Running up front was the place to be for Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron on the tight streets of The Raceway at Belle Isle. The Team Penske Acura drivers avoided six caution flags and Cameron held off both a charging Felipe Nasr and an oncoming rainstorm to take the second consecutive victory for the No. 6 Acura ARX-05 DPi in IMSA WeatherTech Sports Championship competition.
Acura Team Penske’s No. 6 car carried into June all the Penske midwest momentum from the month of May, during which the IMSA team give The Captain his first 2019 IMSA victory while a Penske Chevrolet driven by Simon Pagenaud swept both the IndyCar GP and Indianapolis 500, and a Penske Ford with Brad Keselowski up won in Kansas City.
On Saturday, Montoya and Cameron led all but seven of the 58 laps, the key moment a restart with 53 minutes remaining: Cameron had lost two positions in the pits while taking over for Montoya, who led from the pole, but re-passed both cars shortly after the green, then used his fresh Michelins to take the race lead from Tristan Nunez, who stayed out under the caution.
Both Nasr and the weather made the final 10 minutes exciting. Nasr, in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R, pulled up to Cameron’s rear wing twice while negotiating GTD traffic even as rain drops began to fall. Cameron held on, though, winning by just .820s.
“We were strong all weekend, and we’ve been getting better and better,” Cameron said. “Juan did an absolute hell of a job in qualifying. We got jumped on the [pit] cycle, and I wasn’t really happy about it, so I made sure we got to the front as quick as we could From there, it was just looking forward and executing.”
The victory backs up the team’s first WeatherTech Championship victory at Mid-Ohio in May, and pulls the Penske duo to within five points of Nasr and Pipo Derani for the Daytona Prototype points lead, 152-147.
Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves took their third podium of the season in the No. 7 Team Penske Acura, and are now six points out of the DPi lead. JDC-Miller Motorsports took the next two positions, Scott Simpson and Simon Trummer finishing fourth in the No. 84 Cadillac followed by teammates Misha Goikhberg and Tristan Vautier in the No. 85.
The tone of this race was set moments after the green flag waved, when Cooper MacNeil was eliminated in a Turn 1 incident, slamming into the barrier in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 after contact with Ryan Hardwick in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3. The Ferrari was out, while the latter continued and finished fifth co-driven by Bryan Sellers.
The second caution came shortly after the 30-minute mark when Victor Franzoni ( No. 50 Juncos Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R) made light contact with tire barrier in Turn 3. He was able to continue with damage to the left-rear bodywork, but lost one lap in the pits.
The resulting caution saw all competitors pit with the exception of Nunez in the No. 77 Team Joest Mazda RT-24P, with driver changes all around.
Moments after the race went back to green with one hour remaining, Mario Farnbacher slapped the wall at the exit of Turn 13 in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, with resulting debris quickly putting the race back to caution.
The green waved with 53 minutes remaining, with Cameron pressuring and then passing Nunez for the lead on Lap 26.
The Acura led the rest of the way, but there was plenty of action behind him.
The DPi field pitted for green flag stops on laps 34 and 35, but moments before his stop, five-time Belle Isle winner Jordan Taylor (No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R) slid into the wall in Turn 8, the resulting debris bringing out the fifth caution.
The restart led to one lap of racing and the most controversial move of the race. Harry Ticknell – who had taken over for Jonathan Bomarito in the No. 55 Mazda – passed Nasr in Turn 2 to take third. Simpson followed the Mazda past Nasr, and then attempted to get inside Tincknell in the run to Turn 4. The two cars touched, with Ticknell into the wall and out of the race – with the race back to caution.
Mazda Team Joest’s day effectively ended moments after the restart, when Oliver Jarvis spun in Turn 7 after contact with Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac.
In GT Daytona, the race came down to a pass at the halfway point, Jack Hawksworth darting past Patrick Long to take the lead in the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3.
Zach Robichon started on the pole and led through his stint, turning the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R over to Long with the race lead on a stop under caution. Four laps after the ensuing restart, Hawksworth made his move and passed Long for the lead.
“I had a good feeling about today,” Hawksworth admitted. “When you give me a sniff of the lead, I’m going to go for it and try for the win, and that’s what I did.”
Katherine Legge, running third in the No. 57 Heinricher/Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, attempted to follow Hawksworth, but was caught out and fell to fourth as Townsend Bell slipped to the inside in the No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus.
The top three held their positions for the remainder of the race, although Legge lost fourth in the closing laps after contact with Bill Auberlen in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, and Auberlen pulled off course with only two laps remaining. That promoted Andy Lally to fourth in the No. 44 Lamborghini started by John Potter.
NEXT UP: The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International on June 29.