2016 IMSA Northeast Grand Prix - Race Report
Starworks scores overall win, Corvette Racing clinches GT-LM class and celebrates 100th victoryby Mihai Fira, on
Lime Rock Park in Connecticut was again the host of the Northeast Grand Prix which gathered three of the four IMSA Weathertech Sportscar classes within the premises of the 1.4-mile circuit, and saw Corvette Racing reach some incredible milestones. Under scorching heat, the intense traffic made for contact aplenty, with prototypes and GTs scraping on a track that lacks the endless asphalt run-offs of modern “Tilkedromes” – and thank God it does!
The quickest overall lap time of the qualifying session was set by CORE Autosport’s Colin Braun, the No. 54 ORECA lapping Lime Rock in just 48:824 seconds, a slim margin of 0.016 seconds separating Braun’s time from Robert Alon’s best effort, the PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport car starting second. Kyle Marcelli was third quickest, a tenth off pole, sharing row two of Saturday’s grid with the No. 7 Starworks Motorsport entry. Peter Baron’s other car was at the bottom end of the top five, but had high hopes for race day as van der Zande and Popow had won two of the previous three rounds.
BMW’s Dirk Werner battled for pole with Ford’s Richard Westbrook, the latter sneaking through to post the quickest lap time and take the pole. The Briton’s 50:748 was less than a tenth quicker than the best that Werner could do. The second row of the GT-LM grid was in the 50-second bracket as well, with Tommy Milner starting from third alongside Toni Vilander. Dirk Mueller qualified sixth, two tenths back from Magnussen on seventh. Porsche was again at the back of the pack, the two 991 GTEs starting eight and tenth, although this time the gap from first to last was well under a second.
Change Racing’s Spencer Pumpelly stormed to pole thanks to a blistering 53:148, just 0.030 seconds quicker than Andrew Davis who locked a front-row position in the No. 6 Stevenson Motorsport Audi. The sister Stevenson Audi was third while Alessandro Balzan was fourth in the championship-leading Scuderia Corsa car.
Starworks’ dream of another win was almost ended in the first bend as Alex Popow clashed with Michael Goikhberg, the No. 8 car dropping to the back of the pack as a result. Goikhberg’s JDC/Miller Motorsport car did not fair much better, retiring later on. Popow managed to claw back the time after the first pit cycle, which went on under yellow. This brought the car up front, Popow battling for the lead with Robert Alon. In the meantime, CORE Autosport elected to once again start Jon Bennett instead of Colin Braun, which meant CORE Autosport started bog last. It wasn’t to be, though, for the No. 54 as the car had a spin and, after a lot of bumping and shoving through the pack, retired with suspension damage during the second hour of racing.
Starworks then took the lead for the final time after the last pit stop, Renger van der Zande aptly picking his way through traffic while also keeping Tom Kimber-Smith at bay. The Briton had his work cut out for him after the PR1/Mathiasen lost time during the second round of stops due to a poorly timed full-course yellow. Kimber-Smith managed to claw back roughly 10 seconds of the deficit but then got stuck behind Johnny Mowlem’s BAR1 Motorsport which was running in fourth, albeit a lap down. With Mowlem reluctant to let Kimber-Smith by, van der Zande had a rather simple final 15 minutes although, once through, the PR1/Mathiasen driver started closing the gap yet again but ran out of time as the Starworks Motorsport ORECA No. 8 finished first, eight tenths ahead of the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport entry. James French and Kyle Marcelli finished third for Performance Tech after managing a clean race which was undoubtedly tricky with over thirty cars on the same piece of tarmac.
The war in GT-LM was hotter than ever, all five manufacturers having a chance at victory. In the end, BMW, Ferrari and Porsche fell short while Chevrolet took all the glory and reached some memorable landmarks in the process.
