2016 IMSA Road Race Showcase Road America - Race Report
1-2-3 overall win for Corvette DP and class victories for ORECA, Corvette C7.R, and Viper GT3-Rby Mihai Fira, on
Scott Atherton, president of the International Motorsport Association, gave assurances on the grid that the Continental Sportscar Showcase at the scenic Road America circuit will be a classic and, two hours and 40 minutes later, he was proven right by some frantic fights at the top of the GT-LM ranks, as well as some late-race incidents to top it all. Not to mention yet another case of Mazda shooting themselves in the foot.
Though far from the pace of the LMP2s or LMP1s from half a decade ago, the Lola-based Mazda No. 55 of Jonathan Bomarito was fast enough around the 2.5-mile long road course located near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, to snatch the pole. Under clear skies, Mazda’s finest set a scorching 1:54:507, over a second faster than anyone else in the Prototype class. Early on, the three Corvette DPs got involved in the fight for pole but, at the end of the 15-minute-long session, Christian Fittipaldi’s best time that put him second on the grid was a pedestrian 1:55:659. It wasn’t all plain sailing, though, as John Pew was back at it again going off in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier which caused a short interruption with red flags being waved as the LMP2 car was rescued from the sand traps of Turn 3. Ricky Taylor was third at the end of it all, just 34 thousandths of a second behind Fittipaldi.
With identical cars in the Prototype Category, it’s always very hard to pick a pole sitter and this time in Wisconsin it was no different, with local James French taking a hotly-contested pole from under Jose Guttierez’s nose. His time, a 1:59:133, was slightly quicker than that of the No. 7 Starworks Racing driver who, in turn, beat Misha Goikhberg’s best effort of 1:59:462.
Porsche was on the prowl for some good results at Road America after a tough first half of the season. The North American works team was looking to rebound after managing to get IMSA’s approval to use the 2015-spec rubber, as opposed to the rest of the field that used medium compound Michelin rubber that’s also used by GTE cars in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Early on, Giancarlo Fisichella and Ford’s Dirk Mueller traded the coveted pole position between themselves in the 2:03 region before Patrick Pilet slotted ahead with a 2:02:912 in the No. 911 Porsche. The Frenchman was, by session’s end, only headed by Mueller who bounced back to set a pole time of 2:02:451. The two works Corvettes and the two BMWs sat rather dejected from sixth to ninth on the grid.
Viper, Lamborghini, Porsche and Audi all fought for pole in GT-D, the times dropping from over 2:10 to under 2:08 by the time Alex Riberas set the pole lap, a 2:07:520. This was quicker than both of Stevenson Motorsport’s Audis as well as the Lamborghinis, and the No. 33 Viper of Ben Keating.
Keep reading for the full story.
Mazda’s first job was to protect its hard earned pole and it did so easily at the start, all P2-running teams very aware of the fact that the heavier DPs get the tires up to temperature quicker. Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito were the class of the field but an alternative strategy by the Speed Source team that saw the car not pit under the second caution period, but pitting with 36 minutes to spare for both fuel and tires, pegged the duo back. It was, the team argued, a decision made based on their calculations that the DPs would need a splash of fuel before the flag if it would go to the end under green. While it did not, due to Stephen Simpson’s crash that came within 13 minutes before the checkered flag, the three Corvette DPs were safe fuel-wise.
At the top, it was a perfect day at the races for Action Express Racing, the No. 31 duo of Cameron/Curran beating their team-mates
It’s worth mentioning that, before its last stop, the No. 55 Mazda held a lead of roughly half a minute over the field. It was, again, a case of what might have been, just like at Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen, and Mosport, where they had the pace but mistakes by the crew, or issues (turbo failure at Watkins Glen, wheel-gun failure at Mosport) meant that poles were all they got, barring for some almost forgettable podiums (given their expectations). Also, the other Mazda dropped out after only six laps due to engine trouble.
At the top, it was a perfect day at the races for Action Express Racing, the No. 31 duo of Cameron/Curran beating their team-mates, Fittipaldi and Barbosa, whom they beat over better pit work. It was the second win of the season for the Whelen-sponsored Corvette, as well as the second win in a row for this pairing at Road America.
Jordan and Ricky Taylor came home third making it a DP 1-2-3, but the Konica Minolta prototype never seemed to have the speed to threaten the Mazda or the Action Express guys. Michael Shank Racing will go back to their shop after a lackluster fourth place while the returning DeltaWing was sixth, behind the No. 55 which added insult to injury in the latter stages of the race after it took out the Ferrari of Toni Vilander in Turn 1 as the Finnish ace was fighting for GT-LM victory with the No. 67 Ford.
