Mighty OAK: Yacaman, Pla Unbeatable in Canadian Event

by James Broomhead
The OAK Racing teammates led the race from lights to flag (Courtesy of IMSA)

Having narrowly missed out on victory at Watkins Glen OAK Racing took their first ever overall win in North America, the combination of Gustavo Yacaman and Olivier Pla dominating the Mobil 1 Sports Car Grand Prix presented by Hawk Performance at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

Yacaman used the pole position he had won on Saturday to take the lead into turn one and immediately start building a lead as his would-be rivals began to fight over second place. While the Colombian moved clear in the #42 Morgan-Nissan Michael Valiante, Scott Sharp and Christian Fittipaldi fought behind.

Valiante had taken second down the inside at turn one, lap one, leaving Sharp to defend from Fittipaldi in the Action Express Racing Corvette DP. After surviving a needless high speed rubbing session with Ricky Taylor, who was given a warning for the incident, Fittipaldi was able to move up to second place. However, any potential challenge from Fittipaldi and co-driver Joao Barbosa would be ended when more contact – this time with a GT Le Mans (GTLM) class Porsche led to a punctured left-rear tyre.

The unscheduled stop put Valiante back into second, the order promising a second round to the OAK versus Spirit of Daytona Racing battle that was fought out at the front of the Sahlen’s Six Hours. However, while the lead gap fluctuated as either Yacaman or Valiante had to negotiate slower traffic, the Canadian was unable to make a significant impact upon the advantage Yacaman had built up during the opening lap.

As the two hour, 45 minute race ran caution free the speed of the OAK machine was enough to keep the French team clear in the lead. Their passage to the checkered flag was eased a little more when Spirit of Daytona Racing fell to third following a slow driver change were Valiante gave way to Richard Westbrook.

Second place, in their absence, went to the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP with Jordan Taylor taking the car to the end of the race. After the brief touch with Fittipaldi past the pits in the opening lap the #10 entry had faded into the background, a retreat hastened by Ricky’s running wide, prompting a pitstop for the team to remove grass from the radiators. The mistake, which Taylor later put down to simply ‘running out of talent’, worked out as the timing of the initial stop allowed the team to remain on their planned strategy and as other teams were delayed they rose back up the order.

Both Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD were put out of contention by mechanical problems after starting the race from second and fourth on the grid. The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team were the only major casualty of the wet weather predicted for race day which, rather than affecting the race, fell during the pre-race sessions, when Memo Rojas crashed the #01 heavily, limiting he and Scott Pruett to only a perfunctory appearance during the race to guarantee themselves some points from the weekend.

Westbrook picked up the race more than 30 seconds down on the OAK car, now driven by Pla, and 20 behind Jordan Taylor’s machine. The Briton reeled in Taylor, powering past to retake second as the final minutes ticked down. Westbrook closed to within eight seconds of Pla – as close as anyone had been to the OAK Racing entry since the early laps – but traffic in the final minutes knocked him back several seconds, though he made up the time once more to cross the line 7.9 seconds off the leader. The Taylor brothers completed the podium with the Action Express and Michael Shank Racing team completing the top five.

The GTLM race was the scene of further domination, though of a slightly different sort. Starting driver Jan Magnussen took advantage of a mistake by Kuno Wittmer to take the class lead with an hour and 50 minutes of the race remaining to set-up a fourth consecutive win for he and Corvette Racing co-driver Antonio Garcia.

Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia extended their winning streak (Courtesy of IMSA)

Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia extended their winning streak (Courtesy of IMSA)

From the start Wittmer had held off Magnussen as the men aboard the #93 and #3 respectievly moved clear of the rest of the GTLM pack, headed by Tommy Milner in the #4 ‘vette. Never more than a few seconds off the rear wing of Wittmer’s SRT Motorsports Dodge Viper Magnussen was in the perfect position to pounce when the Canadian tried to lap one of the BMW Team RLL Z4 around the outside of turn four, succeeding only in sliding wide and onto the grass before the double right-hander of Moss Corner.

Wittmer pitted the car immediately afterwards, but with only minimal damage was sent back into the race but found himself still in second, but with ground to make up, even after Garcia had replaced Magnussen shortly after the lead change.

A polesitting Viper was also in the role of chaser in the GT Daytona class for much of the day.

Markus Palttala was able to take the class lead in the early laps in the Turner Motorsports BMW and the team, along with the Riley Motorsports and several other teams would be at the centre of the best battle for class victory of the race. Starting the race in the #33 Viper Ben Keating was able to repass the BMW for the class lead with Mario Farnbacher pushing Paltalla back to third.

Farnbacher would take the lead in the #23 Porsche entered under the Team Seattle banner following the first stops in the class, just as the Turner Motorsports’ team’s race was coming apart.

They were adjudged to have had a piece of loose equipment, specifically a wheel nut, during their stop and though they protested they had to serve a penalty. Several other teams would be found guilty of the same offence, including the Snow Racing team who fought from the rear of the field to third in GTD before serving their penalty.

The lost time dropped Turner’s Dane Cameron from the lead fight into the lower half of the top ten before he staged a drive back through the field that ended on the final step of the podium. He picked up one place when Jan Heylen brought the Snow Racing entry in for punishment, but passed the Porsches of Damien Faulkner and Ian James on track. Faulkner, in the GB Autosport #81, would also pass James as the #23 faded to sixth in class, Leh Keen lifting the #22 WeatherTech Porsche into fifth late on.

All this was taking place nearly a minute behind the lead battle. After Andrew Lindsay turned the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche over to Kevin Estre the Frenchman moved up the order, fighting through to take the lead as the race crossed the halfway point. Pitting on different laps briefly gave Jeroen Bleekemolen in the Viper back the lead, but it was Estre who headed into the final minute of the race with the class lead.

Not for the first time in the afternoon, though, the two GT classes in the race would come together. One of the Porsche North America GTLM cars made a forceful pass on Estre, Bleekemolen seizing on the opportunity the gap to the inside presented to snatch the lead, and the class victory away.

Earlier in the race GTD points leader Bill Sweedler had been caught out by traffic and tipped Milner, third in GTLM at the time, into a spin. Sweedler was penalised for the contact and the #555 Ferrari he shared with Townsend Bell would finish only 13th in class.

Though he was able to continue with little outward sign of damage the time lost was enough to leave Milner, and subsequently co-driver Oliver Gavin, fighting over the minor places within the GTLM class. In the final stages the Briton was part of a three way battle with Andy Priaulx and Wolf Henzler where Corvette, BMW and Porsche traded blows, Priaulx emerging as the best of the trio in sixth in class.

The #911 from the Porsche North America stable quietly took fourth behind the two Dodge Vipers, the #93 never able to get back on terms with the Corvette crew in the lead even though, like the gap between the overall leaders, the margin ebbed and flowed with the tides of traffic around the 2.5 Ontario track.

Jonathan Bomarito, who had taken the #93 over from Wittmer, was 11 seconds behind the #3, the GTLM leaders finishing sixth and seventh overall ahead of the #07 SpeedSource Mazda of Joel Miller and Tristan Nunez who, eighth overall and sixth in the Prototype class, took the best finish to date for the clean diesel powered coupes.

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