The season ends with an exciting race at Road Atlanta!

The 20th running of the – by now – classic Petit Le Mans 10-hour enduro was a real rough and tough way to pull the curtain over a brilliant 2017 season of IMSA racing, making most everyone eager for everything next season has to offer. North-American sports car racing was in a difficult place in 1998 when the first Petit Le Mans was organized as Don Panoz was beginning to almost single-handedly grow this branch of road racing again with a sprinkle of Le Mans flavor thrown on top. This year, the 10-hour-long Petit Le Mans took place for the 20th time, and those involved are again looking towards what could be a "golden age."

The sign of things to come was Team Penske’s late announcement that they would make their debut this year, at Road Atlanta, before bringing the two ORECA-based HPDs to the grid next year. It was a surprising decision given their original ORECA 07 LMP2 was damaged quite significantly during testing at the same track, but strings were pulled and, sure enough, Hughues De Chaunac’s operation provided another car for Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Juan Pablo Montoya to drive. They were to be joined by the usual crowd of three Caddies, two Nissan-Ligier DPIs, two Ligier LMP2s, and two other ORECA LMP2s – one for JDC/Miller and one for the returning Rebellion Racing.

Continue reading for the full story.

Qualifying

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Castroneves, the man that will step away from a full-time IndyCar drive set the benchmark at 1:11.314

Everyone at Penske kept talking about how this was all about learning, which undoubtedly was, but when the lid fell in qualifying, Helio Castroneves really went for it. So quick actually that countryman Pipo Derani had no answer to his one-lap speed. The man that will step away from a full-time IndyCar drive set the benchmark at 1:11.314 whereas Derani could get no lower than 1:11.475.

Porsche’s young gun Brendon Hartley was third quickest in the sister ESM Ligier-Nissan with a 1:11.499 while fourth was the Swiss ORECA pedaled by Mathias Beche to a 1:11.623. VisitFlorida.com Racing’s rejuvenation continued as the pace in their Ligier was again showcased with Renger Van Der Zande qualifying No. 90 in fifth overall. A couple of places lower was the best that Ricky Taylor could manage with the WTR Cadillac, proving that having to run less-than-oval downforce is making it next to impossible to be quick on such a twisty road course. Taylor’s guys managed to find unthinkable speed in other places but it wasn’t to be in Braselton.

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The last ever qualifying Prototype Challenge in IMSA competition again saw three cars going at it on the 2,54-mile track

Surprises there were none in Prototype Challenge. The last ever qualifying for this type of cars in IMSA competition again saw three cars going at it on the 2,54-mile track. James French powered to the top spot with a 1:16.069 while none of his two BAR1 rivals could go under 1:17 although all three cars were quicker than the GTLM machines. It’s worth noting that the ORECA FLM09, which will not be replaced for 2018, finds its roots in the last Courage LMP1 car of 2006 – the LC70.

The rights for the design and everything in between were bought by ORECA and on that platform (with almost no modifications to that original design) the Formula Le Mans car was born for the proposed 2009 single-model series. That series never took off in Europe, not even when it was included in the ELMS races, but it did prove popular in the US with as many as a dozen cars during its heyday at the end of the ALMS.

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Risi Competizione was again on top in GTLM

Risi Competizione was again on top in GTLM. The No. 62 Ferrari, which drove to Victory Lane after last year’s PLM, was steered to an untouchable 1:17.660 by Toni Vilander. All that despite the fact that Risi received more weight after their positive outing at Laguna Seca – the only GTLM car to be “honored” that way. It was, regardless, a mega tight qualifying session with P2 (Richard Westbrook, No. 67 Ford) just 0,045-seconds behind. Third was Antonio Garcia, unexpectedly finding extra juice in his C7.R while three other cars were in the same tenth with the pole sitter!