Top 5 Results
|1||31||Cameron/Curran||Action Express Racing||Chevrolet Corvette DP||73|
|2||5||Barbosa/Fittipaldi||Action Express Racing||Chevrolet Corvette DP||73|
|3||10||Taylor/Taylor||Konica Minolta||Chevrolet Corvette DP||73|
|4||60||Pew/Negri Jr.||Michael Shank Racing||Honda HPD Ligier JS P2||73|
|5||55||Nunez/Bomarito||Mazda Motorsports||Mazda Prototype||73|
It was PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport who took the most prized Prototype Challenge silverware on Sunday as Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon won in the No. 52 car. The Englishman got ahead on lap 34 and never looked back. This was the second win of the season and it helped that championship leader Renger van der Zande retired after contact with the No. 85 JDC-Miller ORECA of Simpson. Both cars were out in an incident that triggered the final safety car period — less than a quarter of an hour before the end. With Renger van der Zande and Popow classified in sixth, their lead in the standing has shrunk to just six points ahead of Kimber-Smith and Alon with whom they’ll do battle again at COTA, the second-to-last round for the PC class (as well as the P class, both not running at VIR).
Top 5 Results
|1||52||Alan/Kimber-Smith||PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports||ORECA FLM09||72|
|2||54||Bennett/Braun||CORE Autosport||ORECA FLM09||72|
|3||38||French/Marcelli||Performance Tech Motorsports||ORECA FLM09||72|
|4||7||Gutierrez/Yacaman||Starworks Motorsport||ORECA FLM09||72|
|5||20||McMurry/Junqueira||BAR1 Motorsports||ORECA FLM09||72|
It was a true roller-coaster in GT-LM throughout the length of the race with a lot of touching and squeezing. It was like that since the start with the Porsches, the Corvettes, and the Ferrari all trying to make up ground on the first lap. While the pole-sitting No. 66 Ford was hit by trouble again, this time a faltering suspension arm, it was the sister No. 67 that craved its way from the back of the pack to the front. Great pit work from Corvette Racing and Risi, as well as Porsche, also elevated those cars leaving BMW a foot behind, the Munich-based brand also losing their No. 25 M6.
This meant that, with two laps to go, the No. 4 Corvette of Tommy Milner had moved up to second behind Westbrook.
The nail-biting contest hit its peak in the final minutes when a caution period bunched everybody right back together for what proved to be some of the best last few laps, not only this season, but in the last few years. Before it went back to green it was Ford No. 67 from Ferrari No. 62 from Porsche No. 911 with the two Corvettes at the tail of the Top 6 with the No. 912 Porsche of Fred Mako sandwiched between. First out of the fight was Nick Tandy who, in typical banzai style, tried to out brake both Vilander and Westbrook in Turn 5. The hasty decision backfired on the Le Mans winner as he tagged the side of the Ford GT, the contact turning the Porsche 991 around. Tandy had to wait for a bulk of cars to go by before it could rejoin, back in seventh. A lap later, Vilander got turned around in Turn 1 by the Mazda No. 55 which had gotten the shorter stick and was forced to restart behind a group of slower GT cars. Bomarito had the bit between his teeth as he saw the fourth-placed Oswaldo Negri Jr. ahead but couldn’t quite reach him. This meant that, with two laps to go, the No. 4 Corvette of Tommy Milner had moved up to second behind Westbrook.
The Englishman was feeling the heat all too much, the team talking to him frantically as he seemed to lose pace during the last lap. This became obvious when Tommy Milner cruised by the Ford on the back straight to take the lead and a victory by a margin of under a second. What was it, then, that caused Westbrook to slow down, effectively gifting Corvette their 101st victory? The team say the car had lost turbo pressure in one of its turbos which made it sluggish through the fast right-hander that leads to the back straight.
As it was, Corvette won again, Milner and Gavin extending their championship lead to 13 points, followed by Ford and BMW – the Germans helped by the problems encountered by Ferrari and Porsche.
Top 5 Results
|1||4||Gavin/Milner||Corvette Racing||Chevrolet Corvette C7.R||70|
|2||67||Briscoe/Westbrook||Ford Chip Ganassi Racing||Ford GT||70|
|3||100||Edwards/Luhr||BMW Team RLL||BMW M6 GTLM||70|
|4||912||Bamber/Makowiecki||Porsche North America||Porsche 911 RSR||70|
|5||62||Fisichella/Vilander||Risi Competizione||Ferrari 488 GTE||70|
Road America is really a track on the big Riley-built Viper’s liking. This was evident on Sunday when the No. 33 Gas Monkey-sponsored car rolled into victory lane after a dominant run by Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen. The Dutchman held an almost two-second lead over the No. 73 Park Place Motorsport Porsche at the end. Park Place’s podium finish was all due to some gutsy few laps by veteran Jorg Bergmeister who stormed past Stevenson Motorsport’s Robin Liddell. The No. 6 Audi R8 LMS would drop a bunch of spots finishing fifth, while championship leaders Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen finished third in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3.
Top 5 Results
|1||33||Keating/Bleekemolen||Riley Motorsports||Dodge Viper GT3-R||69|
|2||73||Lindsey/Bergmeister||Park Place Motorsports||Porsche 911 GT3 R||69|
|3||63||Nielsen/Balzan||Scuderia Corsa||Ferrari 488 GT3||69|
|4||44||Potter/Lally||Magnus Racing||Audi R8 LMS GT3||69|
|5||6||Liddell/Davis||Stevenson Motorsports||Audi R8 LMS GT3||69|
You can access the full results here.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship continues on August 26-28 with the Michelin GT Challenge at the Virginia International Raceway.