After four hours of racing on the iconic bumps of Sebring International Raceway, Forty 7 Motorsports walked away as the victors of the second annual Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore.
IMSA Prototype Challenge regulars Jonatan Jorge and Joel Janco paired up with IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver Tristan Nunez to beat the rest of the field – which also included GT3 and GT4 machines – in the No. 47 Norma M30.
The trio all have previous ties to each other. Jorge coached Nunez through the karting ranks and his introduction to car racing; Jorge and Janco have been longtime co-drivers in the LMP3 series; and Nunez and Janco also have competed against each other in previous races.
“That’s what this weekend was for from the beginning, just to go out there and have fun,” said Nunez, a full-time Mazda driver in the WeatherTech Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class. “(Jonatan’s) the guy who made me into the driver I am today, so to be able to come back and rekindle that six years of not working together and to come here and win a race, it’s pretty special. It’s come full circle.”
Meanwhile, Jorge and Janco competed full-time this past regular season with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, winning the Bronze Drivers Cup.
“It was supposed to be fun for us,” said Jorge. “I’m here with Joel, who’s basically my dad, and Tristan who’s my little brother. It was just an incredible job by everybody. The team did an amazing job. It was our first time with this car and this team. I can’t be happier. It was great to have the family here as well. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys and hopefully we get to do it again soon.”
“I’ve got to thank Forty 7 Motorsports for the Norma we drove today, which was just awesome,” said Janco. “Of course, JJ and I have been together a long time. Tristan and I have actually raced each other in the last decade and it’s just a dream come true.”
Meanwhile, it was a big day for Riley Motorsports in the GT classes at Sunday’s Encore. The team’s two entries won in their respective classes – the No. 74 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Lawson Aschenbach and Gar Robinson and the No. 35 Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Dylan Murry and Jim Cox.
“For me, this year ended at Road Atlanta, so this is really part of the new 2020 season,” said Team Owner Bill Riley. “To get something going in our first race for the 74 car, with 74 Ranch Resort, and Lawson and Gar, it really couldn’t have gone much better. Then, to see Dylan and Jim drive like that, I just thought that was great. Jim drove an awesome opening stint, just like Gar, and it was a super solid start for both teams for 2020.”
The No. 74 team is new lineup for 2020 with Riley in the WeatherTech Championship GTD class, using the Encore to prep for their upcoming season. A call near the end of the race to change two tires instead of four propelled them into the lead.
“I think first and foremost, we’re all thrilled to be at Riley Motorsports,” said Aschenbach. “Bill Riley has been someone I’ve respected for a long time, someone I’ve always wanted to race for. Now I’m getting that opportunity and there’s no better way to start the relationship off with a win. Today, honestly, was about Gar. Gar ran an Ironman stint. He ran two hours and 30-something minutes by himself, straight through and kept it cool, ran great laps. He was right there and honestly that’s why we won.”
Meanwhile, Murry and Cox cap off an outstanding first season with Riley Motorsports. The pair raced a full season in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class, even earning their first series victory at Watkins Glen International in June, also a four-hour race.
“I absolutely love these longer races; this is what I thrive for,” said Murry. “I really feel like I excel in them because in the longer races it’s all about patience and doing perfect lap after perfect lap. We’re two out of the past three wins in the four-hour races, so Riley Motorsports and Mercedes-AMG definitely know the four-hour races. Mercedes-AMG knows what they’re doing when they put together an endurance car because that’s what we just showed today.”
At the end of the day, though, there was great sadness in the paddock as news filtered back that popular Ansa Motorsports LMP3 driver Dr. Tim George had succumbed in a Sebring hospital to the medical issues he suffered at the mid-point of the race.
The Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore officially concludes the 2019 racing calendar for IMSA. The 2020 season will kick off at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 3-5 with the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona testing weekend, with the prestigious twice-around-the-clock race getting underway on Saturday, Jan. 25.