The champagne will have been flowing long into the night as Corvette Racing claimed their 100th sportscar victory with a dominant 1-2 win at the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park.
Victory this weekend for Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner is their third win of this WeatherTech United Sportscar Championship season and has allowed them to open up a 10 point gap in the GTLM drivers championship.
In the other classes, Prototype Challenge was won by Starworks Motorsport after a great recovery driver to come through with an hour left to claim victory. GT Daytona went to Magnus Racing in the Audi R8 LMS, with that car taking the lead with just 20 minutes to go. The Prototype class didn’t join the fun in North West Connecticut leaving just three classes to take to the track.
Before the race, you would wonder just how much action could be squeezed into a 160 minute race but if you watched IMSA’s Northeast Grand Prix you would see a monumental battle throughout the race, with each of the five manufacturers – BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche – all taking turns to fill the top three positions.
With 100 minutes complete, it was Giancarlo Fisichella’s Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 who would be leading the race with Oliver Gavin lying in second in the Corvette with Ryan Briscoe third in the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT.
However, it was apparent that Fisichella was struggling with traction at points of the short Lime Rock Park circuit and twice in a handful of laps he ran wide at ‘Big Bend’ – or turns 1 and 2 for those not familiar with the circuit’s corner names – and gave away positions, first to Gavin and then to both Briscoe and the sister Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia to find himself down in fourth.
For a time, the Ford was trapped in a Corvette sandwich but with just 20 minutes remaining Garcia swooped past Briscoe and jumped up to second.
Garcia did then try to get past teammate Gavin, but he ran out of time before he could make a decisive move and settled for finishing one second behind. For Briscoe and teammate Richard Westbrook, they have lost their run of three wins on the spin but have still kept their record of four podium finishes in a row.
After the race Gavin said: “Brilliant day all around. We extended our lead in the championship, so it’s all good. It’s amazing to get the 100th win today. I’ve been a part of the Corvette Racing team for a long time, and this team has done an amazing job throughout my career. I just have to thank them and my great teammates.”
“Racing here at Lime Rock is always tough with all the traffic,” Milner added. “Fortunately, it seemed like there was just enough separation between the three classes in certain spots to really allow some passing to happen. For sure, I was frustrated at some points, and others were frustrated as well, but we all seemed to manage to make it through. There were a couple of guys racing super hard. I knew the race was going to get that way.”
Alex Popow and Renger van der Zande combined perfectly to avoid damage following an incident at the first corner when they left from their fifth place grid position.
Taking the lead just over 30 minutes into the race Popow took no prisoners as he held out in front to hand over to van der Zande with a handy lead. The team’s second driver then went out and made sure Tom Kimber-Smith in the PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca FLM01 didn’t get a sniff of victory for the last hour of the Grand Prix to claim Starworks’ third win in four races.
Van der Zande said after the race: “I’m very happy with the win, it’s another advantage for the championship. Lime Rock is a crazy place, because it’s a small track and you’re always wrestling your way through the traffic. It’s a fair fight here, because you can easily lose position coming through traffic. I love coming to Lime Rock, and I’m very happy with my team.”
Indeed it was the traffic that Kimber-Smith bemoaned for losing his chance at victory: “I really got held up in a lot of traffic. That gave Renger a gap. Then I was able to pull back from a 14-second deficit. But Renger had a good race, and he had a fast car. This year we seem to be quite quick, but just not reaching the top step of the podium enough.”
Andy Lally took the fight to Jeroen Bleekemolen’s Dodge Viper GT3-R in the final 40 minutes of the race before finally getting past the Dutchman with 20 minutes of the race to go.
The Magnus Racing Audi, started by John Potter, was lying in seventh as Lally got in the car and then set about picking off rivals like they had Flintstoned their own cars and the Magnus Audi was the only car to discover internal combustion.
“That was one of the most fun but frustrating drives of my life,” said Lally, who led the final 20 laps. “You have to make picks and pass on the outside to make that work. Really, it’s so special because these guys worked so hard after the wreck at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. We talked about putting a special setup for Lime Rock to make this thing turn right. We planned for the end of the stint to be loose. We dialed like 80 degrees of wing into this thing and stuck a billboard on the back and it stuck, and that’s what let us come through with the win there.”
Behind them was a second Audi R8 LMS of Robin Liddell in the Stevenson Auto Group entry, who had managed to also get past the Bleekemolen and Ben Keating Viper. Bleekemolen said after the race: “I was leading, but I think we had the slowest car out there today. It was difficult to hang on to. I got hit a few times, but we were still able to finish third. That’s an amazing job by the team, to get us this far up, and a great drive by Ben. Absolutely the maximum we could do.”