The (somehow) silver-rated Matteo Cressoni put championship leaders (there were just about no worries over who would take the titles in the full championship although the NAEC titles were still at play) Scuderia Corsa on pole. The No. 63 488 GT3 lapped Road Atlanta in just 1:20.661, just ahead of both Andy Lally’s No. 93 Acura and Jack Hawksworth’s No. 15 Lexus. The returning Land Audi was fourth – proving their near miss at Daytona was not an accident – with the Turner BMW fifth in a busy GTD class that also welcomed back the Alex Job Racing Audi.

Prototype Class

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After everyone shuffled through, it was the No. 2 Ligier-Nissan on top, but its stint at the sharp end was somewhat short-lived

The race got going under ominous clouds and on a wet (but drying) track. This meant that most teams elected to start on wet tires, only a few gambling on slicks. Pipo Derani quickly disposed of Helio Castroneves at the start and then edged slightly away aboard the No. 22. The seasoned Brazilian, however, did not lose track of the Patron-sponsored Ligier-Nissan and was still within shooting distance when, halfway through the first hour, disaster struck. Castroneves was hit by a spinning Matteo Cressoni who made the mistake of going too far to the right as both cars approached T10 and clipped the grass with his rear tire. Both cars ended up in the sandbank, Castroneves with a damaged rear end while the Ferrari didn’t fancy much better either.

This brought out the first caution of the race and was the perfect opportunity for the Prototypes to make their first stops. After that was done, ESM was running 1-2 with Brendon Hartley behind Derani. The Porsche works driver also set the fastest lap of the race up to that point in the process – a 1:13.221 – which went on to be bettered as time went by. With the fall of the Penske No. 6 ORECA, which lost a lap after changing the rear section (and, luckily, just getting on pit lane before they were closed, Scuderia Corsa not being so fortunate), third went the way of VisitFlorida.com Racing. Fourth at the end of Hour 1 was Olivier Pla in the identical PR1 No. 52 Ligier and Mathias Beche in the No. 13 ORECA. The best Cadillac was the No. 5 Action Express entry on P6. Entering the second hour, the leaders came in for the second round of pit stops.

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Halfway through the second hour another safety car period befell Petit Le Mans

After everyone shuffled through, it was the No. 2 Ligier-Nissan on top, but its stint at the sharp end was somewhat short-lived. Halfway through the second hour, another safety car period befell Petit Le Mans because Jose Gutierrez crashed the No. 52 Ligier. It seems that Gutierrez rode the curbs a bit too high coming into the Esses which, in turn, made the car airborne and it crashed into the outside tire wall, almost climbing on it. The driver was fine but the car was an instant DNF, and this new caution helped Penske get its lap back. By the end of the next hour, the No. 6 was already well inside the Top 10 overall

There was, however, more drama within the first 180 minutes of the event. 2017 IMSA Weathertech Sports car champion Jordan Taylor saw his hopes of merely driving the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac dashed as Ryan Hunter-Reay came back to the pits with an ailing car just before the round of pit stops that closed the hour. It was determined that the engine was at fault – apparently, the first failure for this powerplant – and the No. 10 took no more part in the proceedings. After the stops shuffled the front runners yet again, the No. 85 JDC/Miller ORECA emerged as the leader going into hour four (the usual duration of an ELMS race). Behind the yellow prototype were the No. 22 and the No. 31 DPIs.

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The race progressed, without major incidents, towards the five-hours mark

The race progressed, without major incidents, towards the five-hours mark. There were important points on offer for the NAEC title at that point and Action Express delivered by being 1-2 at that point in the race. The team, though, went through a jump scare earlier when a piece of unidentified debris stuck to the front of the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac. The car started overheating soon enough, and there were even was danger of lasting damage being made to the car.

This wasn’t the case, but it did push Mike Conway to make an unscheduled stop during the fourth hour. The Toyota driver and later Dane Cameron found their way back to the front aided by other people’s misfortune which led to more caution periods. This also helped Penske to inch ever close to where it was when that incident occurred early in the race.

