Wins for Cadillac and Acura in Protoype and GT-D, respectively

The IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship proved that even in the absence of one of its strongest classes, GTLM, it can put on a good show in the heart of Motor City on Saturday, when three categories went head to head on the Belle Isle street circuit in what was one of the most exciting sprint races in the championship’s history. With the GTLM class not present because most of the teams have flown over to France to take part in the Le Mans Test Day on Sunday, this year’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s grid was made up of the Prototype, Prototype Challenge, and GT-Daytona contenders.

It was, however, no bore fest as the 100-minute-long race featured multiple battles, close calls, and even accidents, but the first twist of the tale took place well before the race. Prototype Challenge was a three-car affair with James French again smoking everybody, this time his rivals in the hunt for pole for the death-row-bound category being Tomy Drissi and Don Yount. Drissi was second on the timing sheets but his car failed the post-race technical inspection, and he lost his place to Don Yount. Before PC, however, more excitement was felt by those in attendance during the GTD 15-minute qualifying shootout.

Continue reading for the full story.

The Qualifying

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It was all to play for in the junior GT category with Acura, Lamborghini and Audi all fighting for pole.

It was all to play for in the junior GT category with Acura, Lamborghini and Audi all fighting for pole, with cameos at the sharp end by Lexus as well. It was Scott Pruett who was briefly quickest for the 3GT Racing outfit, but, eventually, the No. 14 RC-F fell down to fifth. Change Racing’s Corey Lewis was the first to beat Pruett’s time but the No. 16 Huracan’s time also wasn’t unbeatable, Lewis finding himself fourth at the end of the session.

Lawson Aschenbach was though unbeatable in the lone Audi R8 LMS. His 1:30.200 which he reeled in with merely seconds to spare was enough to beat even the late charge of Katherine Legge who went from seventh to second after a storming final fast lap. The Acura driver also beat in the process Bryan Sellers, the Paul Miller Racing driver having the 2016 Belle Isle pole in his resume. It’s notable that the only PC car to put a down a better lap than the GTDs was that of James French. Yount and Drissi were at the back of the pack, some five seconds off French’s lap.

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Ricky Taylor was quickest, but on the very next lap he slid wide and crashed.

The Prototype class qualifying session was much less straightforward. Yes, Ricky Taylor was quickest, but on the very next lap he slid wide and crashed. The accident, which took place with seven minutes left of the session, caused a red flag and the session was never restarted. Since Taylor was behind the whole thing, his best time was erased, and the No. 10 was sent to the back of the pack. Now, it was the question of who will start from pole.

The IMSA rules state that, for a qualifying session to be made official, it has to last at least 10 minutes, which wasn’t the case for the one at Detroit. This meant that Renger van der Zande, who was second in the No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Racing thanks to a 1:24.693, did not get to start from pole. Instead, the starting order was decided by the points standings, albeit with the No. 10 at the back-end of the field. This put Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi’s No. 5 Action Express Cadillac in pole right next to their team-mates, the No. 31 Whelen duo of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran. With this order in place, AXR hoped for a turn of fortunes or, in other words, a chance to end the complete domination of Wayne Taylor Racing who’d won the first four rounds of the 2017 season.

The Race

Race day greeted everyone with sunny blue skies and a projected two-stop race for the prototypes, with one on the cards for GTD.

Race day greeted everyone with sunny blue skies and a projected two-stop race for the prototypes, with one on the cards for GTD. Christian Fittipaldi led from pole while Goikhberg got by Eric Curran at the start, the JDC-Miller Motorsport driver later re-passed by Curran. The Mazdas also showed their speed early on and fought inside the Top 5 as contact did occur even between the prototypes on the not-if-you-ask-an-European narrow street course. The fighting was, however, interrupted by a full-course caution just under 30 minutes after the start.

Kenn Habul’s brakes apparently suffered a failure just as he was about to be lapped by class-leader Lawson Aschenbach and the SunEnergy1 Mercedes went straight into Renger van der Zande’s Riley No. 90 whcih was just veering for Turn 3. The accident happened moments after Ben Keating lost the No. 33 Mercedes in Turn 8, going straight and completely losing the front-right wheel and suspension parts after he made heavy contact with the outside wall. The extended yellow flag period bunched up the field and was also the catalyzer for the first round of pitstops – for both prototypes and GTs.

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After 20 minutes under yellow, the pack was released again and, this time, it was Dane Cameron who led his class ahead of the No. 70 Riley/Multimatic Mazda of Joel Miller.

