Numbers don’t lie, and what they tell us as we prepare to enter the final round of both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup is that the entire GT Le Mans (GTLM) field is capable of exiting Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort as Patrón Endurance Cup champions.
The Patrón Endurance Cup rewards competitors in the four classic endurance races on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule. Petit Le Mans will award points at the four-hour mark, eight-hour mark and the finish, with five points for first; four points for second; three points for third; and two points for all remaining competitors following each of the three segments.
Corvette Racing won both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida with Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, but the team has only a one-point lead (27-26) in the GTLM class over four sets of drivers: Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, Earl Bamber and Frederic Makowiecki of the No. 911 and 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSRs, Watkins Glen winners Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT and Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM.
“It’s all about winning the Tequila Patrón Endurance Cup,” Auberlen said. “I think you’ll see us take opportunities with our pitting in order to be leading at certain times, in order to win the Patrón Cup. It will definitely be a consideration; we would love to come home with that championship. We haven’t had a ton of luck with the BMW M6 this year, even though it’s shown to be a great car. To win that championship would be the icing on the cake.”
Also close behind are Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen of Corvette Racing with 23 points, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller as well as Scuderia Corsa’s Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra with 21 points, Lucas Luhr and John Edwards of BMW Team RLL with 20 points and the Risi Competizione pairing of Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander with 18 points.
In the Prototype class, Action Express Racing’s Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa hold a slim two-point lead over Tequila Patrón ESM drivers Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek and Pipo Derani in a bid for a third consecutive Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. Driving the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette Daytona Prototype, Barbosa and Fittipaldi won the most recent round, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
“Winning the Patrón Endurance Cup is definitely on our minds,” said Barbosa. “We want to win that competition again – we’d love to do a sweep of both that and the Prototype championship like we did the past two years.
“We’re going to do everything we can to win both of them again. We’re going to have to be very smart, to be in the best position at the four- and eight-hour marks, and obviously at the end of the race. But it’s not going to be easy. The competitors are very strong, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Barbosa and Fittipaldi have 35 points, followed by Sharp, van Overbeek and Derani with 33, who were joined by Patrón Spirits President and CEO Ed Brown with victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida in the No. 2 Honda Ligier JS P2. Prototype championship leaders Dane Cameron and Eric Curran, drivers of Action Express Racing’s No. 31 Engineering/Team Fox Corvette DP, are third with 29 points.
“We’ve been very happy with how the car has been performing and how the team has been glued together,” said Derani. “I think if we keep this spirit, we should be very competitive at Road Atlanta. I haven’t been to that track before – like the other three races I’ve done this year – but I’ve heard only good things about it and I can’t wait to hit the track. Obviously, it’s amazing, being in a Patrón car and having the chance to fight for the championship, but we don’t think about it too much. Like a normal race, we want to go there to win and do our best, and see how it ends up.”
In GTD, Alex Job Racing’s No. 23 Team Seattle/Heart of Racing Porsche GT3 R of Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas holds a one-point lead Rolex 24 class-winning drivers John Potter and Andy Lally in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3, 28-27.
“We’ve been working on this since Daytona; our goal has been collecting points any time we could,” Farnbacher said. “We will have Ian James back in the car for Petit Le Mans. We’re pretty confident that we can do it – it’s our target, for sure.”
Scuderia Corsa’s WeatherTech Championship GTD leaders Christina Nielsen and co-drivers Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal are third with 26 points in the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3, one point better than the Stevenson Motorsports No. 9 Audi R8 LMS GT3 with drivers Matt Bell and Lawson Aschenbach.
PC features a unique situation, where Kenton Koch leads the driver standings with 34 points, while PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and drivers Tom Kimber-Smith and Jose Gutierrez lead the team competition with 32 points, followed by JDC-Miller Motorsports’ drivers Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson and Chris Miller with 29 points. After winning at Daytona and finishing fourth at Sebring with JDC-Miller Motorsports, Koch placed second at Watkins Glen with Performance Tech Motorsports, and will drive for that team in the finale.
“Winning the Patrón Cup—and the PC season championship – would be huge,” said Alon, a three-time TOTAL Pole Award winner and two-time race winner in 2016 in PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ No. 52 ORECA FLM09. “A lot of teams go out and say they just want to win races, they don’t worry about championships, but this is a big focus in our team. We’re all confident in that we want to win both championships – that would be huge for us, for sure.”
Coverage for the Petit Le Mans presented by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort at Road Atlanta begins on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 11 a.m. ET on FOX Sports GO, and will run for the entire race. The race can also be viewed on FS1 from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET and again on FS2 from 2:30 – 6 p.m. ET. IMSA.com will carry live in-car cameras, timing & scoring and IMSA Radio coverage for the entire race.