The MINI JCW Team celebrates their victory in the Fox Factory 120 at Road Atlanta, part of the Petit Le Mans weekend. Front row, left to right: Tonine McGarvie, MINI USA Randy Clements, MINI USA Luis Perocarpi, owner, LAP Motorsports Zdravko Miric, MINI USA. Back row, left to right: Drivers Mike LaMarra and Mat Pombo.
Photo by Halston Pitman, courtesy MINI USA
MINI Does It!
Perocarpi’s JCW Team Clinches Hard-fought Championship at Road Atlanta
by David Newman
BRASELTON, Ga., Oct. 12 — The weather was perfect for racing that day at Road Atlanta, a 2.54-mile course known for its huge changes in elevation and challenging corners. And the sun was shining brightly on the MINI JCW Team, operated by LAP Motorsports owner Luis Perocarpi.
The team was competing in the IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge Series in the Street Tuner (ST) class against Porsches, BMWs and a Mazda, sporting three MINI Cooper JCW cars, and six drivers per race. They raced on the circuit with two other classes in the series, Grand Sport (GS) and Touring Car (TCR), both with machines much faster than the ST cars.
The stakes were high going into the Conti at Road Atlanta — dubbed “the Fox Factory 120,” as it was a two-hour (120-minute) race. All through the season, the lead in the Manufacturers Championship in ST had gone back and forth between MINI, BMW and Porsche. Road Atlanta would be their last contest, and just a few points separated the leader, BMW, and MINI. It was going to be flat-out racing for the title.
The day would be bittersweet for the winners, however, because this race would be not only the last this year, but the last in history of ST. Earlier this year IMSA announced it was dropping the class in 2019 — and there would be no opportunity for a rematch among the teams, and this type of racecar, next year.
Driver (and engine) switch
The day before the race, the #52 MINI lost an engine during practice. The car had already lost one of its drivers — the up-and-coming Colin Mullan, who usually drives the first segment of a race in #52, had to miss Road Atlanta as he was in Europe for a driver development scholarship program. Team owner Perocarpi, an experienced racing driver himself, took over the slot.
For Perocarpi, it had to be very special to be one of the drivers in the last race for the team in the four years that MINI has been participating in the series. Unfortunately, he got in only about 20 laps of practice before engine damage brought him into the pits, and #52 back to the paddock.
This might not have been a great start to the weekend, but the techs rallied to the cause. As Luis commented later, “The crew from LAP worked alongside MINI dealer technicians and did an outstanding job late into the night to have #52 ready for the race,” meaning an entire engine swap.
All three MINI JCW Team cars on the track.
Photo by Halston Pitman, courtesy MINI USA
The day of the race saw Luis back in #52 with co-driver Mark Pombo, and, in the other two team cars, Nate Norenberg and Derek Jones in #37 and Mike LaMarra and Mat Pombo in #73.
They faced the #81 BMW 328i of Bimmer World Racing, driven by Nick Galante and Devin Jones, out in front in so many of the races this season. And then there was the #21 Porsche Cayman of Bodymotion Racing, driven by Max Faulkner and Jason Rabe, one very fast and competitive car that was always a contender, too.
Qualifying the day before had set the stage for an exciting race. Gallante took pole in the #81 BMW at 1:37.191, about 94.1mph. Runner-up Norenberg’s #37 MINI was barely a quarter of a second behind him, and Faulkner’s #21 Porsche was a tenth of a second behind Norenberg in 3rd.
In 4th place was Mike LaMarra in the #73 MINI, a half a second behind Faulkner. The Perocarpi-Mark Pombo #52 MINI was still under repair and did not post a time.
At 1:25 p.m. on Friday, October 12th, the Fox Factory 120 was underway.
The leader for most of the first 75 minutes was the #81 BMW. With about 45 minutes left, Mat Pombo in the #73 MINI passed the #21 Porsche for 2nd place, with the BMW still in the lead. All the competitors had made their scheduled pit stops and driver changes. It was literally “drive your tires off the car” racing.
Only a win for MINI could change the standings. The points were that close, and it appeared that the Bimmer World BMW would be the winner if all stayed the same. All three MINI drivers were using ten-tenths of their MINIs’ performance. All of them were on two wheels in most tight corners. It was win or nothing.
With about 15 minutes to go in the race, Pombo’s #73 MINI was still in 2nd place, about six seconds behind the #81 BMW and perfectly positioned to catch it — and then the BMW made an unexpected second pit stop for a splash of fuel. Pombo jumped into the lead, held it, and #73 grabbed the checkered flag.
Pombo did drive the tires off his car — one of them, anyway. On the cool-down lap, the front right tire showed it had given its all and shredded itself right off.
Finishing behind #73 were the #21 Porsche, the #81 BMW, the #52 MINI and the #37 MINI.
What a race and what a finish, a fairy tale ending to four years in IMSA — and it clinched the Manufacturers Championship for MINI by just three points. The final standings were MINI with 331 points, BMW with 328, Porsche with 311, and Mazda with 56.
Yes, on two wheels.
Photo by Halston Pitman, courtesy MINI USA
Much champagne was sprayed on the podium, the team exploding with joy on bringing home the win for MINI USA. As Perocarpi told this reporter, “It’s been an incredible four seasons of racing at the highest level of professional racing. We ended this chapter with an exclamation!”
Mat Pombo and MINI USA’s Tonine McGarvie were quick to acknowledge the support of the team’s many fans. In a Facebook post Pombo called them “the best in the country,” and said, “Every MINI fan and owner had a part of this.”
McGarvie, who organized many of the trackside fan events, including MINI corrals, meet-and-greets in the paddock, prize drawings, and hot lap rides, added, “What an amazing ride it has been! You were all with us in spirit today!”
So what is in store for the MINI JCW Team next year? Rumors abound. Maybe the Pirelli World Challenge series with the current F56 MINI Cooper JCW cars — or maybe MINI USA will support the team in IMSA’s TCR class with a MINI Countryman JCW? Only Headquarters knows.
After following the team to many races in the past four years, this reporter can only say this: In the paddock, in the stands and in the viewing hillsides, I have never seen such dedicated fans and in such large numbers as the fans of the MINI JCW Team. Every team member has taken the time to speak to fans — every driver, manager, technician, and, of course, Tonine McGarvie’s people.
I think those fans would tell them now, “Please come back to racing next year. We need a team in 2019.”
[Dave, a frequent contributor to this publication, counts himself among the MINI JCW Team’s biggest fans.]
Awaiting the signal for the drive-by of first-place winners in the Saturday popular vote show, the British Classic.
Photo by Bruce Vild
Warmest Wishes from Stowe!
by Michael Gaetano, Event Organizer
STOWE, Vt., Sept. 14-16 — Year 28, and “the tradition continues!” In all those years of producing the British Invasion, 2018 brought the warmest September on record. Our ice cream vendor had a busy weekend.
The turnout of British motorcars was also hot, as drivers arrived from Canada and points in the USA north, south, east and west of Stowe. Motorcars came from Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nova Scotia, to name just a few departure points.
