Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron gave locally based Acura employees plenty of reasons to smile on Sunday at Mid-Ohio, cruising to victory in the Acura SportsCar Challenge.
The lone caution flag of the race set up a 24-minute dash to the checkered flag, and Montoya was not to be denied. The No. 6 Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi pulled to a three-second lead on the lap following the restart, and then took the checkered flag 2.022s ahead of the No. 77 Team Joest Mazda RT-24P of Tristan Nunez.
The majority of the race was run in cool but sunny conditions, a major turnaround after Friday’s practice was a virtual washout, and teams struggled in damp and chilly conditions on both Saturday and in Sunday’s warm-up.
“I think we just executed well,” said Montoya, who led three times for 66 laps — including the final 60. “We had been very unlucky with mechanical issues and stuff — there were silly things that happened. And I think we made some not-very-great calls on strategy. But [we] executed today the way it needed to be.”
Montoya wasn’t worried when he saw the caution late in the race.
“I think we were managing the traffic really well,” he said. “I think the big difference was I did a good job on the restart with cold tires and I did a good opening lap. Today I could match what they were doing, no problem. It was good. I felt I was doing a really good job on cold tires.”
A year ago, Acura Team Penske scored a 1-2 in its home race claiming its first IMSA triumph, with Montoya and Dane Cameron finishing second behind Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves. Sunday marked Acura Team Penske’s first trip to the top step of the podium since then.
“It’s really nice to have a really close to perfect race today,” said Cameron, who joined Montoya in winning for the first time with Team Penske in DPi. “The guys were excellent on pit lane. The strategy was really, really strong. Juan did a great job on his stints. I was able to get up to the lead and turn it over to him. It really couldn’t have gone any better.
“It’s really satisfying to get the monkey off our back a little bit,” Cameron added. “Hopefully we can get a bunch more wins down from here now that we’ve reminded ourselves we do know how to do it.”
Once again, Mazda came up short in its bid for its first victory in the Prototype class but it showed strongly placing two cars on the podium. Tristan Nunez and Oliver Jarvis finished second in the pole-winning No. 77 Mazda DPi, followed home by Jonathan Bomarito and Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 55.
The lone full-course caution waved at the 33-minute mark, when Colin Braun was trapped in the Turn 4 China Beach gravel. That left only four cars on the lead lap — the No. 6 Acura; both Mazdas; and the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R of Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani.
Nasr battled Bomarito for third in the closing laps, but then the red Cadillac started by Derani was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for passing under a local yellow. Nasr recovered to finish fourth, the last car on the lead lap.
Unofficially, the Whelen Engineering team managed to retain the lead in the DPi standings, now holding a four-point advantage over Taylor and Castroneves, drivers of the No. 7 Team Penske Acura.
IndyCar regular Hunter-Reay made a heroic save when his Mazda was tapped from behind by Castroneves’ Acura moments after taking the green flag, not only saving the car but then running competitively throughout his double stint.
“It definitely has been a baptism by fire, trying to get to grips with the car,” Hunter-Reay said. “The car’s a blast to driver. I was run over by a Penske after I had a fantastic start. I had passed the Action Express cars, and then had to do it all over again after getting hit. I just had to put my head down and go for it. Mid-Ohio is a great race track — they don’t make them like this anymore.”
Fast work on the final pit stop was the key to victory for Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor in taking their second consecutive GTLM triumph at Mid-Ohio in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR. Pitting one lap after the No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen with an hour remaining, the Porsche team was five seconds quicker in the pits. Bamber came out ahead of Garcia after the stop and led the rest of the way, winning by 2.340 seconds.
It marked the second-straight victory for the No. 912 (which won in Long Beach two weeks ago) and third in a row for the Porsche GT Team.
“Every race, we’ve been getting stronger and stronger as a crew,” Bamber said. “Last year was a tough year. So we had to get ourselves into the game. This year we’ve been executing well. I think here it’s all about not making mistakes. There’s a lot of cars out there, and you follow them around, and it’s not like we blaze off into the distance by 30 seconds or something; we’re all right there doing qualifying times.”
Nick Tandy passed Tom Blomqvist in the closing laps to put the No. 912 Porsche on the third step of the podium. Patrick Pilet was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for jumping the initial green flag, resulting in a long charge back through the field for the No. 912. Blomqvist and Connor De Phillippi held on for fourth in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE.
The final restart led to a come-from-behind victory in GT Daytona: Jack Hawksworth passed Mario Farnbacher for the lead in Turn 2, and went on to win in the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 started by Richard Heistand.
It was the first GTD triumph for both drivers.
Up until that point, Farnbacher and Trent Hindman had dominated the event in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3.
“Obviously, the yellow was what we needed, and once I got a sniff of Mario I wasn’t going to let him go,” Hawksworth said. “Up until then, it was cat and mouse, because we were faster at different parts of the circuit.
“Mario is a fantastic driver,” the Englishman continued, “and I knew I had to do it on the restart. I went for it in Turn 2, and got the job done. It might have been my only chance, and that was all she wrote.”
Farnbacher held on for second, 0.598s back, while Bryan Sellers completed the podium, finishing one lap down in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan started by Ryan Hardwick.
Canadians Scott Hargrove and Zach Robichon seemed headed for a podium finish in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3.R before a spin in the closing laps left Hargrove stranded in the Turn 1 gravel trap. They finished 12th.
Prior to late restart, Hindman and Farnbacher dominated the class, Hindman taking the lead on lap 9 and building up a large enough advantage for Farnbacher to stay ahead at their driver change.
“It was all about staying calm, cool and patient,” said Hindman following his stint. “This was my first time in a WeatherTech car at Mid-Ohio, but I have plenty of experience in other cars here. My biggest challenge was the speed differential among the classes, and I think the key was staying patient in the traffic.”
The LMP2 race failed to materialize. Performance Tech Motorsports’ pole-winning ORECA was caught up in the opening-lap incident between Hunter-Reay and Castroneves, and that opened the door for the only other car in the class. The No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA Gibson of Matt McMurry and Eric Lux led every lap in the class and finished 11th overall.
Performance Tech Motorsport’s Kyle Masson captured the pole on Saturday, but the team gave up the position by opting to start Cameron Cassels in its No. 38 Centinel Spine ORECA Gibson. The Lap 1 incident resulted in a long pit stop and later a visit to the garage to work on suspension damage, with the team finishing 80 laps down.