Watching steady rain fall throughout the day Friday at Road Atlanta, Tudor United SportsCar Championship Prototype (P) points leader Richard Westbrook knew his #90 VisitFlorida.com Corvette DP would start on the pole for Saturday’s season-ending Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda if qualifying was cancelled due to weather.
When the decision was made to hold the session, Westbrook won the pole the hard way, running a lap of 1:27.860 (104.075 mph) to capture his first P1 of the season. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to get a pole,” Westbrook said, but with a 10-hr race it’s not as important. With the rain it’s going to be nice to be out in front. We’ve got our eye on the forecast tomorrow but things are looking good. There was talk of qualifying getting cancelled and we would have had the pole because we’re leading in the championship, but we’re all racers, so we’d rather that the pole be determined with a session.”
Westbrook and regular co-driver Michael Valiante – who will be joined by DTM driver Mike Rockenfeller for the 10-hour race – entered the finale with a 6-point lead over the two Action Express Racing entries. Christian Fittipaldi qualified second at 1:28.920 (102.834 mph) in the #5 Corvette DP co-driven by Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais, while Dane Cameron timed in fifth fastest in the #31 Corvette DP co-driven by Eric Curran and Max Papis.
Joey Hand, who joined Scott Pruett in winning the most recent race at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas, qualified third in the #01 Ford-Riley with a lap of 1:29.627 (102.023 mph). IndyCar champion Scott Dixon will join the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team this weekend.
The #60 Michael Shank Racing Honda-Ligier JS P2 of Ozz Negri, John Pew, and Matt McMurry didn’t participate in qualifying as the team worked to repair major structural damage sustained in an incident during Thursday’s night practice. The car was taken from the track to Elan Technologies in nearby Braselton. The car was back in the Road Atlanta paddock by 9 a.m. Friday, with the Michael Shank Racing team finishing repairs throughout the day.
Keeping PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ slim championship hopes alive, Tom Kimber-Smith held off Johnny Mowlem to capture his first pole of the season in the Prototype Challenge (PC) class. Kimber-Smith ran a lap of 1:32.378 (98.985 mph) in the #52 Oreca FLM09 co-driven by Mike Guasch and Andrew Palmer.
The 15-minute GT Le Mans (GTLM) qualifying session saw multiple on-track incidents, penalties and failed post-session inspections. While Earl Bamber posted the fastest time, he lost control of his #912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR with a few minutes remaining, going off course in Turn 5 and bringing out the red flag to stop the session. Per IMSA rules, the red flag wiped away his fastest time of 1:30.074. Thankfully for Bamber, his second fastest time of 1:30.304 (101.258 mph) was enough to keep him on the pole. Chassis damage sustained in the incident, however, forced the team to use a backup car, and the new #912 Porsche, co-driven by Jorg Bergmeister and Frederic Makowiecki, started at the back of the GT grid.
Bamber’s Porsche North America teammate Nick Tandy initially qualified second in the #911 Porsche, co-driven by Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz, with a time of 1:30.398 (101.153 mph), but failed post-qualifying inspection due to a ride-height infraction and was also moved to the back of the GT grid. “Our pole was really, really good,” said Bamber. “We had a good car today. Both Porsches were really quick. On my last lap we were getting quicker but I made a mistake in the fourth corner. I hit a river and did an aquaplane. We’ve come away with a lot of 1-2 results so I think we are going to push for that tomorrow as well.” Bamber and Tandy teamed with Force India Formula 1 driver Nico Hulkenburg to drive the LMP1 Porsche 919 Hybrid to overall victory in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Qualifying third with a best lap of 1:31.685 (99.733 mph) was Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin. Gavin will begin Saturday’s race at the front of the GT grid, with co-drivers Tommy Milner and Ryan Briscoe, in the #4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R.
Two-time defending Petit Le Mans winners Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler will start near the back of the GT grid with co-driver Patrick Long in the #17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR after an incident in Turn 12 3 min into the session prevented them from setting a qualifying time.
Riley Motorsports driver Cameron Lawrence stole the GT Daytona (GTD) pole from second-place qualifier Spencer Pumpelly on the final lap of qualifying, posting a best lap of 1:38.295 (93.026 mph). Lawrence, who co-drives the #93 Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R with Marc Goossens and Al Carter, has won two of the three Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup events they’ve competed in this year, most recently taking the Six Hours of The Glen.
Qualifying the #73 Park Place Porsche 911 GT America second with a time of 1:38.886 (92.470 mph) was Pumpelly, who co-drives the car with Patrick Lindsey. Third in the #22 WeatherTech Porsche 911 GT America with a time of 1:38.889 (92.458 mph) was Leh Keen, just 0.013 seconds behind Pumpelly. Keen, who is an Atlanta, Georgia native, started the Alex Job Racing entry with regular co-driver Cooper MacNeil and fellow Georgian Andrew Davis.