BMW saw both its 2016 M6 GT-LM cars out of the race in crashes, both at the final turn. First out was the No. 100 BMW, its clash with the Risi Ferrari ending in tears for Rahal Letterman Racing as the two cars bounced off each other before the BMW slipped off-track and crashed in the tire wall. The No. 25 BMW was also fighting at the sharp end of the field but this time it was the No. 912 Porsche which was trading paint. Earl Bamber left little room for Dirk Muller on the outside and the two collided, the ensuing crash ending both men’s race. Porsche’s hopes were later completely dashed as their other car fell victim to the high kerbs at Lime Rock and slowed down on track during the second hour. The overall performance of the Porsches was still encouraging after the team pleaded to IMSA to let them use the 2015-spec Michelin rubber.
Ford and Chevrolet had none of that and executed a perfect race to run in formation behind Risi Competizione’s Ferrari after the last round of stops. Fisichella was trusted with bringing the car home but the ex-Formula 1 driver went off-course in the Big Bend which cost him the lead to Oliver Gavin. A little bit later, with minutes to spare, he got out of shape in the braking for Turn 1, entering wide and clashing with Ryan Briscoe’s Ford, which gave him no space on the outside and Fisichella went out again, losing third as well to Antonio Garcia. The incident didn’t leave Briscoe unscathed as he significantly lowered his pace. The Spaniard in the No. 3 Corvette thus made his way through to second where he would finish giving Corvette its 60th 1-2 finish since their debut at the Rolex Daytona 24 hours in 1999. Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin’s win also brought Corvette’s tally of victories to 100 – a deserving feat for the longest lasting factory-backed GT effort in modern sportscar racing.
Magnus Racing employed a radical setup on their No. 44 Audi R8 LMS with 80 degrees of rear wing paying off as Andy Lally moved from seventh to first after the last caution period to snatch an unlikely victory for him and John Potter.
Jeroen Bleekemolen found himself at the top of the GT-D class after the last pit stop but the Riley-built Viper did not have enough pace to stay there, Lally getting by Bleekemolen with less than 15 minutes to go. The Dutchman would cross the finish line third after losing second to Robin Liddell. Fourth were Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow, and Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell finishing fifth in the second Stevenson Motorsport R8 LMS.
Christina Nielsen, who came to Lime Rock with a 22-point lead in the championship alongside Alessandro Balzan, got punted off the track by a Prototype Challenge car, effectively ending their challenge. The 488 kept going but Balzan only finished 11th. Tim Pappas spun the Black Swan Motorsport Porsche 991 GT3-R he shared with veteran sportscar driver Andy Pilgrim and finished an unrepresentative 12th in class. Turner Motorsport were a bit unfortunate in pit lane and finished sixth and seventh, while the pole sitters came home a frustrating eight after multiple fender-bending moments.
Lime Rock being a track where momentum is everything due to the short length of the lap, it’s vital that you don’t go off-line. This was best shown by Patrick Lindsey who lost no fewer than four spots in the final 30 minutes aboard the Park Place Motorsport Porsche to finish tenth.
Top 10 Standings
|1||1||8||PC||van der Zande/Popow||Starworks Motorsport||ORECA FLM09||169|
|2||2||52||PC||Alon/Kimber-Smith||PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports||ORECA FLM09||169|
|3||3||38||PC||French/Marcelli||Performance Tech Motorsports||ORECA FLM09||168|
|4||4||20||PC||McMurry/Mowlem||BAR1 Motorsports||ORECA FLM09||168|
|5||1||4||GTLM||Gavin/Milner||Corvette Racing||Chevrolet Corvette C7.R||167|
|6||2||3||GTLM||Garcia/Magnussen||Corvette Racing||Chevrolet Corvette C7.R||167|
|7||3||67||GTLM||Briscoe/Westbrook||Ford Chip Ganassi Racing||Ford GT||167|
|8||4||62||GTLM||Fisichella/Vilander||Risi Competizione||Ferrari 488 GTE||167|
|9||5||66||GTLM||Hand/Mueller||Ford Chip Ganassi Racing||Ford GT||167|
|10||5||88||PC||Kvamme/Ruscitti||Starworks Motorsport||ORECA FLM09||165|
For the full results, follow this link.
Next up on the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship calendar is the scenic Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The former home of a legendary 500-mile-long race now hosts a two-hour-and-45-minute-long event. It will take place in the first weekend of August and all four classes, P, PC, GT-LM and GT-D, will be on hand.