Race Weekend Central

Michael Shank Racing Dominates to Win Petit Le Mans

All week, Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian‘s No. 60 had been the class of the field.  Olivier Pla topped three of the four practice sessions.  Teammate Oswaldo Negri, Jr. topped the other one.  Pla put the car on pole a half-second clear of the field.

Once the green fell, Pla ran away from the field, stretching the lead out beyond 20 seconds early.  A slow stop dropped the team to the back of the class for a stint.  However, once John Pew finished his time in the No. 60, Pla and Negri combined to destroy the field.  Once back out front, the lead was stretched out to as much as 40 seconds.

The run was not completely flawless for the Honda squad.  Late in the race after a pit stop, Pla had a run-in with Park Place MotorsportsJörg Bergmeister exiting turn 11.  Pla was trying to lap the No. 73 Porsche, but Bergmeister was coming into the pits.  Contact was made and this happened.

A late full course yellow for the No. 70 Mazda catching fire set up an eight minute sprint with Pla in front of Tequila Patron ESM‘s Pipo Derani, who came on like a light switch in the last couple of hours.  However, the combination of traffic from the GTD battle and Pla’s clean air meant that Derani could not do anything with the No. 60 Ligier JS P2-Honda.  Pla held on to take a dominant overall victory in the team’s swan song as a prototype organization.

After the race, Pla was all smiles.

“It’s been a dream weekend from the beginning coming here,” Pla said in the post-race press conference.  “e. I had a really good feeling and sometimes it works. I said this morning we have nothing to lose so we go out for it. I always go out for it, but I really wanted this one. I know we had the pace. Luck was on us, and we had the opportunity so we had to take it. I really enjoyed working with the team and everyone this year. It is a seasons I will definitely not forget!”

For Pew, Saturday’s race was his swan song in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.  The 60-year old driver is taking a step back from driving.  He’s not officially retiring, but is stepping back.

“It’s the best way to go out [with a win]. But it also makes it very hard to go out. It makes it hard to quit,” Pew said after the race.  “It’s gonna be tough, I think I need a month or two to think about it. I don’t want to make decisions right now. I know at this level and intensity I’ll stop doing it. People don’t realize that with 10 or 11 races how busy you are, and how focused you are on it. I’m 60 years old now, and it’s not bad, I’m in pretty good shape, but theres a big difference between 50 and 60.”

Pla’s margin of victory was 3.524 seconds over Derani in the No. 2 Ligier JS P2-Honda.  Best of the Daytona Prototypes in their swan song was Wayne Taylor Racing with the lineup of Max Angelelli and the Taylor brothers (Jordan and Ricky) in third.  Action Express Racing‘s No. 31 for Dane Cameron, Eric Curran and Simon Pagenaud was fourth.  That performance was good enough to win Cameron and Curran the Prototype Championship.  Teammates Christian Fittipaldi, Jõao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque ended up two laps down in fifth after a flat left rear tire in the sixth hour.  Later, Albuquerque was penalized for blocking the overall leader while trying to keep from getting the second lap down.

In Prototype Challenge, it was a race of attrition.  Starworks Motorsport only had one of their three entries make the distance.  The No. 7 barely got underway before mechanical issues ended their day when Stefano Coletti was driving.  James Dayson, who spun off in the morning warmup, never drove in the race.  The No. 8 of Renger van der Zande, Alex Popow and David Heinemeier Hansson was competitive early on with Popow getting past pole-sitter Robert Alon for the class lead.  Then, the problems started.  Popow fell back to fifth before the first stop.  Then, a brake line issue put the No. 8 behind the wall for an extended amount of time.  Later suspension problems ended the day for the No. 8.  However, Popow was able to get his minimum required time of three hours in before the car retired.  That was enough to give Popow and van der Zande the PC championship.

By the end of the first hour, the class was already a race between the No. 52 entry from PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports shared by Alon, Tom Kimber-Smith and José Gutierrez and Performance Tech Motorsports‘ No. 38 shared by James French, Kyle Marcelli and Kenton Koch.  On the strength of a 3.5 hour stint from Koch, Performance Tech was right there in the hunt.  However, fuel pickup issues shortly after Koch’s stint forced the team to make an extra pit stop for fuel.

That was all PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports needed as they held on to take the victory.  Due to a last-minute stop for fuel, the No. 38 ended up a lap out of the lead.  JDC/Miller Motorsports‘ No. 85 for Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller finished third in class, 9 laps down.  Starworks’ sole finishing entry, the No. 88 of Mark Kvamme, Maxwell Hanratty and Richard Bradley, ended up fourth, 11 laps down.

GT Le Mans was nothing short of a duel.  With the whole class so close, the little things could determine a lot.  Ford Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Richard Westbrook led the GTLM class to the green and led easily for the entire first stint of the race.  However, a bad stop put the No. 67 towards the back of the class.  They never recovered from that.

