By David Phillips
With all due respect to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, at 10 hours the Motul Petit Le Mans may be the ideal length for a sports car endurance race. Surely long enough to be worthy of the term "endurance," by the same token it’s brief enough for the committed fan to watch from start to finish without ingesting a gallon of coffee only to "crash" within moments of the checkered flag.
And if history is any barometer, those watching the race on television or spectating at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta will be party to a dramatic finish – witness the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac taking the overall win this year after Pipo Derani and Ricky Taylor came together while battling for first place with a dozen or so minutes remaining Saturday night. Or, for that matter, last year when the leading Mercedes-AMG ran out of fuel on the final lap just as Bill Auberlen sped past in his BMW to win the GT Daytona (GTD) class. Or when the podium was determined on the final lap a few minutes after the Mustang Sampling Cadillac suffered mechanical problems and handed the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class and overall win to the Whelen Engineering Cadillac.
Last Team with the Ball Wins
Not unlike a run-and-gun basketball game or a football shootout between gunslinger quarterbacks where the last team to possess the ball wins, it appears the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi and GTD class championships will go down to the last lap of the last race of the season, namely the 12-hour Sebring enduro. Every race sees a different cast of characters on the podium and produces a shakeup in the pecking order in those class championship standings, even as the points differential between the major players tightens like a boa constrictor.
The post-Motul Petit Le Mans DPi standings show No. 10 Konica Minolta’s Ryan Briscoe and Renger van der Zande just eight points clear of No. 7 Penske Acura’s Taylor and Helio Castroneves with No. 31 Whelen Engineering’s Derani 12 markers out of the lead. The GTD class standings have Aaron Telitz two points ahead of No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus teammate Jack Hawksworth, and No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche’s Patrick Long and Ryan Hardwick another two points back. Meanwhile, Mario Farnbacher and Matt McMurry in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura are now seven points out of first spot, having led the points coming to Michelin Raceway.
Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans saw the GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GTD class wins go to a pair of teams and manufacturers that are non-factors in their respective season championships, albeit for different reasons.
Running a limited WeatherTech Championship GTD schedule, the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Cooper MacNeil, Jeff Westphal and Alessandro Balzan scored its first win of the season. Westphal moved to the lead in the opening laps and the WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 stayed at or near the front for the next 10 hours, despite contact with the Mazda DPi entries on a couple occasions. Still, it took a determined overtaking maneuver by Westphal in the final hour to secure the win as he out-braked Hawksworth’s Lexus to grab a lead he would hold to the finish.
On the other hand, the Porsche GT Team has faced a snake-bitten season in defense of its 2019 GTLM title. The worm turned Saturday when the second-placed Nick Tandy, Fred Makowiecki and Matt Campbell No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR inherited first place after the class-leading BMW of Augusto Farfus was forced off the road while being lapped by a DPi competitor. Although the Antonio Garcia’s No. 3 Corvette closed within striking distance in the closing laps, an incident between the GTD No. 12 Lexus of Townsend Bell and (ironically) the No. 912 Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor meant the race ended under yellow and insured Porsche’s first win of the season.
More than Meets the Eye
September’s TireRack.com Grand Prix at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, a six-hour race, saw PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports’ Patrick Kelly, Simon Trummer and Scott Huffaker take the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class win by a sizable 32 laps. Fast forward to the Motul Petit Le Mans, where Tower Motorsports by Starworks’ winning margin was a hefty, if marginally less comfortable, seven laps.
Any parallels between the two races begin and end there. Saturday’s LMP2 contest was anything but a walk for No. 8 Tower drivers John Farano, Mikkel Jensen and Job van Uitert. For at least the first nine hours, they were engaged in a battle with the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen entry. Unfortunately, Trummer’s off-course excursion in the final hour sent the No. 52 ORECA to the pits to effect repairs, paving the way for the win for the No. 8 – but not before the LMP2 class competitors had given a good account of themselves.