By John Oreovicz
Kyle Marcelli and Nate Stacy teamed to claim an exciting IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class victory in the Mid-Ohio 120 on Saturday, the first of a weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the series. In the process, the drivers of the No. 60 KohR Motorsports Vantage GT4 made Aston Martin the sixth different manufacturer to win in as many races this season.
In the Touring Car (TCR) class, Max Faulkner and James Vance led nearly every lap and scored a comparatively easy win for FASTMD Racing with Speed Syndicate in the No. 23 Audi RS3 LMS TCR. Taylor Hagler and Ryan Eversley finished second in class, 8.517 seconds back in the No. 77 Honda Civic TCR fielded by LA Honda World Racing.
Running third in the GS class when racing resumed after a full-course caution with approximately 35 minutes remaining in the two-hour contest, Marcelli engaged in a furious battle for second place with incoming championship leader Jeff Westphal in the No. 39 CarBahn with Peregrine Racing Audi R8 GT4.
After swapping the position a couple times, Marcelli kept the No. 60 securely in second place and set after race leader Eric Foss (No. 56 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4).
Marcelli then got a tremendous run out of the Carousel corner that closes a lap of the 13-turn Mid-Ohio road course and outbraked Foss into Turn 1 with a little under 15 minutes remaining. He pulled away to win by 1.31 seconds over Westphal. It was the first victory this season for Marcelli and Stacy, who had previously finished second on two occasions and won at Mid-Ohio in 2018.
"It’s good to get the win," Marcelli declared. "We’ve been so close, so many times this year. We knew we had a good car. We’ve been putting in good stints, but we just had simple things go wrong and small things led to big consequences and not getting on the top step of the podium.
"Today, we executed near-perfect," he added. "We still had a hiccup in the pits that put us back to seventh and I had my work cut out for me, but it was a lot of fun. It was a dogfight, a game of chess, and every lap, I was thinking about where to place the car and how to move forward. What made it more challenging was that our championship rival, the Audi, was in that battle with us. The goal was always to be in front of them."
Indy Dontje and Russell Ward finished third in the No. 4 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4. Foss dropped to 10th place after requiring a stop for fuel with five minutes left in the race.
Marcelli and Stacy took over the lead of the GS class standings after arriving at Mid-Ohio trailing Westphal and teammate Tyler McQuarrie by a single point. Aston Martin joined Mercedes-AMG, Audi, McLaren, BMW and Chevrolet as manufacturers to win Pilot Challenge races this year.
In TCR, the victory for the No. 23 Audi ended Hyundai’s recent dominance of four straight wins by the Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian team.
Faulkner led the first half of the race in the No. 23 from his third Motul Pole Award position of 2020 and handed off to Vance for the anchor stint. Like the No. 60 in GS, the No. 23 recorded its first win of the season.
"We haven’t had the easiest season in terms of luck, so it means so much for the team to convert this pole to a win," Faulkner said. "We knew we had a fast car and once we settled into a rhythm, I knew we were in with a shot."
"Max did such a stellar job, so we got the hard work done earlier in the week," Vance added. "At the end of the day, it was up to me to do the best I could. It was just a good race and the car was a joy to drive."
Qualifying for the second race of the Pilot Challenge doubleheader starts at 6:50 p.m. ET Saturday. The two-hour race begins at 10:35 a.m. Sunday, with live streaming available on Track Pass on NBC Sports Gold.