We were most pleased to enjoy the active participation of Jaguar Land Rover North America (JLR), whose local representatives displayed an XK180 carbon fiber concept car — as presented at the Paris Motor Show in 1999, and one of only two in the world — with 450bhp and 445 ft-lb of torque, plus a Camel Trophy-winning Land Rover 110 and a couple of electric cars, including Jaguar’s first all-electric vehicle, the 2019 I-PACE.
JLR’s Land Rover side was complemented by a collection of Land Rovers belonging to Jim Macri of High Meadows Farms in Vermont, which featured the replica prototype 1947 Centre Steer Land Rover Jim constructed after many years of painstaking research. Jim’s replica has also been displayed at the British Motorcar Festival in Bristol, R.I.
As the largest all-British motorcar show in the eastern United States, this year’s British Invasion managed to field over 550 British vehicles on Saturday, of which several even paid a premium to register on Friday afternoon for either the British Classic Motorcar Show (our people’s choice competition) or to place a British vehicle in the Car Corral for sale.
The British Classic Motorcar Show was where the vast majority of cars were entered. We had 65 separate classes and we awarded 125 awards to class winners.
As always there was a Best of Show Award, and this year it went to Peter Nicoll of Rigaud, Québec, for his 1935 Rolls-Royce 20/25 Limousine.
Others participated in the Invasion’s Concours d’Elegance, a competition judged by a team of experts rather than by people’s choice. The Concours challenged entrants not only to compete against other vehicles in the Concours but against a “Code of Excellence” that set the minimum score required to be awarded 3rd, 2nd, or 1st place.
This year, the Best of Show Award in the Concours went to John and Laura Scott of Middlebury, Vt., and their 1937 MG VA Tourer.
A very popular feature of the British Invasion, the Queen’s Court and the Ladies’ Hat Competition, attracted some of the cleverest designs of headgear to date. Ladies took their inspiration from Mary Poppins, Wallace & Gromit, life on the farm, Minis, and even a jar of Marmite!
Elizabeth Tayler relaxes beside her Jaguar with her tailgate picnic on Sunday.
Photo by Bruce Vild
Sunday started with our largest following of British motorcars yet for the annual Notch Run. I believe we attracted over 30 vehicles that followed along behind my ’47 Bentley as we climbed over Smuggler’s Notch and managed a 70-minute rural Vermont morning tour.
Meanwhile, back at the show field, entrants were setting up for the annual Competition of Colors, where the color of the motorcar determines its class, and the Tailgate Picnic Competition, with categories such as “Most British” and “Most Humorous.”
The American Cancer Society, who managed General Admission Parking, raised a respectable amount of money for their cause during the Invasion weekend.
We owe a special debt of gratitude to the more than 30 volunteers who made the British Invasion the success it was. They helped with field layout, show car parking, registration, regalia sales, general admission, Concours judging, ballot counting, the awards program, the Queen’s Court, breaking down the show field and packing up, and then, once home, unpacking everything to be unpacked, inventoried and re-prepped for the next show.
As you mark your calendar for British Invasion XXIX, please note that for 2019 we have moved one week earlier than normal — to the weekend of the second Saturday in the month of September (the 13th to the 15th) — to avoid a conflict with the 200th anniversary of Norwich University, a celebration expected to fill every room available in Stowe the following weekend.
To all who attended and helped to make British Invasion XXVIII another memorable weekend, we say, “Thank you!” We wish you many miles of carefree and enjoyable touring to come in your British classic.
[Michael founded the British Invasion in 1991, and with the help of family and friends has been its principal organizer ever since.]
Prewar meets mid-century at LRP. Rob Burt’s 1938 Aston Martin (left foreground) was stationed right across from Donovan Motorsports’ three racing E-types, the former doing battle with MG T Series and early Alfa and Maserati racecars, and the latter prevailing over Porsches, Vettes and Mustangs.
Photos by John Morris & Bruce Vild
Historically, It's #36
The Marque Returns to Lime Rock to See Old Friends Race — and Lots and Lots of Bugattis
by Bruce Vild
LAKEVILLE, Conn., Aug. 30-Sept. 3 — It was near the end of a sweltering but all-too-short summer in New England, which meant it was Labor Day weekend, which also meant it was time to return to Lime Rock Park for the annual Historic Weekend. This one would be LRP’s 36th.
The Historics has (have?) always been a must on the British Marque schedule simply because of all the British cars that show up — and many of our friends as well. This year was something close to a once-in-a-lifetime event (as one of those friends expressed it) as Bugattis were featured in a very big way: dozens of them came, from all over the world, to drive around the countryside, park in the paddock for all to admire, and even run in special all-Bugatti races as a group separate from the usual Triumphs, Healeys, MGs, Alfas and Porsches that populate this weekend.
Even the most hardened British car fan like yours truly had to appreciate this. The Bugattis at Lime Rock numbered in the dozens (I heard as high as 70), providing a neat survey of the incredible variety of automobiles produced by the company since the 1920s (prewar, that is — no Veyrons were in sight, either under a tent or in the parking lot). One saw the runabouts from the ’20s that show up regularly at VSCCA events, right up to all the variations on the theme that was the Type 57.
Much of the Bugatti presence was due to this year’s Honored Guest and Collector, Peter Mullin, who has built two automotive museums and is planning a third. The Type 57SC Atlantic that was arguably the most beautiful Bugatti — no, make that most beautiful car — here at Lime Rock this weekend was his, along with several other prime examples parked under a tent in the paddock.
Otherwise, British cars were all over the place, represented in every one of the eight groups running except for the Bugatti races. Many of them gathered, along with quite a few of the Bugattis, for the vintage racecar parade on Thursday afternoon. The parade left the track from the Sam Posey Straight and wound its way around the back roads of Lakeville and Salisbury to the usual destination, Falls Village, and the block party around the green.
I caught up with Al Chicote and his Elva Courier there, with several people (including at least one former Elva owner/racer) surrounding them and asking questions about the car. With Al and the Elva, that’s par for the course, as fans of his articles on the Berkshire British Motoring Club page well know.
Also on hand were Foster Cooperstein and Lois Maisel — who must have been attracted by all the Lotus racing going on, the marque represented in four of the eight groups that took to the track. Foster and Lois, it will be remembered, won the British Marque Favourite Award at British Car Day at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum back in June, and they did indeed bring the Elan Sprint with them to Lime Rock.
Al Chicote and his Elva Courier, parked in Falls Village after the parade.
Covering the races too were Susan and Dave Blackwell from the MG Car Club-Long Island Centre, Michael DiPleco, a professional photographer who belongs to Brits of The Hudson, and Dow Smith from the VSCCA.
Among the racers were LRP stalwarts Ernie Steubesand and Stu Forer, both competing against each other in Group 4. Ernie brought his familiar Lotus Super 7, #110, and Stu his Turner 950S, #48. Their group was well-populated with other small-bore sports cars, such as Jackie Amarosa’s Triumph TR3, Jim Juhas’ MGA and Michael Richmond’s Bugeye Sprite, and a slew of Formula Junior cars that were mostly of British manufacture (Lotus 18s).
