Spirit of Daytona Conquers Watkins Glen

by James Broomhead
Richard Westbrook moved the Spirit of Daytona car into the lead on a late restart (Courtesy of IMSA)

The Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen provided a back-and-forth battle between the two halves of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s Prototype class, a late exchange of the lead giving Spirit of Daytona Racing men Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook their first victory of the season.

Valiante and Westbrook’s sparring partners for much of the six hours were the OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Gustavo Yacaman and Ho-Pin Tung. The pair took a little time to come together at the start of the race as Brundle fell from pole position to fourth as the Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototypes of Christian Fittipaldi, Valiante and Ricky Taylor swept around the open top LMP2 chassis through the initial corners of the Watkins Glen International lap.

As the race began to settle into a rhythm Brundle regained third place from Taylor before catching Valiante and starting to pressure for second. In pursuit Brundle landed one of the very few physical blows of the near race long battle that was to come when he misjudged his braking for the Heel of the Boot whilst tucked under Valiante’s rear wing making light contact with the rear of the #90 machine, though without much damage to either machine.

Valiante did, however, incur damage to the left-rear corner of his ride in contact with one of the Prototype Challenge cars as he and Brundle sliced through traffic. Their battle for second evolved into one for the lead when the #5 Action Express Racing car started by Fittipaldi was called in to serve a penalty, the team having improperly nominated their starting driver before the race.

Both the #5 and the #9 cars from Action Express remained factors in the race for victory until the final laps, the team picking up maximum North American Endurance Cup (NAEC) points at half way on the back of smart strategy when they pitted both cars under the second full course caution of the race while most of the Prototype field opted to stay out.

One of the other teams to pit was the Wayne Taylor Racing team, However, exiting the pits Max Angelelli went through the red light at the end of pitlane, the resulting penalty accounting for much of the one lap arrears to the leader that the team had at the end of race in finishing fifth overall.

By that juncture several other prototype team had been taken out of contention for the lead. Problems plagued the Michael Shank Racing Riley-Ford from before the green flag before the similar car from the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates stable was involved in contact with the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche at the final corner to bring about thee first caution period of the race.

The GT Daytona (GTD) class Porsche, driven by Jaap van Lagen, turned down into Memo Rojas’ Prototype, the Ganassi #01 spinning backwards into the barriers, doing damage significant enough that the car was taken back to the team awning for repairs. The second full course caution followed soon after, triggered by a combination of an all GTD entry three car coming together at turn one and the stranded #2 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD of Johannes van Overbeek suffering with an electrical problem.

Having claimed the five NAEC points on offer for leading through half way – Joao Barbosa and Fittipaldi extending their lead in the four race championship – the pair of Action Express entries faded to third and fourth, leaving the Spirit of Daytona Racing and OAK Racing crews to fight for victory.

The OAK Racing and Spirit of Daytona teams went toe-to-toe for much of the race (Courtesy of IMSA)

The OAK Racing and Spirit of Daytona teams went toe-to-toe for much of the race (Courtesy of IMSA)

With a little over an hour remaining Yacaman seemed to have made the decisive move, outbraking Valiante at the Heel of the Boot to take the lead. Final planned stops for the lead pair put Brundle and Westbrook in for the final stint, though the timing of their stops left both marginal on fuel to make it through to the end. The roulette of fuel mileage promised one sort of dramatic ending to the race, but two cautions inside of the final half hour of the race gave the race a different climax.

The first accident – between Ian James’ GTD class #23 Porsche and Alex Tagliani’s #08 Prototype Challenge entry – guaranteed that all the major players at the front of the race could make it to the end of the race without the need for an extra stop. It also closed Westbrook up towards the rear of the OAK Morgan for the restart, though two lapped cars – the #9 Action Express car and the Michael Shank Racing Riley – lay between the leaders when they took the green flag.

Just as at the initial start Brundle’s car was no match for the Daytona Prototypes. The Action Express car unlapped itself at turn one before Westbrook – having passed the MSR entry at turn one – cruised past an exasperated Brundle on the back straight. Throughout the race the Morgan’s strength had been through the ‘boot’ section of the 3.4 mile track and Brundle looked to be reclosing the gap as the leaders exited the Inner Loop chicane. However, before Brundle could bring his charge’s advantages to bear the race was pulled under a full course caution once again when Scott Pruett and Renger van der Zande crashed together at the start of the boot section.

