By John Oreovicz
BRASELTON, Ga. – Ryan Briscoe and Renger van der Zande extended their points lead in the IMSA Weather Tech SportsCar Championship with a surprise victory in the 23rd annual Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Van der Zande and the No. 10 Cadillac DPi.V.R were running in third place, nearly 20 seconds in arrears of Pipo Derani (No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac) and Ricky Taylor (No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05) when the leaders came together in Turn 6 with around 12 minutes to go in the 10-hour endurance race.
The No. 31 Cadillac and the No. 7 swapped the lead several times on the track and in the pits over the final two hours and the intensity of the battle was obvious as the race drew to a close. The leaders were rarely separated by more than a second over the last 60 minutes of the race, with Taylor putting Derani under extreme pressure on several occasions.
Working through traffic in the Esses, Taylor got a run on Derani and tried to outbrake the Cadillac into Turn 6. But the Acura appeared to lose front end grip. It nudged Derani’s car and sent it spinning backwards into a tire barrier. Taylor also spun and nearly collected van der Zande as he returned to the track. IMSA officials reviewed the incident, but decided to take no action against either driver.
Taylor and teammates Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi recovered to finish second, with the sister Penske Acura driven by Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud taking third. The race ended under caution after the No. 912 Porsche in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class crashed with less than five minutes left on the clock.
The No. 6 Penske Acura dominated the first half of the race but got swept into an incident involving three other cars near the pit exit. The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac shared by Sebastien Bourdais, Loic Duval and Tristian Vautier finished fourth, with Derani, Felipe Nasr and Felipe Albuquerque classified fifth.
Van der Zande cut about 10 seconds of his deficit to the leaders in the final hour, but he appeared too far behind to think about victory until Taylor and Derani clashed.
"I was just chipping it down and chipping it down," van der Zande said. "We kind of gambled on the setup, and in the hot, it was not so easy. But in the dark, when it was colder, the car was really flying. We’ve been working so hard on the car, and this was really nice."
Briscoe and van der Zande opened an eight-point gap over Taylor and Castroneves in the DPi point standings, with Derani third, 12 points behind the leaders.
"This is massive," exclaimed Briscoe. "It was such a great finish, and it just shows never give up and just hang in there. Renger did a hell of a stint there at the end, and he kept saying, ‘I’m not going to give up.’ Then fortune fell our way. We had a fast car all afternoon and I’m just so proud of this team."
Derani was extremely unhappy with Taylor, and went to the Penske pit to exchange words with his rival after the race.
"I was in front, and he pushed me out. That’s it," Derani told reporters. "There’s nothing much to say, and unfortunately we lost the race. We did everything we could, leading the race with 10 laps to go, and he just pushes me out on a desperate move to try and go to the lead. I think it was a mistake on his part, and I hope he sleeps on it.
"I lost a little bit of respect for him and for his teammates, who tried to accuse me of doing something wrong," added the Brazilian. "It is what it is. I’m not at a racetrack to make friends – I want to win the next one."
In LMP2, the No. 8 Tower Motorsports by Starworks ORECA LMP2 07 seized the lead in the ninth hour and John Farano, Mikkel Jensen, and Job van Uitert cruised to an easy victory.
The No. 52 PR Mathiasen Motorsport Oreca shared by Patrick Kelly, Simon Trummer and Scott Huffaker dominated the first eight hours of the event, but an off-course excursion by Trummer while running second in the final hour ended the team’s effort. Kelly still maintains a comfortable lead in the LMP2 point standings.
The No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca with drivers James McGuire, Matthew Bell, and Colin Braun claimed second place in class, seven laps behind the leaders. Austin McCusker, Jakub Smiechowski, and Rob Hodes teamed to earn third place for the No. 51 Inter Europol Competition team.
The No. 8 entry was two laps down to the No. 52 at one point as driver rotations evolved, but clever pit strategy and hard driving put them in front.
"Luckily you can get some laps back with full course yellows," said van Uitert. "We did what we had to do, and in the end, it worked out fine."
The next race for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Oct. 30 – Nov. 1.