Behind the two Action Express entries were the No. 22 Ligier-Nissan which led before the sixth round of stops. Johannes Van Overbeek then rejoined third. Also in the lead before the stops was Gustavo Menezes for Rebellion Racing. The American moved from fifth to the lead, passing in this process Juan Pablo Montoya in T10 and, a few laps later, Van Overbeek on the outside of the first bend. The other ESM entry wasn’t faring that well after it was rear-ended and subsequently spun into the sandpit by the No. 85 ORECA. Scott Sharp was towed out of the sand but lost a lap, as did Chris Miller who also had to serve a drive-through penalty.

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Behind the two Action Express entries was the No. 22 Ligier-Nissan which led before the sixth round of stops

The blind crest which the cars climb on the right side of the road as they exit the pits is sometimes a dangerous place to be if faster cars try to tackle the same place of asphalt on the racing line as they approach the Esses. Nick Heidfeld learned this the hardest of ways just after half distance when his Rebellion ORECA was tagged by the No. 38 Performance Tech ORECA FLM09 which came unsighted up the hill only to find the LMP2 car already there. Heidfeld stood to the inside for T2 and was touched by Kyle Masson, the contact sending the ex-F1 driver into the wall and causing terminal right-front damage on his car. The championship-winning No. 38 was also damaged, but it did rejoin after a long while in the garage.

The ensuing caution period saw Penske in the overall lead of the event and the No. 2 Ligier-Nissan back on the lead lap thanks to the wave-by procedure. It was then time for another row of pit stops. The black Penske ORECA then pitted as well which meant that the old order was back in place with the No. 31 ahead of the No. 5 and the No. 22. Brendon Hartley was on the move after the green flag was waved again and he passed both Simon Pagenaud and Jonathan Bomarito who was the third driver in the No. 90 Ligier.

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With all the incidents and continuous on-track battles whenever the track was green, time flew as if we were watching a Road To Indy sprint race

Hartley then was up to P3, passing his team-mate on the inside of the first turn after the ninth restart (the ninth caution being caused by an off-track moment for the Stevenson Audi). Soon enough, sadly, the caution counter hit double digits as Mark Wilkins’ ORECA crashed into the tire wall at Turn 5 aboard the No. 93 Acura. MSR had to retire the car, and the next pit stops were done under yellow flags all around the Georgia track. Brendon Hartley was out in the lead ahead of Misha Goikhberg in the rebounding No. 85 and Curran in the No. 31 Cadillac. The No. 2 lost the lead with two hours left to go as Ryan Dalziel (who took over from Hartley) had an agonizingly long pit stop during the 12th caution period. His alternator was failing, and that forced him to do a full system reboot which was done after the process of refueling.

With all the incidents and continuous on-track battles whenever the track was green, time flew as if we were watching a Road To Indy sprint race and day turned into dusk which turned into a full-blown pitch-black night and the drivers were fiddling with disaster at every close-quarters moment in traffic. Hour 9 began under yet another safety car period but this was dealt with swiftly and, on the restart, Joao Barbosa was already on the move. He passed both leading ESM Nissans and tried to break away. Seeing this, Montoya tried to do the same, but his efforts were interrupted by a big crash down in the GT-D ranks.

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Robert Alon went straight on the exit of the last turn and crashed at high speed in the tires

Robert Alon went straight on the exit of the last turn and crashed at high speed in the tires. The front of his Lexus was ruined, and it even caught fire, but the incident didn’t escalate any further and Alon got out on his own albeit quite shaken. The race resumed with little over an hour and a half left to run. Joao Barbosa lost the lead shortly after the restart to Pipo Derani and came under heavy pressure from Montoya behind. Earlier,

The two even made contact on the exit of T10, and the Colombian then had to pit urgently as one of his rims failed. The cause of the failure wasn’t, however, trading paint with Barbosa. Earlier in the lap, Montoya cut across the No. 15 Lexus, causing serious front-end damage to the surviving 3GT Racing car which also had to take a penalty unrelated to this incident. The Penske car, on the other hand, received no penalty (other than having to pit to change the wheels). Almost a quarter of an hour before going into the last hour, the No. 2 came back to the pits, and Dalziel gave way back to Hartley who had to finish the comeback drive (after that alternator issue). Derani followed the sister car and also in was Barbosa who emptied the seat for Albuquerque to bring it home. With 60 minutes left, Derani led ahead of Albuquerque, Hartley, Cameron and Van Der Zande.