There were eight groups racing, each with entrants with a common characteristic such as vintage, engine displacement, body style, etc. Each group ran four races, with practice and qualifying in a combined session on Friday, and two races on Saturday and two on Monday. As mentioned in previous articles, there is no Sunday racing at Lime Rock.
The oldest cars, not counting the racing Bugattis, were in Group 1, assembled as a salute to the 60th anniversary of the VSCCA. The vintages ranged from a 1913 Hudson Indy to a 1955 Lotus MkIX, with prewar Alfas and a Stutz campaigning against a lot of MG T Series cars (13 of them on the original entry list, counting a Lester MG) and Chris Towner’s well-known Morgan F-type trike. Standing out in the mix were a Nash-Healey Le Mans and a Cunningham Vignale C-3 from the 1950s, arguably two of the heaviest cars on the track but with plenty of grunt.
Included in Group 1 was Franck Ceklarz, driving an MG TC, #137. As the photos show, Franck not only took part in the racecar parade on Thursday, but made all four of his races over the weekend. His best lap time, 1:22.450, was in the third race, Monday morning. This translated to about 65.5mph.
Figuring in the top three in Group 1 in the first three races were a prewar Alfa (Peter Greenfield, #41), Lotus Mk IX (Carl Whitney, #215) and MG TD (Frank Filangeri, #928), but Filangeri was out by the fourth race Monday afternoon. Whitney bested the Alfa in only one race, the third, posting a best lap time of 1:08.203, or 79.2mph. Late in that race the Alfa spun and almost collected the Lotus, prompting a yellow flag, a tow truck and the race’s end. Greenfield came back for the win in race 4.
British cars totally dominated Group 2. Of the 29 entrants who qualified, 20 of them drove Brits. Triumph Spitfires, MGBs, Austin-Healeys and Ginettas were out in force, along with a brace of Elva Couriers, a Marcos, a Morgan Plus 4, a Lotus 11, a Sunbeam Alpine and a Lola Mk1. With the exception of Richard Kresch’s Fiat-engined Beach Mk4 B2, all of the top 10 qualifiers were British.
That was pretty much the story for all of the Group 2 races, with an occasional incursion into the top 10 by a Porsche 914 and an Alfa Giulietta Spider. Among the cars to watch were Dave Gussack’s #88 Spitfire, finishing 1st, 3rd, 1st, and 3rd in races 1 through 4 Rich Maloumian’s #347 Austin-Healey 100, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, and 6th and Harvey Parke’s #11 Ginetta G4, which after completing only four laps in the first race and placing last, moved up to 10th place in race 2, 7th in race 3, and 1st in race 4.
In their respective wins, Gussack posted a best lap time of 1:03.171 in race 3, or about 85.3mph, while Parke’s best time was 1:02.815 in race 4, or about 86.0mph.
Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic coupe was only one of dozens of stunning examples of the marque seen this weekend.
It wouldn’t be a vintage race without Minis, and they were to be found in Group 3 along with other tin-tops, including David Porter’s Lotus Cortina, Simon Kirkby’s Hillman Imp, and non-Brits like a Volvo 122, Alfa GTV, Lancia Fulvia and Datsun 510.
Out of place in this group to this writer’s thinking were the Datsun 240Zs that placed in the top two or three in all four races — with a two-cylinder and 1000cc advantage over the other cars. Maybe their specs don’t quite qualify them for the “Big Bore” (as in engine) class, Group 7, but then again, there were Porsches running in that group with six-cylinders of similar displacement, and wouldn’t it be interesting to see how well the Zs would do against Donovan Jaguar’s E-types?
Donald and Dennis Racine’s #61 and #177 Minis qualified mid-pack and pretty much stayed there in the three races they ran. Highest-placing of the pair was Donald, who took #61 to 6th place in race 3. The third Mini, John Gorsline’s #3, qualified next to last, did not run in the second race, and only managed a third from last in races 3 and 4.
Best of the Brits in Group 3 was David Porter’s #11 Lotus Cortina. He ran well and consistently, qualifying 6th, and then finishing 6th, 5th, 4th, and 5th in the four races. His best lap time was in race 1 — 1:04.109, about 84.2mph.
Simon Kirkby’s Imp, #771, was the other Brit we were watching in Group 3. He qualified 7th and ran all four races, but dropped out of race 3 after completing only four laps. He came back for race 4, but again left the track early. His best finish was in race 1, where he placed right behind Porter’s Cortina in 7th, posting a best lap time of 1:04.697, about 83.5mph.
Group 4, where Ernie and Stu raced, was another Brit-rich category. If you were a Lotus or MGA fan, it was definitely the place to be, with 10 of the qualifying cars being either Lotus 7s or 18 FJs. The Formula Junior versions were joined by three Stanguellinis, a Cooper, an OSCA and a Brabham. As to the MGAs, there were seven of those, with the aforementioned Bugeye Sprite and TR3, a Morgan Plus 4, an MG Midget, an AC Bristol and Stu’s Turner rounding out the British field.
Turns out the Brits at Lime Rock staged their own “reliability run,” at least in Group 4. In the very last race Monday afternoon, the field of 33 cars had dwindled to 17 — and all but one of them, Larry McKenna’s #722 Stanguellini FJ, were British. Gone were the Porsche 356A, Alfa SZ, Maserati 300S, Ferrari 250GT, OSCA FJ and two other Stanguellinis. There was some attrition among the British cars too, of course, but...
Ernie and Stu both ran four smooth, solid races. Ernie qualified 6th, then posted 7th, 10th, 8th, and 7th place finishes. Stu qualified 15th, then finished 15th, 15th, 10th and 10th — not bad for a car with the smallest engine displacement (948cc) of all the cars running.
The day, however, belonged to Lotus. William Bartlett’s #145 Lotus Super 7 took the group pole and went on to win all four races, his best lap time, 1:03.889, recorded in the first race and varying by less than 6/10 sec. subsequently. That equals about 84.5mph. Three Lotus 18 FJs with Dave Nicholas’ MGA or Bill Greenman’s MG Midget rounded out the top five.
Ernie Steubesand comes out of West Bend with his Lotus 7.
As Group 5 was solely Bugattis, it won’t be covered here, other than to say it was remarkable to witness a race-prepped Type 57SC and a 105-year-old Type 22 driven in anger around the Lime Rock track. You had to be there.
And you couldn’t come up with a group more different from those Bugattis than Group 6, dubbed “Formula Very Libre” and featuring British cars you would never see on the street — such as David Porter’s #79 March 79B FA, Jim Montana’s #12 Lola T598 or Tony Carpanzano’s #25 Argo JM-4. Rick Bell’s Australian-built Ralt FA dominated the group, taking pole and all four races, but Porter was on his tail constantly to place 2nd.
And talk about speed: Bell’s best lap time was 0:52.319 and Porter’s 0:52.521 — about 103.2mph and 102.8mph respectively! That’s fast.