After 20 minutes under yellow, the pack was released again and, this time, it was Dane Cameron who led his class ahead of the No. 70 Riley/Multimatic Mazda of Joel Miller. Third at the restart was Jordan Taylor who picked up where his brother Ricky left off. He then went on to take second place after the 60-minutes mark which was shortly before the second round of stops for the top-end machines. While most of the cars stopped with 40 minutes left to go, which is the maximum stint of fuel for some of the prototypes, such as the Cadillac, one crew gambled. It was the leading No. 31 which opted to go for a late splash-and-dash, electing not to change tires as well. Few cars did change tires at the second stop, one of them being Ryan Dalziel’s ESM-entered Nissan-Ligier. The Scot, however, encountered problems later in the race so his fresh rubber was irrelevant.

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The No. 31 returned to the track five seconds behind the Konica Minolta-sponsored Cadillac which had no problem until the end and scored a fifth win out of five in grand fashion

As Taylor and Cameron battled from afar, one thing was clear: Jordan was making much better use of his laps in clear air, consistently closing to and almost beating last year’s flying lap record. This meant that when Cameron finally pitted, with 20 minutes left to go, Taylor was close enough to go by. The No. 31 returned to the track five seconds behind the Konica Minolta-sponsored Cadillac which had no problem until the end and scored a fifth win out of five in grand fashion. The result, coming after brothers Ricky and Jordan had to start from last place, prove that the No. 10 WTR crew is a cut above everyone – this being said while ignoring BoP since AXR have identical machinery but seem incapable of even matching WTR’s sterling runs.

Tom Long and Joel Miller finished third in the No. 70 Mazda which looked good all-race long. They beat the No. 5 which was involved in a late-race incident with the JDC-Miller Motorsport ORECA. Stephen Simpson tried to pass Barbosa on the inside in Turn 1, but the Portuguese had none of it, closing the door and touching the No. 85 which spun out. This allowed the other Mazda to go by to claim a great fifth while Simpson had to settle for sixth.

Prototype Class Top 5 Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Car Laps
1 10 Taylor/Taylor Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R Cadillac DPi 65
2 31 Cameron/Curran Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi 65
3 70 Long/Miller Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi 65
4 5 Barbosa/Fittipaldi Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi 65
5 55 Nunez/Bomarito Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi 65

James French and Pat O’Ward continued their flawless streak in Detroit and won for Performance Tech ahead of the two BAR1 entries. The No. 26 ORECA FLM-09 of Tomy Drissi and Bruno Junquiera was second ahead of the Don Yount/Ryan Lewis prototype.

Prototype Challenge Class Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Car Laps
1 38 French/O’Ward Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09 64
2 26 Drissi/Junqueira BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09 63
3 20 Yount/Lewis BAR1 Motorsport ORECA FLM09 62
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Lawson Aschenbach controlled the proceedings early on in GT-D but it all fell apart for Stevenson Motorsport with 30 minutes left to go.

Lawson Aschenbach controlled the proceedings early on in GT-D but it all fell apart for Stevenson Motorsport with 30 minutes left to go when Andrew Davis slowed down out of the blue and just managed to pull to the pits, avoiding another caution period. The issue was traced back to the gearbox but, whatever the reason, it ruined the race for the only Audi-running team.

It was an ill-fortunate weekend for the whole Mercedes-Benz AMG camp as the No. 50 car was also hampered by some problems.

Acura was at the front at that time and it had been there ever since the stop when Michael Shank decided to fit the No. 93 with only two new tires which saved valuable seconds that gave Andy Lally the lead. It was the first time that ex-Magnus Racing driver Lally co-drove with Legge. The NSX then defended from Alessandro Balzan’s No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 which he took over from Christina Nielsen. This is the order in which the two finished, Balzan crossing the line under 2,5 seconds behind Lally. Madison Snow meanwhile finished third for Paul Miller Racing, a great performance after the No. 48 Huracan had lost time in the pits. Fourth at the flag was Turner’s lone M6 GT3 which was followed by the other Acura NSX. It was an ill-fortunate weekend for the whole Mercedes-Benz AMG camp as the No. 50 car was also hampered by some problems in the final 20 minutes while Gunnar Jeanette was at the wheel. He had to pit an extra time but managed to finish the event.

GT-D Class Top 5 Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Car Laps
1 93 Lally/Legge Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 62
2 63 Nielsen/Balzan Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 62
3 48 Sellers/Snow Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 62
4 96 Curtis/Klingmann Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 62
5 86 Segal/Negri Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 62
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After the race, many drivers and crew took off, more or less literally, to France as even some GT-D drivers and outfits are set to run at Le Mans. Scuderia Corsa, for example, will run two 488 GTEs in GTD while VisitFlorida.com Racing is slated to enter the lone Riley in the event. This will also mark the European debut of the Riley LMP2 prototype which has seen no action until now in either the WEC or the ELMS.

Full Results

Full results of this weekend’s race click here.

What’s Next?

The sixth round of the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship will take part at the end of June (June 29th – July 2nd) at Watkins Glen International Raceway. The race on the East Coast also counts as a round in the Patron Tequila North-American Endurance Cup.

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