Joao Barbosa held off a late charge from Olivier Pla’s Ligier to win the sixth round of the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship at Watkins Glen.
Barbosa, driving the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, led the final hour despite coming under pressure in the closing stages from his rivals.
Two late full course cautions bunched the field up considerably, but Barbosa was able to keep Pla and the sister Action Express Corvette of Dane Cameron behind him to clinch his and Christian Fittipaldi’s first win of the season.
Cameron held on to second pace, crossing the line 0.709 seconds behind Barbosa, while Pla completed the podium for Michael Shank Racing.
There were plenty of missed opportunities in the race for overall honours, with the Extreme Speed Motorsports-Ligier crew surrendering its North American Endurance Cup lead when Pipo Derani pulled off with an engine failure in the fifth hour. Problems also befell the #55 Mazda Prototype, which had led part of the race with Tristan Nunez behind the wheel. Jonathan Bomarito was chasing Cameron and Barbosa for the overall lead with half an hour to go when smoke started billowing from the rear of the car, forcing the American driver to park up at the side of the track.
That allowed the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP to slip through into fourth, while the #70 Mazda took fifth place.
Prototype Challenge honours went to the Starworks Motorsport duo of Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow which took the lead at the penultimate round of pit stops. Van der Zande then stretched out a nine second lead over James French in the Performance Tech machine to take his second win at Watkins Glen is an many years.
Most of the race was run under green flag conditions, but there was a lengthy half hour stoppage in the first half when Johnny Mowlem’s PC car crashed heavily on the fastest part of the track. Mowlem clipped French’s car as the pair battled for second along the back straight, sending Mowlem into the barriers. The British driver was unhurt, but his BAR1 Motorsports ORECA was too damaged to continue.
The battle for supremacy in GT Le Mans was contested between the turbocharged machinery from Ford, Ferrari and BMW. In the end, it was the #67 Ford GT of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe which dominated the second half of the race, with Westbrook building a big lead until the two late cautions pegged him back.
Nevertheless, the British driver was able to resist the charge from Joey Hand in the #66 car to win by three seconds. Hand backed up the Ford 1-2 with a bold move on the outside of Bill Auberlen’s #25 BMW in the dying minutes, as the Chip Ganassi-run team celebrated its third race win in a row (following on from Laguna Seca and Le Mans).
Taking a surprise fourth place was the #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin, who despite being the championship leaders were in a constant struggle to match the single lap pace of the turbocharged cars. Completing the top five was the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra.
In GT Daytona, Alessandro Balzan held off a late charge from Andy Lally’s Magnus Racing Audi R8 to extend his and Christina Nielsen’s lead in the class standings. The Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 had spent much of the race recovering from an early engine problem, but used the caution periods to get back on the lead lap and end up challenging for the lead.
The early running had been dominated by the two Stevenson Motorsport Audi R8s and the #23 Alex Job Racing Porsche 911. Pole-sitter Robin Liddell had to start from the back in the #6 Audi following a post-qualifying ride height infringement, but in the opening stint he had worked his way into the top three. However, a series of punctures on the left-rear corner dropped the team out of contention. The sister #9 Audi also lost time later in the race with a drive through penalty.
Alex Job’s Porsche ultimately finished third despite leading early on, and was the only other GTD car to finish on the lead lap.