With only ten minutes left in the race both Pruett’s once repaired #01 and van der Zande’s #8 were hastily cleared from the track to leave a single lap of green flag racing to end the six hours. Brundle was unable to mount a final challenge to retake the lead, having to keep a watch in his one remaining mirror for the #5 car lurking in third place. At the end of 191 laps Brundle was just 0.877 seconds off the lead with the Action Express Racing Corvette DPs finishing third and fourth.

In the PC class CORE Autosport kept up their 100% record in the NAEC races, adding success at The Glen to their victories at Daytona and Sebring.

However, their route to a fourth win of the season, was far from smooth, with driver and team owner Jon Bennett punished for passing under yellows, dropping them from the lead lap for a time. While the CORE team were fighting back the lead of the class passed between the Starworks Motorsport and RSR Racing teams’ entries, the latter’s #08 of Chris Cumming, Tagliani and Rusty Mitchell led the race through the half way point, having taken the position over from their teammates (Duncan Ende, Bruno Junquiera and Ryan Lewis) shortly before the three hour mark.

But, as the combined efforts of Colin Braun and James Gue brought CORE’s #54 back towards the lead other teams hit trouble, the late crashes for Tagliani and van der Zande in the Starworks #8 the final plays in the class.

Bunched up by the late cautions the CORE team led home by eight seconds from the BAR1 Motorsports entry and the Frankie Montecalvo and Gunnar Jeannette driven PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports entry third, just a further second behind.

The winners of both the GT classes took the leads in the opening laps and proceeded to dominate for the remainder of the race.

Having started second in GTD Dane Cameron quickly moved the Turner Motorsports BMW Z4 into the lead over the #22 WeatherTech Porsche that Leh Keen put on pole. The chances of Keen (and teammates Philipp Frommenwiler and Cooper MacNeil) retaking the lead were ended with a spin into the tyre barrier broke the front-left suspension on the car.

Dane Cameron took the GTD lead early (Courtesy of IMSA)

Dane Cameron took the GTD lead early (Courtesy of IMSA)

Cameron and co-driver Markus Palttala took their second class win of the season, having previously visited victory lane at Laguna Seca.

Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell took second in their AIM Autosport run Ferrari 458, extending their lead in both the main championship and NAEC standings with those immediately behind either suffering from problems or missing from the grid altogether.

The Magnus Racing duo of Andy Lally and John Potter – joined by Sebastian Asch for the six hours – are set to take advantage in both sets of standings after finishing third, a lap in arrears to the two leaders who finished just two seconds apart.

GTLM had a similarly close finish, though again that was provided in some part by the late cautions.

Corvette Racing's Magnussen and Garcia won a third consecutive race in GTLM (Courtesy of IMSA)

Corvette Racing’s Magnussen and Garcia won a third consecutive race in GTLM (Courtesy of IMSA)

The #55 BMW that started on pole was quickly shuffled back, Jan Magnussen putting the #3 Corvette into the lead, with the sister C7.R taking up second place shortly after. The polesitting #55’s problems were compounded by a penalty for avoidable contact having spun the Starworks PC of Mirco Schultis, Bill Auberlen the guilty party.

Auberlen, who held the main championship lead with co-driver Andy Priaulx finished only 10th in class. NAEC class leaders Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet finished just fifth in sharing the #911 Porsche North America entry behind the pair of Corvettes and Dodge Vipers that had come to dominate the class through the race.

The #3 car of Magnussen and Antonio Garcia led much of the race, Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin’s #4 the rear gunner keeping the red and white Vipers at bay. However, an avoidable contact penalty dropped the #4 back behind the pair of SRT Motorsports Viper with Marc Goossens in the #91 Viper given the opportunity to snatch victory in the final hour. However, Garcia fended off the attention to secure a trip to victory lane for the third consecutive race.

Garcia and Magnussen will aim for a fourth consecutive win in a fortnight at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park when the GTLM, GTD and Prototype classes will be in action for a two hour, 45 minute race.

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