It was a stunning victory for the #99 GAINSCO “Red Dragon” ORECA 07 driven by Chris Miller, Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg under blazing sunshine at Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen on Sunday.
Simpson took over at the controls for the final stint of the race with the car in sixth place, before pitting under a full course caution for fuel only. The JDC-Miller Motorsports team restarted the race in third place, behind race leader Jordan Taylor in the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R and Juan Pablo Montoya in the #6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi. While Taylor led the field through Turn 1, Montoya pulled alongside running uphill through the Esses, with neither driver giving the other an inch.
Simpson, meanwhile, made good progress and as the two leaders began to slow for the famed Watkins Glen International “Inner Loop” chicane, he shot down the inside of Taylor and blasted past both cars to take the lead. Simpson then managed to build a gap on Montoya, who was able to get past Taylor for second place.
However, that gap got smaller over the closing stages of the race, as Romain Dumas also joined the fray in the #54 CORE autosport ORECA LMP2 car. The top three cars were covered by less than two seconds as Simpson took the white flag, but the South African-born driver, who recently became a U.S. citizen, was able to keep both cars in his mirrors for the final 3.4 miles to take the victory for himself and his co-drivers.
“I don’t really know what to say,” said Simpson, who put the GAINSCO colours back in victory lane for the first time since a GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series race at the Circuit of The Americas in 2013. “Setting me up for that restart was [sic] the guys in the pits. I mean, we jumped a bunch of cars. I wasn’t sure if we could get there on fuel, but the guys weren’t saying anything to save extra fuel in my car, so I thought, ‘I’m going to go for it.”.
It was the first overall and Prototype class victory for all three drivers and comes after the trio finished second in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen last year. It was the third WeatherTech Championship race win for Simpson and Goikhberg. Both previous wins came in the Prototype Challenge (PC) class, the most recent coming in the BUBBA Burger SportsCar Grand Prix at Long Beach in 2016.
“There’s absolutely no words to describe what we all feel,” Goikhberg said. “It’s been such a long time coming and all the heartbreak we experienced along the way. To finally close the deal, to seal it and to win a race in the top class feels amazing. You don’t understand the work that’s been put into this, the time, it’s really been a long time coming. Hopefully, this will give us a boost and give us more momentum so we can keep having respectable results in the championship.”
It was Miller’s second WeatherTech Championship race win. He previously joined Goikhberg, Simpson and Kenton Koch in winning the PC class in the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“It’s huge,” Miller said. “We’re such a small team and we’ve worked so hard for a couple years. Last year, we had two really close calls and you start to wonder how many more opportunities you’re going to get. This year, the guys have really stepped it up. We’ve been pushing so hard. Stephen did an unbelievable last stint. For us, it’s a huge moment and hopefully the beginning of even more wins to come.”
Simpson won the race by 1.954 seconds over Dumas, who passed Montoya in the final turn of the race to score the runner-up result for the #54 team and co-drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun.
After leading the race at the halfway point, Bruno Senna, Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta came home fourth in the #32 United Autosports Ligier (despite being struck by the CORE autosport machine on the 159th lap) to make it three LMP2 cars inside the top four positions. Taylor and Renger van der Zande completed the top five with a fifth-place showing in the #10 Cadillac.
Next up for the WeatherTech Championship is the series’ only trip north of the border to the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix next Sunday.