The No.99 GAINSCO JDC-Miller ORECA 07 Gibson took the first LMP2 overall win in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship in almost a year after an enthralling Sahlens Six Hours of the Glen on Sunday.
As Watkins Glen sweltered in near 100-degree temperatures, the major LMP2 runners finally had the upper hand after much discussion over the disparity in pace between the ‘spec’ Gibson-engined LMP2s and the DPi-spec cars.
The winning car, brought to the finish by Stephen Simpson, and shared with teammates Chris Miller and Misha Goikhberg, left it late to take the lead, with Simpson making a hero pass for the lead after a full-course yellow with 40 minutes to go saw the newly confirmed American citizen take advantage in dramatic fashion of a door-to-door battle between Jordan Taylor and Juan Pablo Montoya as the No.10 Konica Minolta Cadillac and No.6 Acura Team Penske men tried to make a decisive break as the race went green.
As Montoya tried around the outside of Taylor, Simpson, running third in the train, saw space up the inside and went three-wide to grab the inside line, taking a lead that was never threatened in the final stages to bring the JDC-Miller squad a long-awaited first overall IMSA win by almost two seconds.
“I don’t really know what to say,” said Simpson, who put the GAINSCO colors back in victory lane for the first time since a GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series race at Circuit of The Americas in 2013. “Setting me up for that restart was the guys in the pits. I mean, we jumped a bunch of cars. I wasn’t sure if we could get there on fuel, but the guys weren’t saying anything to save extra fuel in my car, so I thought, ‘I’m going to go for it.’
“I don’t know who the guy was in the Penske car, but him and [Taylor] slowed each other down enough going up the Esses. I don’t know, I might have had some wheels on the grass there, but I wasn’t lifting off. After that, I really expected a lot of hard work from the Penske behind me, and after a lap or two, I realized that I had a bit more speed than he did. I wanted to build a gap and make sure that when I got to some GT traffic, I had a bit of a gap. I learned from last year. I’m just so proud of this team.”
Montoya was left to push hard to try to hang on, but ultimately the ex-IndyCar and Formula 1 star would lose second position in the final turn as the Acura coughed — low on fuel — and Romain Dumas, fresh from his win at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb last weekend, found a way by to beat the Acura DPi home by 0.142s in the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA 07 Gibson shared with Jon Bennett and Colin Braun, clinching an LMP2 one-two with the overall podium featuring a trio of ORECA chassis.
The CORE team had opted pre-race to cede their pole position to strategically place Jon Bennett in the car from the start. The gamble paid off as Bennett stayed on the lead lap in his opening stint and found a fortunately timed full-course yellow allowed him to rejoin the back of the Prototype train and repeat the performance for a second stint that would qualify him for the Trueman Akin award, the winner (determined among non-Pro drivers in the four IMSA endurance races) qualifying for an entry to the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours.
The other major player in the dramas that raged throughout the six hours for the overall win would come home a very disappointed fourth — ex-F1 and current DTM star Paul Di Resta brought home the No.32 United Autosports Ligier JS P217 Gibson off the podium in a race that the whole team will believe they should have won after leading on multiple occasions with all three drivers, Di Resta joined by Bruno Senna and impressive 18-year-old Englishman Phil Hanson in the car entered by the U.S.-flagged team co-owned by Richard Dean and McLaren F1 CEO Zak Brown.
That prospect was made much tougher as Di Resta and Braun pushed hard to catch the then-leading No.6 Acura DPi deep into the fifth hour. With the Ligier ahead and dealing with traffic, there was contact from the rear by the ORECA — both cars would pit, the Ligier requiring attention to deal with bodywork rubbing on the left rear tire.
That left United Autosports having to gamble on not fitting new tires in the final stop, and ultimately that was a gamble that didn’t pay off, Di Resta holding off Dumas until the final few minutes before dropping back to retain a comfortable fourth over a trio of Cadillac DPis that, on pace, were never a threat.