Far closer to Planet Earth were the cars in Group 7, where Brits were a minority, though silent they weren’t. Only six Brits qualified in a field of 27 cars, including three E-types run by Donovan Motorsports and a fourth fielded by Douglas Fraser, plus Bill Warner’s Group 44-liveried Triumph TR8 and Robert Albino’s Sunbeam Tiger.
The Fraser E-type, TR8 and Tiger bowed out early, but the Donovan Jags grabbed the top three spots in every race save the third, when Jason Rabe’s #62 E-type spun and found itself pointed the wrong way as other Group 7 cars zipped past. Rabe would finish that race in 19th position instead of his usual 3rd or 2nd.
Rabe’s teammates, pole-sitter Jack Busch in #61 and Art Hebert in #63, took their races in 1st, 1st, 1st, and 3rd and 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, and 1st respectively. It was a Jaguar rout against seven Corvettes, three Mustangs including a Shelby GT350, seven Porsche 911s and a Camaro.
Busch broke the one-minute mark in four of his five outings on the track — in qualifying, and in races 2, 3 and 4. His best lap time was 0:58.889 in race 2, about 91.7mph. A Porsche managed the same feat, but only once — in race 2, with a lap time of 0:59.817. The other cars did not come close.
Group 7 had more than its share of drama. While Rabe’s spin was exciting, some real damage was done in the first race when Jim Glass’ #11 Corvette left the course coming into the Downhill and hit the wall hard. The race was flagged early and Glass’ car was written off for the rest of the weekend, but Glass escaped serious injury.
Another incident in race 3 involved Group 7’s Bernie Chodosh, a driver from Britain, and his very-cool-looking ’59 Corvette, aptly #59. The car also sustained damage, but was back for race 4, finishing 12th out of 17.
The eighth and final category of cars was quite a grab bag, with Lotus, Ginettas and a Chevron chasing Formula Fords (mostly British). Glenn Taylor’s PRS FF always came out on top, but Kurt Uzbay’s #42 Chevron B16, Alan Tosler’s #701 Lotus Super 7, Sandy McNeil’s #1 Lotus 23B and Tom Grudovich’s #94 Ginetta G4 at least once held a strong top-five position, scrambling the Formula cars to do so.
This group was expected to be one of the speediest and that certainly happened. The top three cars qualified in under a minute, with Uzbay in 2nd between Taylor’s car and Mark A. Malley’s Works PRS FF. In race 1, the top five cars posted best lap times of under a minute. Taylor’s best times were under a minute in all four races, the best of the best being 0:58.772 in race 1, about 91.9mph — with Uzbay’s best that race 0:58.848, about 91.8mph, and Grudovich’s 0:59.566, about 90.7mph.
Kent Bain chats with Sandy McNeil, whose Lotus 23 was awarded ‘Pick of the Paddock’ at the Sunday Concours. In two of her four races she placed in the top five in this car.
Sure enough, the vintage racing had something for everyone, from truly ancient machines to zippy little racing tubs that were themselves antique. But there were other things happening this weekend that added enormously to a fan’s pleasure.
All weekend long there was a swap meet going on in B Paddock catering to anyone looking for automobilia, vintage cars or car parts (again, mostly British). There was vendor and food truck activity along the midway, and the garages in A Paddock were always open for inspection. Author and raconteur BS Levy had his tent sent up as usual and was ready to autograph any fan’s personal copy of his latest book — or maybe his first book, The Last Open Road.
Sunday was occupied with the Concours d’Elegance they call “Sunday in the Park,” enhanced this year by all the Bugattis. The spread of Bugattis brought the Concours nearly all the way around Big Bend before the “Gathering of the Marques” club displays began — but even so, British cars were everywhere, as in the “Sports Cars to 1961” where you’d be hard-pressed to find something that wasn’t British.
A number of them took home trophies. For example, there was M. S. Koly’s 1935 Rolls-Royce 20/25, tops in the “Gatsby’s Delights” class. Tom Jaycox’s Jaguar XK120M took “Speed and Agility,” Douglas Fraser’s Lotus Elite “Businessman’s Express,” Frank Girratana’s Bentley R-type “Life at the Top in Style and Grace,” and Sandy McNeil’s Lotus 23 “Pick of the Paddock.”
Yes, that’s the same Sandy McNeil and the same car, #1, that ran all four races that weekend, making the top five in races 2 and 4. I’d like to know the name of her detailer, because the car looked fabulous.
This writer also had an interesting conversation with Roger Allard, who was at the Concours and on the midway all weekend showing off the new Allard J2X MkIII, a “continuation” (and recognized as such by the Allard Registry, the official owners’ club) of the original J2X and available with Cadillac, Corvette or Chrysler Hemi power. Strictly speaking the car isn’t British, now being produced in California, but its embrace by owners of the British-made original — which was similarly powered by a huge American V8 — certainly makes it worthy of mention in these pages, along with best wishes for the future.
Mr. Allard, by the way, is no relation to Sydney Allard, founder of the marque back in 1945.
In addition to Sunday’s festivities, there was a dinner Saturday night that featured motorsports legends David Hobbs, Geoff Brabham, Tommy Kendall, Lyn St. James, Mike Joy and Sam Posey talking about the GTP (Grand Touring Prototype) era of sports car racing, which spanned the years 1988-1991. You had to pony up some cash to attend, but part of the proceeds went to LRP’s chosen charity, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, so who could complain?
To say this was a full weekend would be an understatement. To say that it was a spot-on delight for fan and journalist alike would be to state the obvious. I’m already looking forward to Historic Festival 37.
Luis Perocarpi’s MINI JCW Team grabbed two podium steps in the ‘Lime Rock 120’, with Mat Pombo and Mike LaMarra taking the class win in #73 — just as they did in Long Beach.
Photo by Bruce Vild
Into the Bull Ring
Another Win for MINI, a 4th for McLaren on IMSA’s Shortest Track
by Bruce Vild
LAKEVILLE, Conn., July 20-21 — Now it was Lime Rock’s turn to host the IMSA races, and this session was called the Northeast Grand Prix.
Owing no doubt to the shortness of the course (1.5 miles, give or take the chicane), it was a no-prototype outing — only the two GT classes came to LRP for the WeatherTech race. That meant there would be no Gibson or AER engines roaring at Lime Rock this weekend, only those made by the likes of Porsche, Chevrolet, Lamborghini, Ford, BMW and Ferrari.
If your preferences ran toward McLarens, Astons and MINIs instead, your race was not the main event — it was the Lime Rock Park 120, part of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. And, as you’ll see when you read further, the three MINIs in the race and the lone McLaren all finished in the top five in their classes. Top four, actually.
As in all the other races on the IMSA schedule, the Conti ran first as something of an opening act, but this writer would argue (his British bias aside) that it had more to offer in terms of strategy, traffic management and variety. The short, fast track presented its own unique challenges, every moment earning its nickname “the Bull Ring.”
