
Snow and co-driver Bryan Sellers finished second in the #1 Lamborghini, with Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz taking third in the #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3.
“The main job here is done in qualifying,” Gunn said of the tight, 1.474-mile Lime Rock circuit, “and that’s where Roman aced it this weekend. He made my job a lot easier. It’s a strange way to finish the weekend. I would’ve liked to have finished it on the road, for sure, but a win is a win. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going forth.”
Gunn and De Angelis have finished no worse than fifth in any race this season, a true sign of the team’s cohesive development. Team principal Ian James, who started the Heart of Racing operation with Aston Martin last year and stepped out as a full-time driver this season to focus on overseeing the program, is pleased with the progress but sees more to come.
“I knew it was going to take a while to get it to where we needed it to be,” James said. “The crew came together really fast but learning a car up against such stiff opposition that have had years of experience, we knew that was going to take time. We just keep refining every little thing, from the pit stops to the car to the driver changes and we’re not going to stop there.”
Gunn and De Angelis are now 28 points ahead of #96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 drivers Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley, who finished fifth on Saturday, in GTD season points. Gunn and De Angelis also expanded their Sprint Cup advantage to 165 points on Frankie Montecalvo, co-driver of the #12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus with Zach Veach that wound up 10th in the race.
The class grid was reduced to 13 cars after the withdrawal of the originally expected Alegra Mercedes AMG.
The WeatherTech Championship returns to action Aug. 6-8 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, with the IMSA SportsCar Weekend. All five classes, Daytona Prototype international, Le Mans Prototype 2, Le Mans Prototype 3, GT Le Mans and GTD will compete.