The season finale of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge – and final race for entitlement partner Continental Tire – provided no shortage of emotions on Friday at Road Atlanta.
With the drop of the green flag, celebrations were already in order for the No. 46 Team TGM Mercedes-AMG GT4, who came into the two-hour Fox Factory 120 with a large enough lead in the Grand Sport (GS) standings that required the team to only start the race to clinch the team’s first title. With an 11th-place finish, they finished with a 25-point lead (281-256) over Kyle Marcelli and Nate Stacy in the No. 60 KohR Motorsports / Roush Performance Ford Mustang GT4.
“This day has been building since Laguna [Seca] and I am so thankful for (team owner) Ted [Giovanis], and for Hugh [Plumb], he’s a great co-driver, and for Guy Cosmo,” said co-driver Owen Trinkler. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity that Ted has given us, and to Mercedes for giving us such an awesome car. They delivered the car on January 1st and this car completed every lap, the only team to do that in the series. That shows our consistency – we may not have always had the fastest car, but we played our strategy right, kept it clean and had a great year.”
And with the drop of the checkered flag, it was BimmerWorld Racing’s long overdue time to cheer.
James Clay, alongside Tyler Cooke in the No. 82 BimmerWorld Racing BMW M4 GT4, delivered the car’s first overall North American victory by nearly nine seconds after leading the final 19 laps of the race. The win is a series first for Clay, and Cooke’s first since 2013.
But there was another significant first for BimmerWorld at the end of the race – the No. 81 BMW 328i of Nick Galante and Devin Jones, with four wins on the season, captured the organization’s first ever Continental Tire Challenge title and the final championship for the ST class, which also saw its conclusion on Friday. The duo finished third on Friday to MINI JCW and Bodymotion Racing.
“It’s a fantastic day,” said team owner James Clay. “Big win in GS. Going into the winter on a day like this is just fantastic. Tyler drove an awesome race, the ST guys drove a fantastic year. The whole season. To capture the championship, this last championship for the ST class, it’s a special day.”
“It was an emotional win,” said Cooke. “Last time I won a pro race my dad was alive and I still remember the phone call after the race. It was definitely emotional crossing the start/finish line. We work so hard. Year in, year out we’ve been right there and to finally get that win for BMW, BimmerWorld, James, I can’t think of a better way to end the season. The last one for Continental, which that’s a cool part, and hats off to the ST guys, they drove flawless all year. They deserve that championship.”
“Checked off the last championship of the ST class, great to wrap it up here,” said Galante. “Running with as many JCW guys, all year been great. They run a great program. They have raced us clean all year. It was really fun. And the guys at Bodymotion really made this season fun. Hats off to Trent Brown on the engineering box who got us through all these races and my sponsor with the Racing to End Alzheimer’s initiative. It’s been a really good year.”
Five different GS manufacturers took turns atop the class’ leaderboard, with McLaren and Mercedes-AMG taking the final two spots on the overall podium. Polesitters Paul Holton and Matt Plumb in the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4 finished runner-up, while the No. 57 Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Bryce Ward and Indy Dontje took third,
eEuroparts scores second TCR victory; podium result secures title for Long, Casey Jr.
The closest drivers’ championship battle in the Continental Tire Challenge entering Friday’s race was that in the TCR category. Compass Racing’s Tom Long and Britt Casey Jr. in the No. 77 Audi RS3 LMS were ready to defend their five-point margin against teammates Rodrigo Sales and Kuno Wittmer in the No. 74.
And it was shaping up to be a tantalizing battle, as the No. 74 had mechanical issues during Thursday’s qualifying, which meant the team would have to climb from last to the front of the field for a shot at the title.
However about 40 minutes into the race, the No. 74 machine got away from its driver, Sales, and went into the Turn 6 wall. The car was done for the day and the No. 77 secured the championship by 13 points, 318-305.
“It’s an incredible day, being so close to winning the Continental Tire championship before, this is it,” said Long, who made his 100th Continental Tire Challenge start at Road Atlanta. “It’s a big day for not only for Britt Casey, Jr. and I, but obviously for Continental and the ST class as it’s the class I started in. Our Audi RS3 LMS TCR car has just been incredible all season. I can’t thank Compass Racing enough for the excitement that they brought us this year. I couldn’t be prouder of the program.”
The No. 77 went on to finish third behind polesitters Tom O’Gorman and Kenton Koch in the No. 12 eEuroparts.com Racing Audi. This was the second victory for the duo that joined the TCR field midway through the season and it came on the heels of O’Gorman’s fifth consecutive Motul Pole Award.
“It was a special day, especially after five poles in a row,” said O’Gorman. “We came in midseason and to come away with four podiums, two wins on six races is a huge amount of momentum into next year. We would love to be here again. It’s just such an honor to be involved with the eEuroparts team. I’m happy to bring it home.”
Michael Johnson and Stephen Simpson in the No. 54 JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi RS3 LMS TCR would complete the podium with their second-place finish.
MINI earns first manufacturer’s title with surprise ST victory
With a three-car effort slated for the MINI JCW Team in 2018, the goal in mind was a manufacturer’s championship. It would be a first for the marque in the Continental Tire Challenge since joining the ST ranks in 2015.
Finally, that moment came with the end of the 2018 season at Road Atlanta.
It was the tightest battle across all categories entering Friday’s race, as BMW – represented by BimmerWorld’s Nick Galante and Devin Jones – led MINI by two points in the standings. Ergo, one position would determine the results.
BMW looked to have not only the win, but also the manufacturer’s title locked up as they led the majority of Friday’s race. However, the team was forced to pit with under 10 minutes remaining for fuel and gave way to the No. 73 MINI JCW of Mat Pombo and Mike LaMarra who went on to win. The No. 21 Bodymotion Racing Porsche Cayman of Jason Rabe and Max Faulkner took second.
It was the third win of the year for the No. 73 pairing and the fifth total win for MINI. MINI topped BMW in the manufacturer standings by just three marks, 331-328.
“I mean I was just kind of cruising,” said Pombo. “I thought Devin and Nick were pulling, they were managing the gap. I felt like we were going to be really close on fuel, so I was hoping that they would be even closer. I hate winning it that way, but they had a great season so congrats to Nick and Devin on their championship. We’ve been fighting to bring MINI this championship and (team owner) Luis [Perocarpi] and Tonine [McGarvie] and everyone at MINI, we couldn’t have done this without the support of the manufacturer. My brother [Mark], Derek Jones, my teammate, Mike LaMarra, unreal to win at my home track. So much fun.”
The Fox Factory 120 from Road Atlanta will be televised on Sunday, October 21 at 10 a.m. ET on FS1.