GTLM title battles going down to the wire

Image courtesy of IMSA

GTLM title battles going down to the wire

IMSA

GTLM title battles going down to the wire

Not one, not two but three GTLM championships will be decided in the final hours of Petit Le Mans: the team and driver IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship titles, along with the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

First the easy one: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing had already clinched the Tequila Patron Cup as the race went into its final stages. However, until the 8th hour of the race (7 p.m.) it remained to be seen which of the two Ford GTs, that No. 66 piloted by Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastian Bourdais or the No. 67 driven by Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon would win the title. With the No. 66 enjoying a four-point lead in the standings, the No. 67 car would have had to lead the race at the 8-hour mark (and collect the 5 points that go with leading) to push the contest to the finish. However, the 8-hour mark came and went with the 911 Porsche leading the race, thus the No. 66 Ford GT and Hand. Briscoe and Bourdais are the 2018 GTLM Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup champions.

The overall GTLM championship is rather more complicated. With the No. 3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia enjoying a nine-point lead over the No. 67 Ford GT in the championship heading into the race, Magnussen, Garcia and Marcel Fessler (the third driver for both Corvettes here) had to finish seventh or better to clinch the title even if Briscoe, Westbrook and Bourdais won the race. And if the No. 67 finished second, the No. 3 had to finish eighth or better to win the title.

The No. 3 was looking good until Garcia spun exiting the pits on a full course yellow, crashed, lost two laps effecting repairs and plummeted down the order to ninth place, but about half a lap behind the eighth-placed Risi Ferrari. Barring an outbreak of on track mayhem or mechanical failures, the best the No. 3 can hope to finish now is eighth, if they are able to catch and pass the Ferrari.

That much is clear . . . more or less. Heading into the final hour, the No. 67 Ford GT is battling for the lead with No. 24 BMW, the No. 911 Porsche and the No. 4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin (and Fessler). If the No. 67 Ford were to finish third, then Corvette would win the team championship and Magnussen and Garcia would take the drivers title. But what if the No. 67 Ford appears destined to win or finish P2 . . . and the No. 3 Corvette is mired in eighth place? Does the No. 4 Corvette slow dramatically OR make a lengthy pit stop, dropping behind its sister car and — in the process — move the No. 3 Corvette to P7, thus forcing the No. 67 to win the race to win the team championship and the drivers championship for Briscoe and Dixon?

Stay tuned.

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