It’s not unusual for a race at the 4.048-mile Road America to come down to fuel strategy, and that’s exactly what happened in Sunday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Continental Tire Road Race Showcase.
CORE autosport ORECA 07 LMP2 co-drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun picked up their second consecutive WeatherTech Championship Prototype race victory thanks in large part to team strategist Jeff Braun and his decision to go “underground” following Colin’s last pit stop with 56 minutes remaining.
While the lead changed hands three times in the last 25 minutes of the race as each leader needed a late splash of fuel to make it to the finish, the #54 steadily rose up the running order. With three minutes and 15 seconds to go, Jonathan Bomarito brought the #55 Mazda DPi onto pit road from the lead.
Two laps later, Braun crossed the line 2.389 seconds ahead of Stephen Simpson in the #99 JDC Miller Motorsports ORECA LMP2 car. He ran out of fuel in Turn 13 on the cooldown lap and needed to be towed into victory lane.
“It’s a great result for all the CORE autosport guys,” Braun said. “I’m super proud, it was quite a team effort. Jon did a great job at the start of the stint. We have some amazing calls on the pit box as far as what our strategy was going to be. We had a great call that got me to second. I kind of faded toward the end with a bit of tire wear so we started to change our strategy to look at a fuel savings/fuel mileage race so we started down that path right away.
“Great call by the guys on the box to stick to that plan the whole rest of the way. They were giving me fuel numbers that I was trying to hit and sort of keep the pace. It was a fantastic day, I think at Mosport we showed we had a lot of speed to win. And we showed here we had to save fuel and be smart and win in a different way.”
It was the 17th IMSA win for Braun (10 WeatherTech Championship, 5 American Le Mans Series, 2 GRAND-AM) and was the 16th for Bennett (10 WeatherTech Championship, 6 ALMS). It was Braun’s first win at Road America and Bennett’s second, having earned an ALMS Prototype Challenge (PC) class win at the track back in 2012.
“It’s clearly a team sport,” Bennett said. “(Colin) did a great job and was magic in the car. He was fast as well as having to save fuel. We had an awesome run on our Continental tires. They performed well all weekend.
“At times, you have to separate yourselves from the pack, so we made a strategy call to come in the back door. It was interesting to watch it develop as the engineers were picking apart how much fuel left, how many laps left. It was incredible to watch. I didn’t even give myself a chance to think about it, but back to back wins with these incredible drivers in this series is amazing.”
It was the third consecutive WeatherTech Championship Prototype victory for the Gibson-powered ORECA 07 LMP2 cars. The team that started the run, Simpson and co-driver Misha Goikhberg, came home second. It was their second podium result of the season.
Speaking of podiums, it was yet another podium for #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R co-drivers Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr. The #31 led a race-high 38 of the 69-lap race en route to the fifth podium in eight races this season.
As a result, they retained the Prototype class points lead by seven, 228-221, over their Action Express Racing teammate, Filipe Albuquerque, who finished seventh on Sunday with co-driver Joao Barbosa, who returned to competition this weekend after missing the last two races due to a cycling injury.
Another late-race leader, Jordan Taylor, came home fourth in the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R he shares with Renger van der Zande after his late splash of fuel. Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya filled out the top five in the #6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi.
The Prototype class returns to action next month in the two-hour, 40-minute America’s Tire 250, part of the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on 6-9 September.