By Mark Robinson
BRASELTON, Ga. – The dark cloud that has hung over a pair of GT entries in the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season lifted under the lights Saturday night at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
The No. 911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR and the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 scored much-needed class victories in the 23rd annual Motul Petit Le Mans to break victory droughts.
The No. 911, with Nick Tandy, Fred Makowiecki and Matt Campbell taking turns behind the wheel, won in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class – logging Porsche’s first victory of the season and the first for the No. 911 since VIRginia International Raceway in August 2019.
The No. 63 Ferrari, driven by Cooper MacNeil, Jeff Westphal and Alessandro Balzan, took home the GT Daytona (GTD) win. It’s the first for the car since MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette and Daniel Serra won the Motul Petit Le Mans two years ago.
GTLM honors appeared headed to the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE until near the end of the 10-hour race, when Augusto Farfus ran wide exiting the final turn and the car plowed through the dirt and grass just off track. Farfus was forced to pit to have dirt and debris cleared off the nose of the car and was relegated to a third-place finish.
Makowiecki was nearly 20 seconds back in second place when Farfus had his off-course excursion. After taking the lead in the No. 911, the Frenchman kept Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R in arrears the rest of the way. A pair of late full-course cautions bunched the field but Makowiecki wasn’t deterred and took the checkered flag under yellow. It delivered the first Motul Petit Le Mans triumph for him and Campbell, and the fourth in the iconic race for Tandy.
“Petit Le Mans is one of the big races during the season, you really want to get it,” said Makowiecki. “It was a very tough race, tough weekend, and I’m so proud about my team because we did not give up. We had some good moments, some bad moments, but we had the right one.
“It doesn’t count to lead nine hours and 59 (minutes), what counts is the last minute.”
Campbell admitted to nervousness watching from the pit stand as Makowiecki closed out the victory. The Aussie was also part of the No. 911’s third-place showing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.
“It’s my first time to Petit, first time being part of this race and first time being part of Fred and Nick,” Campbell said. “A tremendous opportunity and obviously to pull off a win like this is fantastic.”
After combining with No. 912 teammates Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber to win six races and finish 1-2 in the points last year, Tandy admitted to the frustration that Porsche has faced in 2020. That just made Saturday’s triumph more the sweeter.
“We’ve had such a poor season; there’s so many things that have gone wrong,” he said. “Kind of in the middle of the race, it looked like we weren’t going to be that competitive. To come out with a win, my fourth at Petit, it’s amazing. This makes up for all the bad times that we’ve had during the season so far. Mega.”
The second-place finish by Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg allowed the No. 3 Corvette to widen its GTLM points lead to 28 over the No. 4 Corvette. Garcia and Taylor lead No. 4 drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner by the same margin with two races remaining.
The No. 63 Ferrari made it known from the start that it would contend in GTD, with Westphal taking the lead from the second starting position on the opening lap. The car remained near the front the entire race, despite absorbing contact on more than one occasion while battling in traffic around the 2.54-mile, 12-turn circuit.
Back in the car for the finish, Westphal made the decisive pass for the lead with just more than an hour to go. He pushed the No. 63 hard into Turn 10 and past Jack Hawksworth in the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3. From there, Westphal drove home the win – something he wasn’t expecting when the race weekend started.
“We showed up with a car that had great pace over one lap but it was killing the rear tires,” Westphal said. “Throughout each day, we made it better and better. We didn’t lose faith, we kind of just marched along and it really came alive in the race.”
It was Westphal’s third career IMSA win, the eighth for MacNeil and seventh for Balzan, who celebrated his 40th birthday in victory lane. On the heels of wrapping up a third straight Ferrari Challenge championship a week ago, MacNeil applauded the effort of his teammates and crew.
“This is one of the most difficult races in the world, even though it’s ‘only’ 10 hours,” he said. “These two guys drove their asses off, it was phenomenal all weekend. The team worked super hard all weekend, the Scuderia Corsa WeatherTech guys, I can’t thank them enough. We rolled the car off the truck expecting a good car because we had a good car during the six-hour here. That wasn’t the case; we had to work hard at it.”
Hawksworth, Aaron Telitz and Michael De Quesada finished second in the No. 14 Lexus. The No. 44 GRT Magnus Lamborghini Huracan GT3, with drivers Andy Lally, John Potter and Spencer Pumpelly finished third.
Telitz unofficially moved into the points lead, two ahead of Hawksworth and four up on No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche drivers Ryan Hardwick and Patrick Long.
The GT classes are back in action along with the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) classes Oct. 30-Nov. 1 at the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.