Richard Westbrook made an aggressive move on Earl Bamber, darting past with six minutes remaining in Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, then pulling away to give the Ford GT its first victory of the season and snapping Porsche’s streak of five consecutive victories in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition.
Westbrook’s co-driver Ryan Briscoe was the lone driver to double-stint at the beginning of the scorching hot race, held in 97-degree heat, before turning the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT over to Westbrook midway through the event.
The front-row qualifying Porsche GT Team ran 1-2 with 40 minutes remaining, though, as Westbrook battled into contention. His Ford got by Patrick Pilet’s Porsche with 21 minutes left, slotting into second, then hounded the leader, Bamber, before making the decisive pass in the Turn 3 right-hander.
“Ryan made my day a lot easier,” Westbrook said. “He did an amazing stint, and got a lot of the hard work out of the way early. I knew we’d finish on better tires than the Porsches; that’s the only way we can beat them. We rolled the dice, gambled, then stuck to the plan, and it worked great.
“Sometimes it feels like we’ve got the slowest car on the grid,” Westbrook added, “but we did everything perfectly today. Today’s one of the special days when the plans work out.”
The winners completed 182 laps on the 1.474-mile circuit, with the race run under the green flag from start to finish. In fact, there were no red-flag stoppages throughout the race weekend.
“It’s incredible, this place is so tough,” Briscoe said after his teammate took the checkered flag with a 7.003s advantage. “It’s been a tough year. We went in with a plan, and we executed our three pit-stop strategy beautifully.”
Bamber finished second in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR started from the pole by Laurens Vanthoor, holding off Joey Hand (in the No. 66 Ford GT started by Dirk Mueller) by just .503s as Ford men took two places on the podium.
Pilet ended up fourth, 26 seconds back in the No. 911 started by Nick Tandy that was in contention to win for much of the event.
The Porsches ran 1-2 for the opening 45 minutes before green flag pit stops. When Bamber took over for Vanthoor, he briefly lost the lead to Pilet, who had relieved Nick Tandy in the 911. Bamber then pressured his teammate for a lap before taking the lead in Turn 1 at the 46-minute mark.
At that point, only Briscoe was able to run with the Porsches. The lone driver to double-stint from the start, Briscoe ran with the Porsches before pitting at the midway point to turn over to Westbrook.
The second-place finish allowed Vanthoor and Bamber to double their lead in the GTLM championship to eight points over Pilet and Tandy. Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen remain third after finishing fifth in the No. 3 Corvette Racing C7.R, now 17 points in arrears.
GTD: Down to the final lap
The GTD battle was just as exciting, coming down to the final lap of the event.
The first half of the race was dominated by Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 and the No. 33 Wynns Team Riley Mercedes-AMG of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen.
Farnbacher took the lead on his final pit stop with just over one hour remaining, pursued then by both Dennis Olsen in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R started by Zach Robichon, and the Mercedes of Bleekemolen.
From that point on, Olsen hounded Farnbacher, the pair a close 1-2 for most of the final hour. Making only his second IMSA start, Olsen took the lead with five minutes remaining and managed to hold off Farnbacher, with the two cars side-by-side in Turn 3 on the final lap. The red plaid Porsche managed to hold on and win by a scant 0.01s.
“I saw the opening, and I just had to do it,” Olsen said. “It was really hard to keep him behind on the last lap, but we did it.”
“I think Dennis Olsen did an incredible job there at the end,” said Robichon, who also collected his first IMSA victory. “It was pretty hairy at the end, and he did a fantastic job working his way through. He took the opportunity when it was presented but at the same time drove a really smart race. It was long overdue for the Pfaff team, so it was great.”
An off-course excursion in the final 10 minutes cost the Wynns Mercedes. Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley took third in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, followed by Patrick Long and Marco Seefried in the No. 73 Park Place Porsche.
Farnbacher and Hindman now lead GTD by 33 points, followed by Auberlen and Foley. In the new GTD Sprint Cup, Long, Farnbacher and Hindman are tied for the lead with three races remaining.
Originally scheduled to be televised on NBCSN on Saturday evening at 9:30 p.m., the race is being televised now on that channel due to a severe weather delay for the IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway.
NEXT UP: All four WeatherTech Championship classes will be in action at Road America on Sunday, August 4.