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Three Takeaways from the TireRack.com Grand Prix at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta


By David Phillips

Wowzers!

Fresh off a compelling if relatively straightforward, two-class GT race at VIR, we were treated to a veritable three-ring circus at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, what with Daytona Prototype international (DPi), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) going down to the final lap before the finishing orders were decided.

Sure the 11th hour (actually fifth hour and 55th minute) restart ensured a dramatic finish, but so close was the competition in those three classes that competitors and fans alike would likely have been on the edge of their proverbial seats even had the race gone green for the final 30 minutes.

Revised Spectators Guide

Apologies for overlooking what turned out to be THE most crucial section of pavement in last week’s Spectator’s Guide for Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. We’re talking, of course, about pit in and pit lane itself.

For it was on pit in that at least two race-shaping incidents occurred. The first saw Helio Castroneves driving with the heart – and brain – of a 20-year-old, accelerate above and beyond the pit lane speed limit after having already slowed down to the legal speed – thus incurring a penalty.

Much later – and depending on your perspective – Juan Pablo Montoya either brake-checked Ryan Briscoe or was the victim of "avoidable contact" when the Penske Acura and Konica Minolta Cadillac came together on pit in at virtually the same spot of Castroneves’ earlier transgression.

The only perspective that really mattered, of course, was that of race control which penalized Briscoe for incident responsibility. While Castroneves, co-driver Ricky Taylor and Acura Team Penske had enough time to overcome the pit lane speeding penalty (not to mention a subsequent and more severe stop-plus-60-seconds penalty when the Brazilian 20-something ran a red light at pit out) and take the overall win, the timing of Briscoe’s penalty so late in the race gave him little time to recover resulting in a fifth-place finish.

Harder Than it Appeared

Like a visiting pitcher who takes to the mound in the bottom of the first after his team scored a dozen runs in their first at bat, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports confronted an enviable challenge in the TireRack.com Grand Prix at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta: Bear down and maintain focus despite being handed a huge lead.

With their only competitor – the Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2-Gibson – spending the best part of an hour effecting repairs in the wake of the green flag mayhem, drivers Patrick Kelly, Simon Trummer and Scott Huffaker faced the prospects of racing for six hours when they were all but guaranteed victory if they managed to stay on the road and keep their car in one piece.

Similarly, the PR1/Mathiasen crew was tasked with making errorless (if not necessarily blindingly quick) pit stops. They delivered on the track and in the pits, to come home a scant 32 laps clear of the Era entry. And spare a thought for Era’s Dwight Merriman, Kyle Tilley and Colin Braun.

Much like their LMP2 counterparts, when they returned to the track some 32 laps down on first place in class, they faced what amounted to a five hour test session with nothing much to be gained – but with plenty to lose by making a major mistake. Happily, both teams brought their cars to the checkered flag without any further undue drama in what was a uniquely challenging race.

A Tale of Two Classes

The points races in GTLM and GTD are really a tale of two series. BMW’s win snapped Corvette’s winning streak at four consecutive races and put Connor De Phillippi and Bruno Spengler into victory lane for the first time this season. Corvette’s Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin came home second ahead of the second RLL BMW. Meanwhile, Porsche’s snake-bitten season continued, for although the RSR-19 of Nick Tandy and Fred Makowiecki came home fourth, the No. 912 Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber lost three laps making an unscheduled brake change and finished sixth.

The net result is that Corvette still enjoys a healthy lead in the manufacturers’ championship over BMW while Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor remain well clear of Gavin and Milner in the driver standings, despite the former’s fifth place finish on Saturday.

In contrast, the GTD picture is, if anything, more unclear than ever in the wake of victory. Mario Farnbacher, Matt McMurry and Shinya Michimi scored the first win of the 2020 season for Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian in their Acura NSX GT3, staying clear of the Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow/Corey Lewis Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Long, Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen in the sprint to the checkered flag.

With the Lexus RC F GT3s of AIM Vasser Sullivan placing fifth and 10th – and with erstwhile co-drivers Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth in separate cars – the various GTD championships were placed in a veritable food processor. Farnbacher and McMurry (150) now lead Telitz (138) and Hawksworth (136) in the driver standings – with Frankie Montecalvo, Townsend Bell, Patrick Long and Ryan Hardwick (134) in a logjam in P4. Acura (156) tops the manufacturer’s standings ahead of Lexus (148) with Lamborghini and Porsche (140) in P3, while Meyer Shank (150) leads the two AIM Vasser Sullivan squads (136 and 134) in the team points race.