Spinning at the waving of the green flag, the No. 6 Acura now driven by Juan Pablo Montoya has come back to lead at the halfway point of Saturday’s TireRace.com Grand Prix at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
After Dane Cameron gave the Penske team a scare at the start – spinning near the front of the field – they quickly worked their way back into contention.
The race is still wide open, though, after three hours. With the Penske team in the lead, the No. 77 Mazda DPi of Olivier Pla is a solid second, with No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac of Felipe Albuquerque also close to the front.
The comeback story of the race would be the return of the No. 7 Penske Acura. Helio Castroneves led the opening portion of the race, only to fall nearly two laps down due to a pair of penalties on his first pit stop.
“The car was actually incredible, but I’ll take the blame [for the penalties],” Castroneves said. “When I came into the pit lane, I was actually in second gear – and the pit limiter doesn’t run in second. When I noticed, it was too late. That one mistake led to another, an infraction with the red light still on. I’m glad at least that they came at the beginning of the race, so we can get back onto the lead lap. The car is great. There’s a long way to go, so we’re still going for the win.”
Another story was Wayne Taylor Racing’s pit stop seven minutes before the three-hour mark. Ryan Briscoe led the race as the Rolex 24 winners and current points leaders looked to add five points to their Michelin Endurance Cup lead. His stop resulted in the minimum two points for the Endurance Cup, with the Montoya Acura getting the maximum five counters. At midway, the No. 10 now driven by Renger van der Zande was seventh.
There were fireworks at the waving of the green flag. Third-starting Cameron attempted to follow his pole-winning teammate Castroneves, but spun after light contact with second-starting Felipe Nasr’s Cadillac. Cameron was able to continue without problems after changing all four tires. However, Dwight Merriman in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA-Gibson and Mathias Leist in the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac made side-by-side contact, sending both cars spinning. Both cars were to the paddock, eventually joining the contest many laps in arrears.
The second caution waved at 21 minutes when Connor De Fillippi lost the right-side mirror of his No. 25 BMW after being clipped by Harry Tincknell in the No. 55 Mazda DPi. Castroneves led up until that point; unfortunately, the three-time Indy 500 winner received a drive-through penalty for speeding at pit entrance, and added a second penalty – a stop-plus 60 second hold – for running the red light at the pit exit. The two penalties combined to push Castroneves off the lead lap.
The third caution waved shortly after the one-hour mark. GTLM leader Tommy Milner cut his left-rear tire and left debris after contact with Porsche driver Nick Tandy. Milner lost time going to the pits and was able to get service before the caution came out.
It’s been green since then.
Nick Tandy leads GTLM in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR-19, followed by the two RLL BMWs of De Phillippi (No. 25) and Jesse Krohn (No. 24). Jordan Taylor is fourth in the No. 3 Corvette C8.R, looking to end a 10-year drought at Road Atlanta for Corvette Racing.
Rolex 24 winner Paul Miller Racing held the advantage in a tight GTD battle, with Corey Lewis at the wheel of the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3. Matt McMurry was second in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Acura NSX GT3, followed by Aaron Telitz in the No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 and Toni Vilander in the No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo.
In LMP2, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports has led since Merriman’s incident at the start, with Scott Huffaker now holding a 33-lap advantage.
UP NEXT: Checkered flag is set for 5:35 p.m.