While McLarens #69 and #76 were on the entry list in the Grand Sport (GS) class, there was only one Aston, Automatic Racing’s #99, piloted by Rob Ecklin, Jr., and Kris Wilson. The sole Mazda MX-5, Riley Racing’s #66, returned to the Conti after sitting out Mosport, and ran with MINIs #73, #52 and #37 and the usual #21 Porsche Cayman and #81 BMW 328i in Street Tuner (ST).
Eight Audi RS3s and a VW GTI rounded out the field in the third class, Touring Car (TCR). Given the popularity of Touring Car racing in Europe, commentators predict that the TCR class will catch on with IMSA fans. It may, but it will have to attract something other than just Audi RS3s. Perhaps a MINI Clubman next year?
Practice and qualifying
Practice on Friday did not start until after 10 a.m., per the track’s agreement with the town and local homeowners. Five of the six cars we were watching were out, the exception being the #69 McLaren. (In fact, #69 was missing from all three practice sessions, qualifying and the race. Maybe they just needed a breather. They went on to finish in the top five at Road America, the next venue in the series.)
The other McLaren, Compass Racing’s #76, seemed measured and consistent, finishing 9th, 10th and 11th in the three practices, but qualifying 8th overall and 8th in class. Next in the line of British cars was the #99 Aston, qualifying 22nd overall and 18th in class, followed by the #52 MINI, 30th overall and 2nd in class, the #37 MINI, 31st overall and 3rd in class, and the #73 MINI, 33rd overall and 5th in class.
The qualifying session revealed something remarkable. On Lime Rock’s fast and unforgiving track, the spread between the top qualifier, Spencer Pumpelly in the #28 Porsche Cayman GT4 MR, and the 33rd-placed Mike LaMarra in #73, was less than 5 seconds. Standings in qualifying were determined by gaps of as little as 0.001 sec. The TCR pole, Tom O’Gorman in the #12 Audi RS3, got around the track in 55.747 sec., putting him only 0.722 sec. behind Pumpelly.
Contrast that to the pole sitter at Watkins Glen three weeks earlier, Brett Sandberg, whose best lap time in his GS Mustang was 13 seconds faster than the #73 MINI, which qualified 36th overall, and 1.574 sec. ahead of the top-gridded TCR car. Stretching the longer legs of a GS car was something to be done very carefully at Lime Rock, as a handful of drivers who spun and left the track coming out of Big Bend found out during practice.
All the cars would be gridded by class, meaning all GS cars would start first, the TCR entries behind them, and the STs behind the TCRs. But with qualifying times varying by fractions of a second, the classes would get mixed quickly and a lengthy pit stop might mean losing the lead lap. Someone mention strategy? Traffic management? Fuel, tires, and driver changes? Oh, yeah.
Just one McLaren at Lime Rock, Compass Racing’s #76, co-driven by Paul Holton and Matt Plumb.
Photo by Bruce Vild
With the track’s prohibition of racing on Sunday, IMSA was bound to a truncated schedule that meant everything had to be over and done with late Saturday afternoon. There still had to be room for fan events, such as the Mazda Corral Parade Laps and American Muscle Car Parade Laps. Each lasting all of eight minutes, they took up early Saturday morning until warm-up for the WeatherTech race at 9:05. The lunch break was from 10:15 to 10:50, and immediately following that was the Fan Walk for the Conti race!
This was an opportunity to talk to the MINI JCW Team’s manager, Luis Perocarpi, about the race. In the conversation I asked him whether he missed all the Mazda MX-5s that ran in ST last year (he didn’t — he said some of their drivers liked to bump other cars that were in their way), and if the additional, new-this-year class, TCR, would cause the MINIs traffic problems on such a short track. He wasn’t worried as much about the Audis in TCR as he was about GS cars that would lap the ST cars.
The pre-race formation laps for the Conti began at 11 a.m., and the green flag starting the race waved a few minutes later. The mixing started almost immediately. The ST Porsche, #21, hit one of the TCR Audis before the first lap was over. The Porsche pitted without a penalty, the crew worked a lot with tape, and prepared the car to re-enter the race — which it would do, but several laps down.
Rob Ecklin’s Aston was running 18th overall with a TCR car (#12) nipping at his heels, with two other TCR Audis in tow (#77 and #61). Behind the four of them was another GS car, the #65 Mercedes, which had been gridded at the rear for having the wrong driver start. It seems the paperwork required to make the change was never properly completed.
In ST, pole-sitter Nick Galante and 2nd-gridded Colin Mullan battled for the lead, and Galante’s #81 BMW started putting several seconds between himself and Mullan’s #52 MINI. The GS leaders brushed past them after barely five minutes of racing, throwing them both off the lead lap, while Jason Rabe in the #21 Porsche was seven laps down.
A TCR Audi, #75, had an off into a tire wall that resulted in significant damage, including a cracked windshield (which is a technical violation requiring replacement). Moving into the pits on its own power, the car was sent back to the paddock garage.
With a little more than an hour and a half to go, the overall leader — Pumpelly’s #28 Porsche — lapped the Aston.
It was now becoming obvious that wear and tear on the tires was leaving marbles a-plenty on the track, some of which could actually be seen bouncing across it. Tires go quickly here owing to the speed (and heat) of the track.
The #19 BMW M4 GT4 (GS) was spotted going slowly on the grass, beginning right after Big Bend, in an attempt to make it back to the pits without blocking traffic — the victim of a “touch.”
Paul Holton in the #76 McLaren went on a charge, moving up two positions, but it wasn’t as dramatic as his run into the grass at Watkins Glen that had him pass nine other cars seconds after the start.
The #66 Mazda came to a stop on the course after Big Bend, causing a full-course caution. Galante was still in the class lead, with the #52 and #73 MINIs in 2nd and 3rd. The pits opened for GS, and Holton’s McLaren, owing to pit stops by other cars, entered the pits in 2nd place. Most cars, including Holton’s, had driver changes. Matt Plumb took over, and returned the McLaren to the track in 5th.
With the race still under caution, the ST BMW pitted, allowing the Pombos to move up to 1st and 2nd in class. The Mazda’s woes were fixable — “down [several laps] but not out,” was the word, as the car got new rubber and re-entered the race.
Mike LaMarra (left) and Mat Pombo on the top podium step.
Photo by Bruce Vild
With an hour left (almost exactly), the race went to green. Number 99 pitted for a driver change to Kris Wilson, falling several positions overall. Seven of the TCR cars, including the lone VW GTI, were now ahead of it.
The #92 Mercedes tried unsuccessfully to take the lead but apparently was wearing out its tires and fell to 5th place. Plumb’s McLaren moved into 3rd place with about 54 minutes to go. Wilson’s Aston was off the lead lap at this point, and about 16 seconds behind another GS car that was off the lead. And in ST, two of the three MINIs were still in the top two places: #52, in the hands of Mark Pombo, and #73, piloted by his brother Mat.
Multimatic Motorsports’ #15 Mustang and #99 collided and ran off Big Bend. The Aston got back on its feet immediately, and #15 did the same after a brief interval as the driver took a while to restart it. An Audi coming out of pit lane was involved in the incident, and the Mustang was assessed a drive-through for contact with the two cars, but sustained sufficient damage so that the penalty was practically academic at this point.
