After Missing Nearly All of 2020, the Canadian Team Rebounds to Take the GTD Crown
By Holly Cain
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Three teams went into last weekend’s Motul Petit Le Mans racing for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s 2021 GT Daytona (GTD) class title. The 10-hour race would decide a fantastically close championship quest and it produced the same kind of dramatic ending this class has boasted all season.
Madison Snow put the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini on the GTD pole position, cutting into the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche’s championship lead even before the green flag dropped. The Pfaff car started a distant eighth with the third championship-eligible team’s No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin – the title longshot – starting 15th of the 16 GTD cars.
Ten long, fiercely competitive hours later, it was Ross Gunn, Roman De Angelis and Ian James driving the Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 who rallied through the field and edged the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R by less than eight seconds for the race trophy. The runner-up effort, however, was still good enough for the Pfaff team and fulltime drivers Zacharie Robichon and Laurens Vanthoor to claim the championship.
“To be honest, we knew this was not going to be our best track on outright pace, so we weren’t too bothered with qualifying,’’ Robichon conceded after the race.
“But that being said,’’ Robichon continued, “we hadn’t even looked at the championship picture closely until halfway through the race because the reality is we got to this position by not worrying about it. And a lot of the time, when you drive thinking about something like that, that’s when you make mistakes because you’re no longer focusing on yourself, you’re focusing on others around you, and we wanted to avoid that.
“We wanted to just go in and if there was an hour to go and we needed to do something for the championship, that’s when we wanted to know about it. During the race, we wanted to stick to what we knew we could do. Worry about yourself and things will fall into place.”
The approach certainly worked for Robichon, Vanthoor and endurance driver Lars Kern.
The pole-winning Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 encountered problems – contact with another car less than two hours into the race – putting it laps down and out of contention early. It was an anticlimactic end to what had been a close title race. PMR had made an especially valiant run at the title in the closing races of the season, scoring a victory at Long Beach and two runner-up finishes in the three events leading up to Motul Petit Le Mans.
Their misfortune at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, however, left the championship battle up to Pfaff and Heart of Racing. Along with the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche, they were the only three cars to lead in the final three hours of the race.
In the end, the No. 23 Aston Martin matched its Lime Rock Park victory in July with a win at Michelin Raceway, but Pfaff’s consistent challenge was close enough to ensure it took the season trophy home. For Pfaff and Robichon, it marked their first WeatherTech Championship titles. It was the second for Vanthoor, who also won the GT Le Mans championship in 2019.
“We always had the championship in the back of our head,’’ Vanthoor said. “I think on outright pace, we wouldn’t have been able to beat them.
“We ultimately could have done something a little more risky on that part because we had some ideas prerace, but with the championship we didn’t want to take a risk and change all four tires,’’ he added of the all-important last stop inside of an hour remaining.
“They were simply better than us today.”
Ultimately, on the season, Vanthoor and Robichon proved to be best. They won at Sebring, Road America, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and VIRginia International Raceway in addition to runner-up showings at Long Beach and Michelin Raceway. In the final five races of the year, the No. 9 Porsche never finished below second place.
It was a particularly satisfying turnaround for the Canadian team that missed nearly the entire 2020 season due to border travel restrictions, a year after the team debuted in the WeatherTech Championship with Robichon and the No. 9 winning the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup.
“It’s been really close the whole year,’’ Vanthoor said, allowing a smile. “They are good teams we fought against … and it was close and fun racing.
“The championship was still open with three cars on the last race, so it shows that it was quite tight together. It was a good season. We always had fair battles between all the teams, a lot of respect, which was nice to see. It was a good year.’’