Risi Competizione‘s Giancarlo Fisichella inherited the lead and teammates James Calado and Toni Vilander were able to hold it for much of the rest of the race.  Risi’s primary competition turned out to be the No. 66 Ford GT of Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sebastien Bourdais and championship contenders Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in the Corvette Racing No. 4.

The biggest crash in the race came near the end of the sixth hour when Porsche North America’s Nick Tandy collided with BAR1 Motorsports’ Johnny Mowlem in the Esses.  Both cars spun and backed into the tires, bringing out a full course caution.  Both drivers were able to resume and drive their cars behind the wall.

A 65-minute long full course caution due to the track breaking up in turn 3 ended up being very important to the GTLM race.  Here, Risi Competizione was able to beat their main competitors out of the pits.  Granted, the stop occurred before the halfway point of the race, but Risi’s No. 62 was not passed for position on-track for the rest of the race.  The top three cars were almost dead even, to the point that the No. 62 Ferrari and the No. 4 Corvette had the same best lap of the race, 78.749 seconds (the No. 66’s best was 25-thousandths of a second slower).

What that means is that once Fisichella, Vilander or Calado got a gap, it was nigh on impossible to run them down since everyone was just about equal.  The final restart saw the top three cars running equal laps, but separated by vehicles in other classes.  As a result, Risi Competizione was able to hold on to take their first win of the year.

The No. 66 Ford of Hand, Müller and Bourdais was second in class, 15.618 seconds back.  Milner and Gavin were third in class, but that was good enough to win the GTLM Drivers’ Championship.  Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller in the No. 3 Corvette came back from two laps down to finish fourth in class.  Porsche North America‘s No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR for Earl Bamber and Frédéric Makowiecki finished fifth in class despite Makowiecki running into the back of Magnus Racing‘s No. 44 Audi and damaging the left front corner of the car.

The GT Daytona class came down to a swell race for position and the IMSA Regulations.  Riley Motorsports‘ driving team of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge regular Marc Miller was near flawless all day, leading early and often.  However, Magnus Racing was just as fast and chose a different strategy to get themselves to the front.  However, that strategy ran afoul of Section 12.3.3 of the IMSA Sporting Regulations.  That reads in part:

For PC and GTD, in any two (2) or three (3) Driver combination Car that finishes the Race, one (1) Silver/Bronze rated Driver must individually achieve the minimum drivetime for that Driver or their paired Driver to be eligible for finishing points.

If the paired Silver/Bronze rated Driver does not achieve the minimum drive-time, the Car is placed behind all other Cars in that class for the purpose of finishing positions and awarding any finishing points. All other Cars are elevated in the finishing positions and finishing points.

In the case of Petit Le Mans, a team’s Bronze/Silver-rated “amateur” driver must complete at least three hours of the race in order to earn points.  Magnus Racing team owner John Potter is the appointed “amateur” driver for the team.  He didn’t come close to meeting the minimum drive-time requirements, leaving teammates Andy Lally and Marco Seefried to fill in the gap.

The final hour was a great duel between Bleekemolen and Lally, described as a hard but fair battle.  The final full course put the two drivers nose-to-tail.  With 80 seconds remaining in the race, Lally was able to take advantage of a mistake to slip past and take the class lead.  From there, Lally held on to cross the line first.

(Credit: Phil Allaway)
It may have resulted from a technicality, but this Dodge Viper GT3-R run by Riley Motorsports went out a winner on Saturday night. (Credit: Phil Allaway)

However, Rule 12.3.3 came into play here.  Shortly after the finish, IMSA awarded the victory to Riley Motorsports because of the drive-time violation.  Magnus Racing ended up with a 12th-place finish in class despite winning on the track.

Park Place Motorsports’ Matt McMurry, Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey overcame contact with the overall winning Ligier from the Shank team and a cut left rear tire to finish second in class.  Scuderia Corsa‘s Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal finished third in class.  Nielsen successfully completing the three hour minimum drive-time clinched the GTD Drivers’ Championship for herself and Balzan.  Nielsen is the first woman to win a championship in IMSA since the ALMS/Grand-Am merger.

Turner Motorsport‘s No. 97 BMW for Markus Palttala, Michael Marsal and Cameron Lawrence finished a lap down in fourth, while Paul Miller Racing‘s No. 48 Lamborghini shared by Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow and Bryce Miller finished fifth after losing a lap in the pits.

For Turner Motorsport, the final result could have been so much better.  With 35 minutes to go, the worst possible collision for the team occurred.  Jens Klingmann in the No. 96 and Markus Palttala in the No. 97 collided on the downhill headed towards the pits while fighting for third.  Klingmann spun into the support pit entrance, while Palttala continued on.  Both teams were forced to make unscheduled stops.  The No. 97 simply lost a lap, but the No. 96 was forced to retire, leaving Klingmann, Bret Curtis and Ashley Freiberg with a tenth-place finish as the only GTD team to not make the distance.


About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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