Saturday’s action-packed two-hour and 40-minute Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park was the first showcase of the season for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT classes.
Fans at the racetrack enjoyed Chamber of Commerce weather, while the drivers and teams delivered plenty of excitement for IMSA fans everywhere. Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller picked up their second victory in the last three races in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, while Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow delivered a "home race" victory of sorts for New Jersey-based team owner Paul Miller in GT Daytona (GTD).
Here are five takeaways from a terrific weekend in New England:
1. Two Points Now Separating Top Three in GTLM Standings
With their late-race victory over Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette, Hand and Mueller returned to the top of the GTLM point standings for the second time this season in the No. 66 Ford GT. They also ensured that Ford Chip Ganassi Racing – which has had one car or the other atop the class point standings since Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon won the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona – would maintain its grasp of the No. 1 spot in the standings.
Just barely, though. Defending GTLM champions Magnussen and Garcia would have taken the lead with a victory and now sit just one point behind the No. 66 teammates. And Westbrook and Briscoe are just two points behind their teammates after a sixth-place run on Saturday at Lime Rock in the No. 67 Ford GT.
While you can throw a blanket over the top three in GTLM, the top five are separated by just 13 points with No. 912 Porsche teammates Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor in fourth with 197 points – 11 behind Hand and Mueller – and the No. 4 Corvette Racing pair of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin are fifth with 195.
With four races still remaining, the GTLM championship battle is still wide open.
2. No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Teammates Get a Little Breathing Room
While the GTLM points race is uber tight, No. 48 Lamborghini teammates Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow managed to open up a little bit of a gap in GTD with their second victory of the season on Saturday. It also was their sixth podium in seven races this season and it enabled them to pull out a 10-point advantage, 218-208, over second-place Katherine Legge in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3.
With four races to go, the GTD points race also is too close to call. However, if the Paul Miller Racing team does bring home a championship in 2018, they may be able to point to this race as the turning point of their season as it gave them their biggest points lead of the season to date.
The No. 48 team’s dominant victory at Lime Rock, where it led a race-high 63 laps out of a possible 172 en route to an 18.614-second win over John Potter and Andy Lally in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3, was a stark contrast for the team compared to the 2015 season.
That year, the team fielded the No. 48 Audi for co-drivers Christopher Haase and Dion von Moltke, who appeared to be well on their way to victory when Haase was involved in an incident with the Prototype Challenge (PC) class-leading No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry driven by Conor Daly, which took both leaders out of the race and relegated them to last in class.
Had they won, it’s possible they would have gone on to win the GTD title that year. As it was, the No. 48 team came up four points shy of the title.
3. Corvette Racing Still Working on IMSA Win No. 100
A victory on Saturday would have been somewhat poetic for Corvette Racing, which scored its 100th win overall as a program at Lime Rock Park two years ago counting its eight victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans among the total.
And with less than 15 minutes remaining in the two-hour and 40-minute race, it looked like it just might happen courtesy of Magnussen and Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R. Unfortunately, Magnussen had an off-course excursion following an encounter with a GTD car, allowing Hand to slip past and take the victory in the No. 66 Ford.
"He was catching me," said Magussen of Hand. "I think I could have held him off a little bit longer than I ended up doing because I got into the marbles passing a GTD car on the inside of the last corner, and it just threw me wide off the track. He drove by and that was it."
Nevertheless, it was Magnussen and Garcia’s third consecutive runner-up result and put them right on the heels of the No. 66 duo in the championship standings. The milestone win could come as soon as the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America on Aug. 5, where Milner and Gavin won in a barnburner two years ago.
Or, it could happen in the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway on Aug. 19. Garcia and Magnussen have won each of the last two years there.
4. Magnus Building Momentum with Second Consecutive Podium Result
Magnus Racing’s return to WeatherTech Championship competition in 2018 after a one-year hiatus got off to a fairly shaky start, but things are starting to come good for the No. 44 Audi team and co-drivers Potter and Lally.
Two weeks ago, the duo scored their first podium result of the season with a third-place run in the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. On Saturday, they moved up a step on the podium in the Northeast Grand Prix at the home track of Lally, a native of Long Island.
The run was made all the more impressive as the team overcame intermittent braking issues throughout the race to bring the car home in second.
"First off, John’s driving was phenomenal," Lally said. "To have the issues he had and not fall back very far was really heads up on his part. Once that went away, he was one of the fastest cars on the track. It was one of his best drives to date and he should be really proud.
"The guys did a great job in the pits, as always, great strategy, and it was one of the best cars we’ve had. This was exactly what we needed."
5. Manufacturer Points Update
The victories for Ford and Lamborghini at Lime Rock enabled each manufacturer to extend the lead in their respective class manufacturer point standings.
Ford, which picked up its third consecutive GTLM race win and fourth of the season, now holds an 11-point advantage, 230-219, in the manufacturer standings over Chevrolet. Porsche is right on Chevrolet’s heels, sitting third in GTLM with 216 points.
Lamborghini, meanwhile, is now 16 points ahead of Acura in the GTD standings, 225-209, with its class-leading third victory of the year and sixth podium in seven races. Mercedes-AMG is third in the GTD manufacturer battle with 200 points.
In the Prototype class, which was idle last weekend and next races at Road America in two weeks, Cadillac has a 12-point lead, 234-222, over Acura having scored the maximum 35 points in four of the season’s seven Prototype races. Mazda is third among Prototype manufacturers with 210 points.