Is Cadillac unstoppable this season?

This year’s Watkins Glen Six Hours was a race to remember with many plot twists and a story of attrition at the top that somewhat echoes that of this year’s Le Mans. Cadillac still won, however, not with the usual culprits and there were more stories down the order – including many awesome one-off liveries since July 4th is around the corner. The margin for pole in qualifying was only 0.162 seconds. The men battling out at the sharp end for the pole, Pipo Derani and Olivier Pla, were not Cadillac drivers as the Dallara-based machines had been hit by another BoP change in form of downforce limitations. It was Derani who got around the Glen quicker, namely in 1:34.405. Cadillac filled the second row of the grid while the Riley/Multimatic Mazdas were at the back of the Prototype group.

The pole for the No. 22 came as very good news to the ESM crew after the sad news that Ed Brown, who was poised to drive in his final Prototype-class race at WGI, would miss the event due to an unplanned back surgery he had to undergo. That’s the precise reason why Derani made his way into that car’s lineup. James French put down another good performance in Prototype Challenge that was remunerated with the team’s fourth pole in 2017. The No. 38’s quickest time was 1:40.049 and it was also the avenue to Performance Tech’s eighth pole in the series thus far.

Continue reading for the full story.

The Qualifying

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The whole of the GTLM qualifying session was something to behold with Ford, Porsche and BMW all going at it hard for the top spot.

The whole of the GTLM qualifying session was something to behold with Ford, Porsche and BMW all going at it hard for the top spot. Joey Hand was the quickest when it mattered and his 1:42.507 was over three tenths than what Alex Sims could lay down in the second-place-starting No. 25 BMW M6. With the sister Ford and the sister BMW making up the second row the top Porsche was only fifth quickest in the hands of Patrick Pilet while the fastest of the Pratt&Miller Corvettes was sixth.

Andy Lally continued Michael Shank Racing’s good work at Detroit by dialing in a brilliant lap to get pole position in GT-D for himself and Katherine Legge. The chart-topping 1:46.051 just before a red flag and it goes down as Lally’s first ever pole since the inception of the Weathertech Sports Car Championship. Audi and Lexus qualified second and third while the other Lexus, the No. 14 of Sage Karam, was the one to cause the red flag after crashing in Turn 9.

Unlike practice when showers slightly interrupted proceedings, the forecast for the race predicted a clear run but things can happen rather quickly in upstate New York...

The Race

Protoype

The Whelen Action Express car was taken out of contention by a loose rear-right wheel close to half distance.

So, as the cars lined up for the race on Independence Day weekend, few could anticipate what drama laid ahead. The start was clean but as the cars made their way through the Esses for the first time, the No. 10 Konica Minolta-sponsored Cadillac seemed reluctant to turn left and then right, Ricky Taylor giving more than just a love touch to Renger van der Zande’s No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Racing Riley while he tried to get the car to steer. Seeing as it wouldn’t do that, he had to take the short route to the pits which immediately put him one lap down as the crew traced down the issue to steering failure while suspension issues added insult to injury. The initial failure apparently occurred after contact was made with another car going through Turn One. The team moved as quick as they could but Ricky and Jordan still lost six laps before rejoining. They did, however, run a sterling race thereafter and with help from the others, finished some two laps down and on sixth overall.

The “helpers” were many. First off, the No. 70 Mazda – which saw the return of Marino Franchitti to the Speedsource team – retired early with turbocharger woes. The two ESM-entered Nissans also retired but before doing so they proved to have the speed to lead, as did both the No. 2 and the No. 22. The former first lost time after a crash in the second hour caused by a collision with the No. 75 Mercedes of SunEnergy1 Racing. The prototype was found at fault so not only did the team lose time with repairs but also with the penalty. There were more penalties in store for this crew, however, as a raft of pit lane infringements put the car in the penalty box a couple other times. It all ended in even more misery as throttle issues put the final nail in the coffin in the final hour. The No. 22 also could not reach the checkered flag after the oil pressure zeroed near the end.

