The Continental Road Race Showcase at Road America will be remembered for the insanity that broke out in the final five minutes as surprise wins for CORE autosport in Prototype victory and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing in GT Le Mans turned the anticipated outcomes upside down.
It started with the polesitting JDC-Miller LMP2 of Robert Alon running off into the distance, featured all three Cadillac DPi-V.Rs controlling the middle and ending stages, and closed with Mazda pitting from the lead for fuel with two laps to go.
Colin Braun, fresh off the overall win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in the No. 54 ORECA 07-Gibson he shares with team owner Jon Bennett, used a soft right foot to stretch the little bit of fuel in the tank to make it two-for-two. The Texan, cruising on the final lap, had the No. 99 JDC-Miller/GAINSCO Motorsports ORECA 07-Gibson driven by Watkins Glen winner Stephen Simpson in his mirrors (+2.389s) as the checkered flag waved overhead.
Action Express Racing’s Felipe Nasr, who led a significant portion of the race in his No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R, made it a photo finish with Simpson as he crossed the line (+0.008s) in the final podium position.
“He’s the hero here,” Bennett said of Braun, who was stranded trackside waiting for a tow in after the No. 54 ran out of fuel on the cool-down lap. “Driving fast and saving fuel. It was a very thin win today on fuel saving, but that’s strategy.”
“We had some amazing calls on pit strategy that got me to second,” Braun added. “Just a fantastic day. At Mosport was showed a lot of speed and here we showed we could win a different way.”
After Braun qualified the car third overall, the No. 54 was moved to the back of the class when Bennett was dropped in to take the green flag. Spending 31 minutes in the car to open the race, Bennett pitted and handed over to Braun with a considerable gap to overcome. Fortuitous timing — pitting just as the yellow flag came out — helped considerably as the No. 54 and Nasr’s No. 31 shot to the front when the rest of the class pitted the following lap.
Having leapfrogged the bulk of the competition, Braun dug in his heels and kept Nasr in sight. Supreme speed and fuel-saving efforts came together in the cockpit and by the end of the 2h40m contest, CORE had solved a complex puzzle to outduel the entire DPi field and give the ORECA 07 LMP2 chassis three straight wins.
The drama in Prototype was matched in GT Le Mans as BMW Team RLL appeared to have its first win with the new M8 GTE within its grasp, but electrical problems with Jesse Krohn’s No. 24 took it out of contention in the final hour and the sister No. 25 was ready to save the day until its twin-turbo V8 was left with nothing to burn in the combustion chambers.
Connor De Phillippi was on the highest of highs as he tried to complete the final laps, but started running out of fuel heading up the hill to pit lane. The American’s car stalled, rolled backwards behind the wall, and sat and watched as Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 Ford GT secured the Blue Oval’s fourth consecutive win. Corvette’s Tommy Milner (+7.938s) and Antonio Garcia (+8.798s) rounded out the podium.
“I was sweating for the Corvettes coming up behind us and the BMW ran out of fuel,” Ryan Briscoe said of his teammate Westbrook. “Great drive by Rick there. Flawless drive. Awesome job by everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing this weekend. It’s an exciting championship, for sure. Four wins in a row; we love the wins and hope we can keep winning.”
Patrick Long and Christina Nielsen turned the disappointment from the most recent race at Lime Rock into elation as the Wright Motorsports team captured its first GT Daytona victory with the No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3 R.
Having set pole at Lime Rock and plummeted to eighth in class at the finish, Long took pole at Road America, spent the day running at or near the front with Nielsen in the car, made a daring late-race pass on the championship-leading Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3, and claimed a convincing victory for the Wright crew.
PMR’s Bryan Sellers (+3.851s) and Scuderia Corsa’s Alessandro Pier Guidi (+8.963s), who made a thrilling pass of his own in the final moments, completed the top three.
“We were so close to a podium at Lime Rock, and to finally be here and carry momentum is amazing,” Nielsen said. “I can’t thank Wright enough. It’s just great for the people that put this program together. I’m so happy.”
“That was a special race with a close friend Bryan Sellers,” Long said of chasing and passing the Lamborghini driver. “I put it all on the line, he raced me clean. The car was on rails all weekend and at the end I went for it and it played out.”
P2s have DPis on the ropes and the CORE team has jumped to third in the Prototype standings. Ford has won five of eight GTLM races this year but has Corvette breathing down its neck. And the duo of Sellers and Madison Snow have nearly doubled their GTD points lead.
With three rounds left to run, there’s plenty of time for more surprises before IMSA crowns its next set of champions.