A late-race caution didn’t seem to faze the overall and GTD PRO leaders one bit in the GT-only FCP Euro Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park for the IMSA WeatherTech SportCar Championship, but it totally changed the face of the GTD race, with the winner moving from fourth to the top of the podium in a handful of laps.
In each race that they have started on pole, Pfaff Racing has gone on to win the race, and this was no different. While on this occasion it was Matt Campbell who took the pole position instead of Mathieu Jaminet in the previous wins from pole at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, the outcome was the same – control of the race and ultimately victory.
Even that late-race caution, with the race restarting with only nine minutes left, didn’t cause them any difficulty. Though the caution erased the 10-second advantage that Jaminet had over Alex Riberas in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage, Jaminet leapt ahead at the restart and cruised to victory.
“For sure I was disappointed; I didn’t see that one coming,” said Jaminet of the caution. “We had quite a lead, so it put a bit more pressure and a bit more tension for everyone. I didn’t really know what to expect at the restart. It was really tough out there but I gave it my all at the end to try to make the gap and push 120 percent. Maybe it looked easy from the outside but from inside, it’s not the case.”
The only full-course caution that came with 21 minutes left in the 2h40m race, for the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Acura NSX against the tire barriers after Ryan Eversley got loose in the Downhill, totally shook up the GTD race. Aaron Telitz had been in control in the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F that teammate Frankie Montecalvo started on pole, but the caution left him vulnerable. Philip Ellis in the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG saw an opening, took it, and drifted just a bit to make contact with the No. 12 Lexus. The damage left the hood of the Lexus flapping up and blocking Telitz’s vision, and he had to pit to fix it, dropping back to seventh in GTD.
While Brian Sellers in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 that Madison Snow had started had fresher tires, he couldn’t seem to challenge Ellis, until the final corner of the race as the Winward Mercedes coasted toward the finish line, out of fuel. That left Sellers celebrating in the cockpit as he crossed the line in first, having gone from off the podium to victory in a handful of laps.
“The last lap was a lot,” said Sellers. “I was telling Madison that it’s crazy; you go through this range of emotions. You see the No. 57 die and you think, ‘Can I go low? Can I go high?’ and then you look high and there’s all kinds of marbles and I think, ‘Oh, I’ll pass him high.’ And then I’m like, ‘Oh, no, I’m gonna go off the road and go from the lead to fifth.’ We’re just so fortunate today. In fairness, it’s unfortunate for the No. 57 car. They had probably the best car in the field and they definitely had the speed to win, but that’s why you race to the checkered flag and we’re certainly not going to turn one down on a day like today.”
With Lime Rock Park being relatively short and a track where it’s difficult to pass, strategy was key in both GTD PRO and GTD. Campbell found himself in third early on when the other cars pitted early, leading to an undercut with the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth out front, followed by the No. 3 Corvette Racing C8.R of Jordan Taylor. Later, when the Lexus had to pit earlier again, Campbell was pounding out fast laps with open track ahead. Once he pitted and handed over to Jaminet, the No. 9 emerged in the lead, followed by the No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin with Alex Riberas at the wheel and Ben Barnicoat in the No. 12 Lexus. Jaminet was able to put a gap on the other cars, especially as Riberas was trying to save fuel. The caution likely saved Riberas from having to pit again, and the No. 23 Aston Martin finished second, with the Lexus third in GTD Pro and overall.
“A fantastic result for us, especially for our championship,” said Campbell. “Another fantastic job for this effort by a whole Pfaff crew. Early on, a lot of fuel saving going on. And then when everyone went off strategy, we had to really push and try and catch up and it wasn’t easy when we were behind the cars, managing the pressures. It was better out front. Luckily enough with our strategy we were able to get back to the front with Mathieu at the end and sort of hold from there. Track position was really key today for tire management.”
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Pfaff got some help in its championship pursuit when closest rival Corvette Racing’s strategy, to keep their car in clean air and keep good tires under it with what would have apparently been a three-stop race, bit them in the end. With Antonio Garcia having taken over the No. 3 from Jordan Taylor in an early second stop, Garcia ended up in GTD traffic instead of the clean air the team had intended. Eventually he tangled with Jules Gounon in the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG, breaking a toe link in the rear. The team fixed the car, but lost five laps in the process and they finished fourth. The No. 25 BMW M Team RLL M4 GT3 retired after 77 laps.
Strategy was key for the Paul Miller Racing team to be in position to take advantage of the crazy final laps. Going tor a three-stop plan, the team even pitted Sellers only about 20 minutes after he took over the No. 1 from Madison Snow to keep fresh tires on the car. It looked like it wasn’t going to pay off until the caution closed up what had been a big gap — Sellers 28s behind Telitz at that point, and Telitz having a nice gap to Maxime Martin in the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin in second – although, like the sister car, Martin would have likely run into fuel trouble without the caution.
Ellis and Sellers both made quick work of Martin on the restart, then Ellis made the move on Telitz that ended any hopes for a Lexus victory in GTD, the second race in a row that the No. 12 hasn’t been able to capitalize on a pole position. It looked like Sellers, even though he had fresher tires than Ellis, wasn’t making any inroads on the gap until Ellis slowed between West Bend and the Downhill on the final lap.
“We had these ups and downs and ups and downs through the whole race, like early in the race Madison had great stints and we were in the lead,” said Sellers. “Then, all of a sudden, they have to call an audible on the pit stand because we’re bleeding lap time. Then we’ve got to last longer than we’ve ever gone on the set of tires. You’re just kind of bouncing as it went, but the guys on the pit stand did a fantastic job. They kept making the right calls over and over again and they gave Madison and I opportunities to be in clean air quite a bit, which I think was key.”
Martin ended up second in the No. 27 Aston Martin he had taken over from Roman De Angelis, with the No. 39 CarBahn with Peregrine Racing Lamborghini Huracán of Robert Megennis and Jeff Westphal third. Megennis had jumped into the lead at the green, but was given a drive-through penalty for changing lanes prematurely at the start.
Stevan McAleer and Mike Skeen were fourth in the No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG, preserving McAleer’s lead in the GTD championship thanks to their closest competitors Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen finishing sixth. However, with the second-place finish, De Angelis is coming on strong in the title chase. Ellis coasted across the line to finish fifth for he and Russell Ward in the No. 57.
Next up for the WeatherTech Championship is an all-classes sprint race at Road America in three weeks, Aug. 5-7.