With a little more than 31 minutes to go, commentators remarked that “the leaders are in a holding pattern now” assessing their fuel/pitting options. The #81 BMW moved into 2nd place in ST. A collision involving a GS Porsche (#5) and another Mustang (#8) with heavy impact happened shortly afterward. Immediately behind them, #81 made its move and passed the leading #52 MINI. A full course caution ensued, but the pits did not open. The Ford and Porsche both had to be towed off the field.
The race went back to green and a MINI was again on top. While the #81 BMW had passed #52, the “other Pombo” in #73 wound up in the lead in ST.
Talk about traffic! The lead TCR cars and the lead ST cars were scrambling for position alongside each other, with Mat Pombo, one lap down from the GS leaders, maintaining his own lead with one of the TCR Audis between himself and #81’s Devin Jones.
With 8-1/2 minutes to go, the #61 TCR Audi started proceeding very slowly and wound its way back to pit lane. It was 7th in a class of eight at the time.
The McLaren was running 3rd with two Mercedes, #56 and #57, on his tail. Indy Dontjie in the #57 managed to pass #76, and at the very end pulled into 2nd place, surprising the #28 Porsche. Come the checker #76 was denied its podium but finished a solid 4th, overall and in class.
Owen Trinkler and Hugh Plumb, whose #46 Mercedes ran 2nd in qualifying, won the race and the top spot on the GS podium. The #99 Ecklin-Wilson Aston finished 20th overall and 13th in class.
Touring Car was taken by Stephen Simpson’s #54 Audi after an incredible pass/loss/pass shuffle. If the name sounds familiar, he is the same Stephen Simpson who had that brilliant win in the #99 ORECA at Watkins Glen, where he passed two neck-and-neck prototypes that were battling for the lead in the last few minutes of the race and put them both behind him till the end.
And in ST, MINI #73 took the checker only half a second ahead of the 2nd place BMW, while MINI #54 grabbed 3rd — two steps of the podium again for Perocarpi and his MINI JCW Team. The third MINI, #37, which had been piloted by Nate Norenberg and Derek Jones, came 4th.
Post-race, Mike LaMarra and Mat Pombo came to the Media Center to field questions about their class win in #73. But first they commented about the fantastic support the team has, from MINI owners and fans all over the country. They were happy to bring another victory home for their many fans. Both commented about “the brand” and how strong it is.
When this writer asked what the team’s plans were for next year, as there will be no more ST, Mat said the team would love to have a TCR car in 2019, but the ultimate decision will come “from Germany.” Another possibility is for the team to go into another series (such as Pirelli?), but Mat was quick to add that the team right now is focused on this year and a good result going forward.
So far, this year has produced some great results. I can still hear them shouting “Olé!” for the MINIs at the Bull Ring.
The #99 ORECA-Gibson in its garage prior to the WTSSC race.
Photo by Bruce Vild
Hot, Hot, Hot
IMSA Comes to Watkins Glen as the Temps Break 100
by Bruce Vild
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., June 29-July 1 — If the air temperature is barely south of 100°F, how hot can the racetrack be? This writer found out the weekend IMSA brought the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to the Glen.
This was IMSA’s first outing since Le Mans, and a resumption of both series’ endurance races: four hours for the Conti, six hours for WeatherTech. Mere sprints compared to Le Mans, where two of the drivers in WeatherTech competed (good results in IMSA leading to the invitation to the 24 Hours). One of them was Nicholas Lapierre who took the LMP2 win — his third class win at Le Mans. This weekend he drove a DPi car, the #22 Tequila Patrón Nissan. Not British-engined like his Le Mans machine, but worth watching as the same car with the same drivers won this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring.
Those familiar with these articles know that the most interest lies in the LMP2 cars with their British (Gibson) connection. The usual suspects were all there for the weekend’s main event, Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen: two Ligiers, #32 and #52, and four ORECAs, #38, #54, #85 and #99. This paper has also followed the Mazda prototypes as their team — this year, Team Joest — has always run engines developed in concert with AER. Our eyes were on the #55 and #77 Mazda DPis once again.
In the Conti, Aston Martin’s ranks were up one with the addition of the #9 car by Automatic Racing. Driving it were up-and-comer Aurora Straus, Nick Longhi, and ex-MINI JCW pilot Ramin Abdolvahabi. Returning were the team’s familiar #99 Aston, run by Al Carter and Eric Lux, and #09, driven by Rob Ecklin, Jr., and Brandon Kidd.
Readers may remember that Carter almost won the Conti race at the Glen last year, only to be nudged off the track by a Mustang in the very last moments of the race and forced to finish 7th.
Along with the three Astons in the Grand Sport (GS) class were two McLaren GT4s, Motorsports in Action’s #69 and Compass Racing’s #76. Readers may also remember that Paul Holton and Matt Plumb, this year’s drivers, took #76 to 3rd place last year after achieving pole.
And then there were the MINIs in the Street Tuner (ST) class. Earlier this season, we remarked that all the Mazda MX-5s that dominated the class, at least in numbers, had left it — the only contenders remaining being the MINI JCW Team’s #37, #52 and #73 cars, a BMW 328i and a Porsche Cayman. In this particular race, the MX-5 returned (though only one, Riley Racing’s #66).
You can’t really extrapolate from the practice sessions to likely race results, but qualifying sets up the race and gives a good idea of what’s to come — all other things being equal, which, of course, they seldom are. We’ve seen fuel management strategies go sadly awry, tire issues, off-courses and spins, but no one will argue that a top-three position in qualifying doesn’t give a team a leg up.
The MINI JCW Team prepping its three cars for the Continental Tire race.
Photo by Jon Gardner
And here’s how that shook out in the Conti. The GS pole was taken by a Ford Mustang GT4 another Mustang came 2nd and a Mercedes-AMG 3rd. Highest-qualifying among the Brits was the #69 McLaren, which Jesse Lazare took to within 9/10 of a second of Brett Sandberg’s pole-sitting Mustang. It was placed 10th.
The other McLaren, #76, made 14th at the hands of Paul Holton, one position behind the top-scoring Aston, Eric Lux’s #99 (whose co-driver was Al Carter). Aurora Straus qualified #9 26th overall and 22nd in class, and Rob Ecklin, Jr., was right in line with #09 in 27th overall and 23rd in class.
There were 25 cars in the GS class, so qualifying was disappointing — especially when considering last year’s results at the Glen with the same cars. Holton took #76 to pole and Lazare was 3rd in #69 in 2017, and #99 (sans Ecklin) managed 11th. As the GS cars are the fastest ones in the Conti, position in class for these was essentially position overall.
Compass Racing, manager of the #76 McLaren, had another dog in the fight with huge potential, the #75 Audi RS3 LMS running in the series’ new Touring Car (TCR) class. Pierre Kleinubing took #75 to the pole position and would be the starting driver.