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The car of Stephen Simpson had gotten the better of the Cadillac after the last restart with less than 30 minutes to go but it eventually lost the lead.

There were also problems for one of the Cadillacs. The Whelen Action Express car was taken out of contention by a loose rear-right wheel close to half distance. It was not long after Curran and Cameron had taken over the overall lead and it all came down to a mistake in the pits. This left the No. 5 AXR Cadillac at the sharp end but it had to battle it out with the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsport ORECA. The car of Stephen Simpson had gotten the better of the Cadillac after the last restart with less than 30 minutes to go but it eventually lost the lead (and the win) through traffic. Barbosa finished less than 1.5-seconds ahead of the No. 85 which was followed home by the No. 55 Mazda. Johnathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez, and Spencer Pigot were being reeled in by a hard-charging Olivier Pla in the dying minutes but the Frenchman, who also put down the quickest race lap (1:33.3) was unable to mount a proper challenge. The No. 52 car had lost time after a couple of contacts, one with the No. 90 Riley in Turn 1 and one with no exterior help while the same Pla was behind the wheel. The No. 90 Riley finished fifth.

Prototype Challenge

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A mechanical failure was close to rob Performance Tech Motorsport of yet another triumph in PC.

A mechanical failure was close to Rob Performance Tech Motorsport of yet another triumph in PC but Brent O’Neill’s squad fought through to score a three-lap win over BAR1’s No. 20 entry. Kyle Manson, James French, and Pato O’Ward had had a clean race up until the third to last stop when the team realized the car would no longer go up on its air jacks.

With little options at hand, the team opted to double stint their tires and had to also use a manual jack at the final two stops. Even after significantly slowing down, the yellow ORECA FLM 09 could not be caught and took home the trophies for win No. 5 in the swan song season of the Prototype Challenge class.

GT Le Mans

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BMWs dominated early on but the No. 24 was heavily affected by its puncture and dropped back.

Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan didn’t have it easy at The Glen. Their M6s were the first cars out there to be hit by punctures but, with help from a yellow that meant they didn’t lose the lead lap, Alex Sims and Bill Auberlen managed to punch through for the car’s first win ever and the team’s first win of 2017. BMWs dominated early on but the No. 24 was heavily affected by its puncture and dropped back. Hit by a puncture was also the No. 911 Porsche after riding the curbs too aggressively in the chicane. The other Porsche, which was battling it out for podium honors, also suffered a puncture. Gianmaria Bruni (on his Porsche debut alongside Laurens Vanthoor) had to come to the pits with a few minutes left to go and finished sixth.

Ford was also in the hunt and No. 67 finished second after gambling on fuel (also thanks to the final caution period) but it wasn’t enough for Richard Westbrook to bag his fourth consecutive class victory at Watkins Glen. After a clean race, minus an early spin, the No. 3 Corvette finished third benefiting from Bruni’s puncture to turn around what seemed to be a frustrating weekend for the Velocity Yellow cars that lacked pace. The pole-sitting No. 66 Ford was just behind in P4.

GT Daytona

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Acura’s weekend in New York was properly bitter-sweet.

Acura’s weekend in New York was properly bitter-sweet. On the one hand, Andy Lally and Katherine Legge managed their second win of the season (back-to-back!) but, on the other, Jeff Segal had to retire the No. 86 NSX in the latter stages with suspension failure. It came after Segal made contact with Pla’s Ligier in the final hour of the race.

Scuderia Corsa’s Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen and Matteo Cressoni finished second continuing their string of podiums after a great drive by the Italian aboard the No. 63 car. It was a story of spot-on BoP in GTD as Jens Klingmann’s Turner Motorsport BMW No. 96 finished third just feet ahead of the fourth-placed Riley Mercedes. The No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus rebounded after a penalty to complete the top five.

Complete Results

The final results aren’t yet online as of July 3, but once available, you can them here. You can find the full results here.

What’s Next?

The next round of the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship is just a week away as the fray moves north of the border to Bowmanville, Ontario for the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport) round.

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