The Tequila Patron ESM Ligier Nissan DPis were both in early trouble, caught up in a first lap drama as the No.90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac DPi in the hands of Tristan Vautier made light contact with the No.31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac of Felipe Nasr, sending the No. 90 half-spinning and triggering major avoidance from the field behind. Vautier managed to hold the spin, recovered the car despite light contact to the front from the No. 55 Mazda, but was then collected by the No.2 of Scott Sharp who moved to the inside in avoidance and lost control, sending both cars spinning.
At the same moment, Pipo Derani in the sister No.22 ESM Ligier Nissan went to the outside and lost control, clanging the barrier and going behind the wall for attention to the nose, but while the pits were closed for the inevitable safety car they would rejoin 10 laps down.
Mazda had another day to forget; the No.77 Mazda RT24P DPi suffered early electrical (engine management) trouble and never featured, and the sister No.55 couldn’t finding sustainable pace to threaten the dominant players here.
The No.7 Penske Acura led early on, but before halfway was in trouble with an electronic glitch that left the car tumbling down the order.
GTLM fell to the No.66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand after a race that Mueller described afterward as “a roller coaster.”
That seemed an appropriate description, given that the car suffered an upshifting glitch mid-race that dropped the No.66 from the lead to sixth in class before it was dealt with in a routine pit stop — but not before Mueller was left to battle with a car without effective traction control for a full stint.
“We leapfrogged everybody when we came in a little shorter and got lucky on that yellow [with under 40 minutes minutes to go for debris],” said Mueller. “My team manager told me, ‘buddy if you want to win that race you have to give us your best ever out lap in your life. We need it in order to jump ahead of the Corvette.’ And again we were low on [tire] pressure. I know we always get told not to really push hard there but I pushed like crazy and that basically jumped us ahead of the Corvette and just sailed it home. Sounds easy. But it wasn’t. I gave it all. I was a sweaty one.”
“All these guys, all our boys who did these pit stops today did such a great job, it was a flawless race for us,” said Hand. “I love this race, I love this Independence Day week Fourth of July. I’m so thankful to be American. So thankful to drive for Ford and Chip Ganassi Racing.”
The race, seemingly dominated by the Fords in the opening stages, saw periods when the Porsches and the Corvettes moved into contention.
The No.3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia would come home a deserved close second, just 1.6 seconds back from the winning Ford with the two CORE autosport-run Porsche 911 RSRs next up after battling performances from both. The No. 911 car took the final podium place after Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet won a race-long duel with the sister car.
The BMW Team RLL M8 GTEs were never in real contention, the No. 24 car behind the wall early on with electrical trouble, the sister No.25 finishing a lap off the class leaders in a frustrating run for the Bavarian manufacturer.
The No.96 Turner Motorsports BMW M6 GT3 was victorious in GTD, with Finnish driver Markus Palttala due most of the plaudits for repeated stints of pace and consistency after teammates Don Yount and Dillon Machavern produced solid, error-free runs and the BMW gradually drove into contention as other front-runners hit trouble.
“It’s a real accomplishment to beat some of the best drivers in the world with up-and-coming race drivers that just did a fantastic job,” team owner Will Turner said. “Markus was the last one and he came over the finish line, but he didn’t win the race for us. All my drivers won the race, all our pit stops won the race for us. It just came together. We took care of the tires, they did great at the end of the race for us and we were able to pull ahead. It’s a great feeling.”
Principal among those having issues was the leading No.29 Montaplast from Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3, which was dealt a stop and 60-second hold penalty in the final half hour for working on the car when the pits were closed. The team attempted to protest the penalty but were eventually handed an additional drive-through for failing to observe the first penalty. They opted to park the car — another unhappy conclusion to an event for the team after their fuel-rig-related traumas at Daytona.
That left the podium to be completed by the hard-charging No.86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 of championship leader Katherine Legge and Alvaro Parente, the NSX battling hard throughout the race with all comers, and by the No.48 Paul Miller racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow, another pairing that pushed hard all day, a podium finish a deserved reward.
Jack Hawksworth finished just off the podium in the No.15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 that the Englishman shared with David Heinemeier Hansson and Mario Farnbacher. The car led for significant periods from its pole position start but fell back after Hawksworth was understood to have misheard a pit call for a penalty actually assessed against another car.