Earlier in the day, Davis won the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge championship in the #6 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro Z/28.R with co-driver Robin Liddell.
GTD points leader Christina Nielsen qualified eighth in the #007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage with a time of 1:42.911 (88.853 mph). Nielsen entered the race with a 1-point lead over ninth-place qualifier Dion von Moltke and his #48 Paul Miler Racing Audi R8 LMS co-driver, Christopher Haase. She would be the first female driver to win a major international sports car championship.
Rain continued on race day. 24 different drivers remained in contention for one of the four championships. Westbrook, Fittipaldi, and Hand ran 1-3 in the opening moments. The first yellow flag flew just four minutes in as Ben Keating spun in the #33 Riley Motorsports Viper, the rear of the car making hard contact with the wall.
Keating drove the car back to the pits, the team made repairs, including replacing the wing, and he returned to the track, still under caution, at the 9 hr 50 min mark. Gavin led GTLM under the caution, followed by Giancarlo Fisichella (#62 Ferrari 458 Italia), and Antonia Garcia in the sister Corvette.
Green-flag racing resumed at 9:45, Cameron running third overall and Keating returning to the pits.
At the end of the first hour of competition the #90 led the #5, with thte #911 Porsche running both first in GTLM and third overall. The #52 led PC and the #73 Park Place Porsche GTD. Bamber’s left-rear tire went down 55 min in and he slid off track into the Turn 2 gravel.
The #90 spun and left the track at Turn 12 with Rockenfeller driving, getting stuck trying to make it back to the track and falling two laps down 3 hr into the race. Valiante had spun 30 min earlier at the same turn. The #31 led the race followed by the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP and the second Action Express entry, the #5. The #24 BMW Team RLL Z4 GTE led GTLM, followed by the #911 and the #17 Team Falken Porsche. The #52 remained at the point in PC. Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, and Jeff Segal had driven the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari to the front of GTD.
Bourdais took the overall lead at the 3:38-mark
A pair of Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup championships were decided 4 hr in as rain continued. Bourdais beat Jordan Taylor (#10 Corvette) to lead at the end of the fourth hour, clinching the second consecutive Patrón Endurance Cup for the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP team and co-drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa. Bourdais missed the Watkins Glen round and does not have the same Patrón Endurance Cup points as his co-drivers. “The Patrón Endurance Cup only started last year,” said Fittipaldi, “so winning the first two in a row is definitely very big; hats off to the team, Chevy and Mustang Sampling. We make up a very solid group, and winning this proves that – being able to be in contention and winning the same championship two years in a row. There’s not much else I can say.”
Also clinching the Patrón Endurance Cup at the end of the first segment was the #93 TI Automotive/Viper Exchange Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R and drivers Al Carter and Cameron Lawrence in GTD. The duo is joined this weekend by Marc Goossens, who led the class at the end of the opening segment to score the maximum five points.
The Patrón Endurance Cup is a four-race endurance competition featuring 52 hours of racing at North America’s most prestigious endurance racing events. It includes the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and the 10-hr Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Patrón Endurance Cup points are awarded at specific intervals throughout each race – at the four-hour mark, eight-hour mark and finish at Road Atlanta – with the leader at the end of each segment scoring five points, four points for second, three points for third, and fourth place on back receiving two points.
Bamber ran P8 in the #912, 3 laps down after 4 hr. The #54 CORE autosport entry driven by Jon Bennett and Colin Braun, running fifth in class, clinched their second consecutive Tudor PC championship at 4 hr, having completed minimum drive time. Counting three straight in American Le Mans Series competition, it was the team’s fifth-straight PC title.
The #5 remained in front at the halfway point, followed by the #911 and the #10. The #52 led PC and the #44 Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GTD.
The red flag flew 21 min later, with the rain simply too heavy continue to drive and the #5 still in the overall lead. Racing resumed with 3:31 to go. Four minutes later a full course caution flew as the #54 left the course in the esses, piloted by third driver Anthony Lazzaro, and collided with the wall.
Curran led under the caution with 3 hr left, followed by the two Corvette Racing GTLM competitors, the #4 and #3 in that order, with Briscoe serving as the third driver for both. The #52 continued to lead PC and the #44 GTD.
The race was called 51 min later after just 17 more green-flag laps, with GTLM competitors finishing 1-2 overall. Nick Tandy, after starting the #911 on the last row with Pilet and Lietz, took the overall win to pair with his Le Mans victory. The #24 BMW came in second overall and the #5 Action Express Corvette DP third (and first in prototype), Barbosa having driven it back into the class lead minutes before the race was called. A spin by PC driver Bruno Junqueira brought out the final caution before race officials decided to wave the checkered flag.