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Brendon crossed the line to win the race, followed by Dane Cameron and right behind Juan Pablo Montoya

The end portion was as exciting as the rest of the race (when not under caution). For starters, the No. 5 received a stop + 60 seconds for a risky move earlier on a restart when Barbosa forced the sister No. 31 off the road on the start/finish straight. Little after that message popped on the timing screens, Derani tried to pass the No. 67 Ford down through the Esses. The move was sketchy and, sure enough, Briscoe lost control and spun backward into the wall. The Brazilian in the leading No. 22 was the guilty party, and he had to take a drive-through penalty. The reprimands for the first two cars on track (at that time) dramatically changed the end result.

That’s because, with P1 and P2 out of the picture, Hartley retook the lead in the No. 2 Ligier-Nissan and was never headed again as he drove around for the last 12 minutes of the 2017 Petit Le Mans. Brendon crossed the line to win the race, followed by Dane Cameron and right behind Juan Pablo Montoya who claimed the final podium position for Team Penske on their debut. Fourth was a fuming Pipo Derani while Barbosa, Fittipaldi (in his last race as full-time AXR driver) and Albuquerque filled up the Top 5 overall. Action Express also won the NAEC with drivers Barbosa and Fittipaldi (and Teams title in the same mini-championship).

Prototype Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Vehicle Laps
1 2 Sharp/Dalzier/Harley Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi 402
2 31 Cameron/Curran Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi 402
3 6 Montoya/Castroneves/Pagenaud Team Penske ORECA LMP2 402
4 22 van Overbeek/Derani/Senna Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi 402
5 5 Barbosa/Fittipaldi/Albuquerque Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi 401
6 6 Miller/Simpson/Goikhberg JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LMP2 399

Prototype Challenge Class

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Only three cars started the race, and it seemed like it would be another walk in the park for the No. 38

It was an eerie race in the junior prototype challenge that, now, is no more. Only three cars started the race and it seemed like it would be another walk in the park for the No. 38 of James French, Pat O’Ward and Kyle Masson. The trio did indeed lead ahead of the two BAR1 cars until it all went south.

The tangle with the No. 13 ORECA initially seemed like a game-ender for Performance Tech but the team repaired the car and rejoined. They finished the race 25th overall, just nine laps behind the second placed car No. 20 of Yount, Rice and Burkett.

Performance Tech’s bad day gifted BAR1 the 1-2 in the final PC race. The sister No. 26 prototype finished 15th overall (some 8 laps behind the GTLM winner) to win the class with drivers Grist, Drissi and Falb. The good news out of all of this is that both Performance Tech and BAR1 are considering moving up to the Prototype class in 2018 with a couple of LMP2 machines.

Prototype Challenge Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Vehicle Laps
1 26 Grist/Drissi/Falb BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09 384
2 20 Yount/Rice/Burkett BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09 376
3 38 French/O’Ward/Masson Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09 367

GT-LM Class

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BMW Team Rahal won the 20th running of the Motul Petit Le Mans with the No. 25 BMW M6 GTLM

BMW Team Rahal-Letterman Lanigan Racing won the 20th running of the Motul Petit Le Mans with the No. 25 BMW M6 GTLM of Alex Sims, Bill Auberlen and Kuno Wittmer. It came after a sustained drive from the trio who never dropped out of the top 5 in the final third of the event. The success also came on Auberlen’s 400th start for BMW — and 151 wins after this race.