Pole in the remaining class, ST, was taken by Devin Jones in the #81 BMW 328i, but right behind him was Colin Mullan in the #52 MINI. (A word about Colin: he’s a Watkins Glen rookie, and only 16 years old.) Nate Norenberg qualified #37 4th, and Mike LaMarra brought #73 home in 5th.
In the WTSCC qualifying session, LMP2 cars held three of the top five positions. Grabbing pole was one of them, the #54 CORE Autosport ORECA driven by Colin Braun. Hot on his heels — really hot — was Brit Paul Di Resta in the #32 United Autosports Ligier, a mere 6/1000 of a second behind him.
Acura Team Penske’s two DPis followed. Qualifying 5th was Simon Trummer’s #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA. Stephen Simpson drove the team’s #99 sister car to 9th, and the remaining LMP2 car, the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA, came 10th.
As for the Mazdas, an incident during practice with #77 forced repairs that could not be completed in time for qualifying, so the car would start the race the next day in the back of the field. Meanwhile, Harry Tincknell qualified #55 13th, just behind two of the three Cadillac DPis in the session and ahead of the third.
Labeling something an endurance race might tempt some people to tune in only to the last 10 minutes or so and figure they will pretty much be satisfied they’ve seen everything essential. Not so here.
In the Conti, as soon as the green flag waved cars were bunching up three or four across, and Paul Holton made an outrageous move with two wheels in the grass that catapulted him and his McLaren from 14th on the grid to 5th in the race — passing four rows of cars.
The fastest cars barely left Turn 1 when the #75 Audi (the TCR pole-sitter) struck and spun the #9 Aston (GS), ending Aurora Straus’ race, and one of the Mustangs hit the #26 BMW (GS), which had to call it quits as well. A detached wheel bouncing across the track from this encounter added its own bit of drama — and not even a single minute had passed in this four-hour contest.
As the race progressed, there were other cautions, and teams would pit for fuel, tires and driver changes, with everyone watching wide-eyed how these three factors were playing out in the heat. Cockpit temperatures easily exceeded 100°.
Eric Lux was the man to watch in the #99 Aston. Though he qualified 13th within the first hour he had advanced to 7th and shortly after that to 5th. He advanced another position after a full-course caution and was soon running 3rd.
However, #99 had some rear end damage, with something under the bumper flapping. Would race officials force it into the pits to have the crew remove it? Lux was still driving very aggressively, and even had a light touch with the Mustang in front of him — but backed off before it got him into trouble.
Then, about 15 minutes before the halfway point, the Mustang turned toward Lux, who tried to avoid the car by going on the curb, and both cars touched. Seconds later the Mustang spun and headed into the tire wall. Lux was now running 2nd, but would there by a penalty? The incident was reviewed, and no action against Lux was recommended.
Automatic Racing ran three Astons, including the ill-fated #9 car driven by Aurora Straus.
Photo by Jon Gardner
The Mustang went straight to the pits, and the crew attempted a repair of the right rear fender with tape — which, unfortunately for driver Martin Barkey, did not last. The car by the race’s halfway mark was running 20th overall, 16th in class.
Lux meanwhile was “gently nudging” the leader, then pitted shortly afterward for a driver change to Al Carter (and to deal with the dangling rear piece? Apparently not, as a later touch by a different Mustang led to more dangling and flapping). Carter would slip to 14th overall, but as other cars pitted, Rob Ecklin would advance in #09 Aston to 3rd.
Ecklin finished his stint with a little more than an hour and a half to go, handing over to Brandon Kidd with a full service in the pits and four new tires. Positions were jumbled as other teams pitted, and a TCR car (the #77 Audi) found itself suddenly in the overall lead! But the Audi pitted shortly afterward for fuel, and the stop was delayed by a misaligned filler. The car not only lost the overall lead, it dropped to 17th overall and 3rd in TCR.
Carter in #99 was now in 6th, Plumb 4th in the #76 McLaren. A Mustang that had passed Carter after a prolonged battle for 5th place was penalized for blocking and charged with a drive-through, losing 5th place and moving Carter up to 4th.
Carter was dogged by a BMW for several laps. Driver Tyler Cooke did a masterful pass, pushing Carter (figuratively) to 5th. Carter eventually pitted for a few sips of fuel and got back to the race as soon as he could, but he had dropped to 8th.
Holton was running as high as 4th in his McLaren, and pitted (mistakenly?) when a Mercedes was sidelined by a seized right rear brake. There was a caution, but the pits were not open. Sadly for Holton and Compass Racing, it was not a “mistake.” The car had a problem. The crew gave it a splash of petrol, but then decided to retire the car — with a malfunctioning fuel pump.
The action was not limited to GS and TCR. With a bit more than a half hour to go, the leading BMW in ST, car #81, lost two positions after a prolonged pit stop. The #52 MINI vaulted into the class lead and #73 into 2nd. The third MINI, #37, was in 5th, behind the BMW and the #21 Porsche.
Lux was back in the #99 Aston, but had fallen to 18th position Brandon Kidd, Ecklin’s co-driver, was struggling with #09 in 12th position. The remaining McLaren, #69, was in 20th.
Ten minutes to go, the #81 BMW passed #73 but remained nearly 8-1/2 seconds behind the #52 car. Mat Pombo came back, however, and regained 2nd with less than five minutes to go. But literally a lap before the end, #73 parked off course between two pieces of Armco with skidmarks on the tracks — a classy move by Mat Pombo, so that no one else’s race (including his brother’s) would be spoiled by an obstruction and a caution.
So much for a 1-2 Pombo MINI finish it would turn out to be a 1-4 instead. Car #73’s run had been halted by the failure of an axle boot, something we’ve seen with the team cars before. The third MINI, #37, finished 5th, but was running at the end.
Taking overall victory was a Ford Mustang, the #8 car co-driven by Chad McCumbee (who qualified 2nd) and Patrick Gallagher. Completing the podium were a BMW M4 GT4 and another Mustang. The three cars were also the class leaders (GS).
In TCR, two of Compass Racing’s other three cars, the #77 and #74 Audi RS3s, grabbed class positions 1 and 2, followed by a third Audi, #54. Those Audis qualified 2nd, 3rd and 8th in class respectively. Of note: of the eight cars on the TCR entry list, all were Audi RS3s except for one VW GTI. The GTI finished 5th in class, after having qualified 6th out of eight entries.
A MINI on three wheels!
Photo by Bruce Vild
A driver change put CORE Autosport’s pole-sitting #54 ORECA at the back of the field, which jumbled the grid this morning (Sunday, July 1st). Paul Di Resta, #32 United Autosports Ligier, would start 1st, Jonathan Bennett would start #54 16th completing the top three would be two Acura DPis, the first Ricky Taylor’s #7 car and the second Dane Cameron’s #6. Both Mazdas started downfield.
The “start your engines!” prompt happened at 9:34 a.m. The start had Cameron leap ahead of Di Resta, and then moments later the #2 Tequila Patrón Nissan DPi and #90 Spirit of Florida Racing Cadillac DPi collided. The Cadillac had gone sideways and the Nissan tried to avoid it but was struck in the rear by its sister car, #22. This resulted in the race’s first full-course caution.