Fittipaldi and Barbosa’s prototype-class victory clinched their second-straight Tudor championship.
“Strange race, crazy race, wet race,” said Scott Pruett. One of the worst since 2001 when we won at Le Mans. We weren’t racing out there, we were just trying to survive. There were times you couldn’t see; just nothing. We had a solid car all weekend, but rain is always the great equalizer. It’s crazy to see a GTLM car winning overall.”
Tandy’s win earned the #911 Porsche North America team its fourth GTLM victory of the season, giving it the 2015 team title. It also propelled his co-driver Patrick Pilet to the GTLM driver title, beating out #25 BMW Team RLL drivers Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner by 10 points in the standings, 315-305. Tandy did not win the driver championship alongside his teammate because of three races missed due to overseas commitments.
“When the race was coming to a close, I was aware that the #31 car was in the lead,” said Tandy, “but I knew if we had another rain shower we would checker the race, so that was why I was pushing so hard to get ahead of the GTLM cars, and once I had done that and we had a really good pace and were comfortable we were catching the #31. It was a case of just pulling ahead of the rest, but we ended up winning overall, so it was fantastic.”
“[Winning the championship] means a lot,” said Pilet. “It’s a lot of work, especially since I was with Porsche since 2008, it’s really a championship I love. It’s a fight with Corvette and BMWs, and all the manufacturers really push us. The team works so hard to improve the car, we had a really bad thing in the beginning of the season, and we just improved the car, improved everything. It’s just, I’m so happy now, just trying to enjoy the moment, and looking backward to what we have achieved, it’s really amazing.”
The #4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and IndyCar regular, Ryan Briscoe, earned its first Tudor podium since a third at January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. Milner and Gavin’s most recent podium came in June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, where they won the GTE Pro class overall with Wayne Taylor Racing’s Jordan Taylor in the very same car. Their Corvette Racing teammates in the #3, Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, finished sixth in today’s race and third in the GTLM points standings.
Park Place Motorsports drivers Spencer Pumpelly, Patrick Lindsey, and Madison Snow claimed the GTD victory at Road Atlanta, their second win of the season, leading the final 17 laps of the race. Pumpelly and Lindsey finished the season fifth in the GTD standings with 266 points. Scuderia Corsa drivers Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, and Jeff Segal finished fourth, good enough to earn Sweedler and Bell the GTD title in the #63 Ferrari 458 Italia, beating Christina Nielsen by just two points, 281-279. Nielsen finished 10th with co-drivers Kuno Wittmer and Brandon Davis.
“What I would say first,” said Sweedler, “is Christina was a formidable competitor. We’ve been in the same place, we led up until the final two races and we got beat. It causes that much more euphoria and elation to come from behind to get it. Every one of my cordilleras did a spectacular drive all year. Townsend was the rock. We were close, we’ve won the [Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup], but this was a really sweet, sweet win for us. I can say Townsend and I will be back for another season, and we will announce our plans shortly.”
Porsche won the GT Le Mans Manufacturers’ title over BMW, 325-319. In GT Daytona, Ferrari won its third Manufacturers’ title in four years – including two GRAND-AM championships in the 458 Italia. They bested Audi by a single point, 307-306.
Top 3 finishers in each class
1. #5 Action Express Corvette DP; Joao Barbosa (Portugal), Christian Fittipaldi (Brazil), Sebastien Bourdais (France).
2. #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford; Joey Hand (US), Scott Pruett (US), Scott Dixon (New Zealand).
3. #31 Action Express Corvette DP; Eric Curran (US), Dane Cameron (US), Max Papis (Italy)
1. #911 Porsche North America 911 RSR; Nick Tandy (UK), Patrick Pilet (France), Richard Lietz (Germany)
2. #24 BMW Team RLL Z4 GTE; John Edwards (US), Lucas Luhr (Germany), Jens Klingmann (Germany)
3. #4 Corvette Racing C7.R; Oliver Gavin (UK), Tommy Milner (US), Ryan Briscoe (Australia)
PC (all Oreca FLM09-Chevy)
1. #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports; Mike Guasch (US), Tom Kimber-Smith (UK), Andrew Palmer (US)
2. #8 Starworks Motorsport; Renger Van Der Zande (Netherlands), Mirco Schultis (Germany), Mike Hedlund (US)
3. #16 BAR1 Motorsports; Marc Drumwright (US), Tomy Drissi (US), Don Yount (US), Johnny Mowlem (UK)
1. #73 Park Place Racing Porsche 911 GT America; Spencer Pumpelly (US), Madison Snow (US), Patrick Lindsey (US)
2. #44 Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GT America; John Potter (US), Andy Lally (US), Robert Renauer (Germany)
3. #93 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper SRT; Al Carter (US), Marc Goossens (Belgium), Cameron Lawrence (US)