It was, however, a hard fought win as all GTLM manufacturers had their shot at glory. In the end, it was a duel between Sims and Antonio Garcia that decided it all as the Briton defended well in the dying moments. Garcia was not in any rush to go past as himself and Magnussen were already champions (and Chevy and Corvette Racing champions as well).

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In the end, it was a duel between Sims and Antonio Garcia that decided it all as the Briton defended well in the dying moments

Third was the No. 62 Ferrari of Alesandro Pier Guidi, Toni Vilander, and Giancarlo Fisichella. The trio was fast and led at times, but the extra kilos were felt, and the car seemed to lack power in the crucial fast bits which put the Houston-based outfit on the back foot when it mattered. Tommy Milner finished fourth in the No. 4 Corvette shared with Gavin and Fassler (Mike Rockenfeller was the third driver in the other C7.R).

Porsche claimed fifth spot after a fire on pit lane almost derailed Vanthoor and Bruni’s No. 912. The Porsche also benefitted from Ford’s late drama with the No. 67 crashing. It’s worth noting that BMW’s weekend wasn’t all sweet as the No. 24 retired with power steering problems and other maladies.

GTLM Top 5 Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Vehicle Laps
1 25 Auberlen/Sims/Wittmer BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM 392
2 3 Magnussen/Rockenfeller Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R 392
3 62 Fisichella/Vilander/Pier Guidi Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE 392
4 4 Gavin/Milner/Fassler Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R 392
5 912 Bruni/Vanthoor/Bamber Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR 392

GT-D Class

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Land Motorsport ticked an incredible day last Saturday by winning Petit Le Mans

Land Motorsport ticked an incredible day last Saturday by winning Petit Le Mans. That’s because, back in Europa, other two Land Audis were successful in two different series: Land won the eight VLN race held, as ever, on the Nordschleife and, on top of that, Land also won in the DMV GTC weekend at Hockenheim.

Christopher Mies, Connor de Philippi and Sheldon van der Linde drove superbly and were always in contention. The German-South African-American team finished ahead of the Daytona-winning Alegra Porsche, Michael Christensen successfully fending off a hard-charging Joerg Bergmeister. The veteran Porsche driver brought the Park Place Motorsport No. 73 Porker home in P3.

Scuderia Corsa eventually returned to the track after the early incident with the Penske ORECA and Balzan and Christensen became back to back IMSA Weathertech champions. Sadly for them, though, a NAEC title wasn’t in the cards due to the huge set back. Those laurels went the way of No. 33 Team Riley AMG and drivers Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen.

There were a total of 14 caution periods, a number of which were caused by GTD runners. Stevenson Motorsport had a bad final outing in IMSA competition, as did 3GT Racing, Michael Shank Racing and Turner Motorsport. All suffered retirements following serious shunts or mechanical gremlins.

GTD Top 5 Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Vehicle Laps
1 29 D Phillippi/van der Linde/Mies Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 382
2 28 Morad/Christensen/de Quesada Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R 382
3 73 Lindsey/Bergmeister/McMurry Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R 382
4 33 Keating/Bleekemolen/Farnbacher Riley Motorsports - Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3 381
5 54 Bennett/Braun/Jonsson CORE Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R 380

Full Results

Check out the full results from this year’s Petit Le Mans. http://results.imsa.com/Results/17_2017/25_Road%20Atlanta/01_IMSA%20WeatherTech%20SportsCar%20Championship/201710071105_Race/Hour%2010/03_Results%20-%20Unofficial.PDF

2017 Comes to an End

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For some, it was an amazing way to end the 2017 season while for others it was a harsh way. Any way you look at it, this year was great for many reasons, chief among which being the debut of the Prototype class that brings together in a unique mix DPI cars and P2 cars. This combo has proved highly popular and, as we’ve seen at Road Atlanta, those in power have basically made both formulas dead equal. This should set us up for a memorable 2018 season the likes of which we haven’t had in many years. I believe it might even be the kind of season we’ll look back as either a great one-off or as the beginning of a great era. Either way, it’s a must-follow as the WEC is dwindling.

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