Action Express Racing’s Corvette DPs swapped paint and swapped the lead during Sunday’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road Atlanta, and when the 2h40m contest was over, the No. 31 AXR Corvette held on to claim their second victory of the year ahead of the sister No. 5 entry.
The Whelen Engineering-sponsored No. 31 started the race with Eric Curran at the controls, and with Michael Marsal’s crash in the No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 triggering the first and only caution, Curran pitted the No. 31 to hand off to Dane Cameron just 29 minutes into the event. With Cameron in for the rest of the race, the Californian went on a tear.
Returning to the track immediately behind 2014 Prototype Drivers’ co-champion Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 AXR car, Cameron attempted to get by when Fittipaldi was baulked by a slower car, and with the Brazilian showing no mercy for his stablemate, paint was exchanged as he kicked sideways under acceleration as the Corvette DPs drag raced up the hill towards Turn 6. Fittipaldi would win the battle, but as the race unfolded, Cameron’s constant attack and brilliant race strategy calls from the No. 31 crew would make the difference.
“The competition in the prototype category is unbelievable,” said an elated Cameron. “It was hard to get it done on the track when everyone is that close together. So we took a different strategy and Simon got us a lot of clean air and were able to get some good laps out. These races, you have to be perfect to win, you’re flat out for every single lap. Every morning before, when we have our pre-race meetings, the goal is to finish 1-2. It might have taken a few races to get there, but it’s always to goal for each race.”
Pitting Cameron early to separate the No. 31 from the other front runners gave the Whelen car a gap to work with, and with the freedom to maximize his lap times, Cameron would come out ahead when the leaders eventuall made their stops.
“We were at the back end of the queue so at that point, why not do something different,” Cameron explained. “If you can get yourself some clean air, it could give you something of an advantage.”
A late spin by Joao Barbosa in the No. 5 dropped the series co-champion 14.3 seconds behind Cameron at the finish, but he was able to hold second ahead of the pole-sitting No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford EcoBoost DP, which took third with Scott Pruett behind the wheel.
Pruett’s teammate Joey Hand led early, but pitted to have an issue in the engine bay resolved and lost enough time to strip them from any chance of converting their pole into the No. 01’s first win of 2015.
For Cameron, who won the most recent GT Daytona event at Lime Rock, it marked his third win of the season across two TUDOR Championship categories.
Of the four classes in action on Sunday, only GT Le Mans proved to be a bit formulaic as the factory Porsche North America team led from pole and completed a 1-2. Their win, however, was far from ordinary as the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR drove from the back of the field after missing out on qualifying with an engine problem, and rallied to take the lead from the pole-sitting No. 912 911 RSR.
Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet helped Porsche capture their third consecutive GTLM win, and until the penultimate corner on the final lap, it looked like Porsche would finish a 1-3 as Risi Competizione’s second-place Pierre Kaffer banged wheels and slid off track while trying to keep Jorg Bergmeister in the No. 912 behind his Ferrari F458. With Kaffer taking a high-speed ride through the grass, Bergmeister took an easy second while Kaffer earned third.
The performance from the No. 911 drivers was remarkable considering Pilet started 32nd in the 33-car field, and with Tandy closing, the pair motored past the entire GTLM field to take first in class and 13th overall.
“To start very last, and work your way through, not by luck, not by bits and pieces, but by strategy and racing. It’s a great way to win races, isn’t it?” said Tandy. “It came down to the battle between Porsche and Ferrari as we saw. But Earl got a good gap and it all sort of consolidated. I was battling with Giancarlo, and we were racing with each other. All of our cars are slightly better in each areas. You try to force the other guy to make a mistake, that’s our job as a race car driver. From a fans point of view, and sitting on the box watching, its fun watching Patrick pull away, but it was fun to watch the race between the Porsche and Ferrari, how many times have we seen that?”
A great see-saw battle between the PC front row saw Performance Tech Racing’s No. 38 car and RSR Racing’s No. 11 PC. James French initially led from pole in the No. 38, but Chris Cumming eventually got by in the No. 11, and when it was time for their professional co-drivers to take over, the drama only intensified. Conor Daly held the lead after the last pit stop in the No. 38 and appeared to have a comfortable margin over Bruno Junqueira in the No. 11, but Junqueira ate away at the five-second gap, and by the last lap, was only a half-second behind the young IndyCar driver.
Daly came tantalizingly close to his first IMSA win at Road America, but locked up and spun in Turn 5, handing the RSR team their second victory of 2015. A gutted Daly would get moving to claim second ahead of CORE autosport’s Colin Braun in the No. 54 PC.
“To push hard [was the key to winning the race],” said Junqueira. “I got the car, in the first corner he [Conor Daly] got past me, as I was coming out of the pits on cold tires. I caught him and I tried to pass him a couple times. I got stuck behind him a couple of times. I had to do the whole lap behind him. We got into traffic and he needed up with like a four-second gap. And with four laps to go, I knew it was now or never. So I took almost a second a lap pushing 100 percent.
“On the last lap, I was close to him on turn 1 and braked as deep as I could. I braked really late going into 10. I gave him left on the exit, he tried to squeeze and he ended up spinning. Conor drove really well, and it was really exciting to try and catch him. The fans got to see a lot of exciting racing there in the final minutes of the race. “
Pace and start pit strategy ensured the No. 33 Riley Technologies Dodge Viper took over the lead with less than 20 minutes left as the No. 007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage driven by Kuno Wittmer was forced to stop for fuel. With the French-Canadian sitting idle on pit lane, Jeroen Bleekemolen swept by in the No. 33 Viper and stretched out to a 12.7-second win with car owner/co-driver Ben Keating.
“No doubt, it has been a difficult season for the 33 car,” Keating said after celebrating his first win the No. 33 this year. “We had a good car the entire season, but it feels great to finally stand on the top step of the podium. We ran the exact strategy that we expected to run. The race kind of came to us being green until the end. If a yellow came out in the last hour, I think we would have come out third. It was nice to have the race come to us where the 007 and 48 car had to pit. When it all washed out, we just had to save our tires and our fuel. The whole team did a great job, Riley gave us a great car and Jeroen drove a great race.”