The damage to car #22 sent it back to the garage for 11 laps worth of repairs and dashed any hope for a podium finish for driver Nico Lapierre, though the car would gamely re-enter the race.
The woes of #90 continued, touching the #6 Acura and spinning off course and backwards into a wall. The incident was soon under investigation by officials, but no action was recommended. Cameron continued to lead with Di Resta following, but there was some damage to the front of the Acura — though not enough to prompt the pit crew to have a spare nose on hand for Cameron when he would pit.
At the half-hour mark, Taylor had lost a position to the #99 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA, now in 3rd with Stephen Simpson driving — who, remarkably, was driving without a drink spout because it wasn’t working. This prompted some facetious remarks from the commentators that Simpson, who had moved up four places since the race start, is driving as fast as he can to use up the fuel, pit, and get out of the car!
By the time this happened, #6 had pitted and lost its lead Di Resta was back on top Gustavo Yacaman was 2nd in the #52 Ligier. Number 6 re-entered the race and moved up to 2nd as other cars pitted, then reclaimed the lead when #32 pitted.
There was a full-course caution called when a chunk of the #2 Nissan flew off the car — a “big enough piece” to prompt the yellow flag. At this point, with more than five hours left to the race, Cameron was 1st, #6 Acura Simpson 2nd, #99 ORECA Taylor 3rd, #7 Acura. Gibson engines powered the next three cars, the #32 Ligier (with new driver Phil Hanson), the #52 Ligier (still with Yacaman) and the #85 ORECA (Simon Trummer). The Mazda DPis were running 11th and 12th, as they had for several laps.
The #77 Mazda, which had been missing from yesterday’s qualifying session, had been completely rebuilt for the race, and when the race went to green was being piloted by Tristan Nunez.
The #2 Nissan continued to have a bad day. Now at the hands of Ryan Dalziel it was parked at Turn 5, reportedly losing power coming out of the Esses. The car retired, joining the team’s #22 car. The engine in that one had failed after completing only eight laps.
A battle for 2nd position was very much afoot as Ricky Taylor attempted to pass Stephen Simpson, who very skillfully used the slower GT traffic to keep his advantage. Simpson finally pitted, still ahead after an incredible performance — and Taylor led, though only briefly, as he too pitted at the next opportunity for tires and fuel.
Hanson led briefly in the #32 Ligier Cameron was 2nd, still in the cockpit of the #6 Acura. The #77 Mazda was slowing on the track, then picking up, then slowing again. The car and its sister, #55, had been bedeviled by electrical problems all weekend. Within minutes, #77 was seen heading back to the paddock. Number 55, with Spencer Pigot in control, was still in the race.
When Cameron finally handed over to co-driver Juan Pablo Montoya, he was drenched with sweat head to toe as the outside temperature continued climbing. It was nothing less than a triple stint.
Strategy, of course, remains king, whether a sprint or an enduro. Bruno Senna was now in the lead in the #32 Ligier, and the team decided to sacrifice the position and pit for fuel to be in good stead relative to everyone else for the finish of the race. (Yeah, I would, too.) In no time after #32 rejoined the race it was up to 2nd position, just behind #6, and well positioned to cruise past when the Acura pitted for fuel later. Race commentators were predicting an eight-lap fuel advantage over the Acura at this point.
And with a little more than two hours to go, Senna was back in 2nd, behind Cameron, with Felipe Albuquerque’s #5 Cadillac DPi just behind Senna. Cameron was leading by 2.4 seconds, then by only 1.43.
ORECA-Gibson #99 (left) gains position, and keeps it, on the #6 Acuri DPi.
Photo by Jon Gardner
Number 77, which had left for the paddock some time ago, rejoined the race with about 1:54 to go. The sister car, #55, had to serve a drive-through penalty, and then started to turn its fastest laps in the race to make it up.
When #6 pitted shortly later, Senna was again in the lead, with the #54 car — which, remember, had been sent to the back at the start of the race — was running 2nd, with pole winner Colin Braun at the wheel. In 3rd was the #52 Ligier, with a new driver, Sebastian Saavedra, followed by Chris Miller in the #99 ORECA. The top four positions were held by LMP2 cars.
The clock ran down. With 47 minutes to go, Braun was on top in #54, the number 2 car now the #6 Acura with Montoya at the wheel, but 10.156 seconds behind (at one point a couple of laps earlier, it was a full lap behind). At 43 minutes to go, the two Penske Acuras pitted for a splash of fuel and fresh rubber, but no driver change. (Would the leaders stay behind the wheel until the end?)
A fragment of tire from one of the Audis rolled into the middle of the course, prompting another full-course caution. Positions changed again as cars pitted for fuel and tires, and the #10 Cadillac DPi, driven by Jordan Taylor and opting not to pit, now had the lead. Montoya, however, wasn’t hearing any of it when the race turned to green. He made his move and the Acura overtook the Cadillac, but then lost ground. The two cars were side by side and nearly nudging each other — when through the melee came Stephen Simpson, back in the saddle of the #99 ORECA.
Simpson effected a wide pass around both the DPis and grabbed the lead with only 35 minutes to go!
The minutes kept ticking away. Montoya was still running 2nd. Taylor faltered, and Paul Di Resta, back in the #32 Ligier, was now 3rd. Romain Dumas, in the #54 ORECA soon was in 4th, Taylor falling to 5th.
It was a nailbiter to the very end. Montoya would not let go. He gained some time as the #55 Mazda, now running 10th, got in Simpson’s way as he tried to put some distance between himself and the Acura. But Simpson got through, and in the remaining laps used the GT traffic to his own advantage, always managing to get the slower cars in front of Montoya to block him.
And now Dumas started posing a threat to Montoya.
Simpson got the white flag and in the last lap was far enough ahead to bring it all home for JDC-Miller Motorsports. And, seconds before Montoya was about to cross the finish line, Dumas passed him and the #54 ORECA grabbed 2nd.
So, do the DPis have an advantage in shorter races, where tweaking opportunities are virtually endless and only have to last two hours or less, while Gibson-powered cars — the LMP2s, with their spec determined by the demands and challenges of the 24 Hours of Le Mans — have it in the enduros because they’re built for same?
Pole-sitter and LMP2 driver Colin Braun commented when I posed a similar question to him that the DPi cars have “better torque,” which could explain their victories in this year’s series’ shorter-distance and sprint races. He said he liked the Gibson engine, however, and while modifications for a particular race are limited with a spec engine, the team running it does not get distracted by all the balance of performance issues the DPi teams have to address with different engine types, whether they are naturally aspirated or turbocharged, the number of cylinders they use, and so on.
Race commentators spent some time discussing the apparent fuel economy of the Gibson engines compared to what the DPi cars run. They observed that the various DPis had fuel tanks of (slightly) varying capacities, while all the Gibson-powered cars have tanks of equivalent capacity, 75 liters (which, while comparable to the DPis, is on the large side). Does this result in fewer pit stops for fuel, a distinct advantage best realized during longer-term races? Hmm...
Let’s see what happens at Petit Le Mans.