Corvette triumphs on rain-slick Charlotte Roval; BMW wins GTD

Michael Levitt / Motorsport Images

Corvette triumphs on rain-slick Charlotte Roval; BMW wins GTD

IMSA

Corvette triumphs on rain-slick Charlotte Roval; BMW wins GTD

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Eighteen cars started IMSA’s race for its GT Le Mans and GT Daytona cars on a rain-soaked Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, with six in GTLM and 12 in GTD. By the end of the 100-minute event, the GTLM podium represented the only cars left in the class as Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia turned their pole into a decisive win. In GTD, two cars retired, leaving 13 total machines – a loss of nearly 30 percent – to cross the finish line in treacherous conditions.

Behind the No. 3 Corvette C8.R, which delivered the brand its sixth victory of 2020 with the new rear-engine car, BMW Team RLL’s John Edwards and Connor De Phillippi completed the GTLM field. But the win for Corvette was anything but guaranteed as Taylor’s pole was quickly converted to second by BMW’s Jesse Krohn. Once Edwards took over, the lead was held comfortably, first as heavy rains flowed, and then when the skies went dry and the circuit improved. It was when the rain returned where the big German coupe found its long-held lead in jeopardy.

Sixth 2020 GTLM victory for Corvette Racing. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

With less than 25 minutes left, Garcia’s steady efforts stalking Edwards paid off as he rocketed out from the infield and took the lead from the M8 GTE. A crash for the second Corvette slowed the action with the checkered flag in sight, and as the green waved with five minutes left, Garcia drew out a safe margin of 1.4 seconds to punch the team’s ticket for yet another trip to victory lane.

“It wasn’t easy,” Taylor said. “It was the same for everyone in that situation. For us leading the championship, it was all about minimal risk at that point. You weren’t going to win the race in those 20 or 30 minutes. It’s all going to be about survival, handing off the car to Antonio and waiting for it to dry out. Thankfully it did, the track conditions came to our Corvette, and Antonio never put a foot wrong to bring home another win.

“It’s an amazing year for the new C8.R and we’re going to Petit Le Mans with some nice momentum. Six wins for a brand-new car – no one would have ever expected this. Hats off to Corvette Racing. I’m sorry to see what happened to the No. 4 car, but I was glad to see Tommy get out.”

Foley and Auberlen took command in GTD as one by one the Turner Motorsports team’s rivals fell by the wayside. Image by Levitt/Motorsport Images

Where GTLM was a two-car battle from start to finish, GTD offered a revolving door of leaders and podium contenders. Thanks to exceptional handling and driving with the No. 96 Turner Motorsports BMW M6 GT3 – and a series of errors from their closest rivals – Robby Foley and a riotous Bill Auberlen drove into the distance and disappeared. Holding a lead of 20-plus seconds until the late caution period for Tommy Milner’s crash in the Corvette, Auberlen went on to win the 62nd major sports car race of his peerless career as Wright Motorsports’ Patrick Long settled for a valuable second in the No. 16 Porsche 911 GT3 R with co-driver Ryan Hardwick.

A storming effort by Canadian teenager Roman De Angelis took third from AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Townsend Bell in the final laps as the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 pulled off a stunning pass into the back chicane to relegate the Lexus RC F GT3 to fourth.

“It was so good,” said the 51-year-old Auberlen. “When it started to dry, [the Turner BMW] was on fire. What more can you ask for.”

Based on how the GTD race started, a win by the pole-sitting No. 14 AVS Lexus of Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth looked like it was possible as Telitz held the lead over Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 driven by Matt McMurry.

Then the combination of body heat and the water-rich air intervened: Pitting to hand over to Hawksworth, Telitz climbed out and handed over while the refuler completed his task without issues. But the driver change assistant lost 10 seconds or more while attempting to connect the left-side window safety net after buckling Hawksworth into place. Wearing a pair of goggles that were completely fogged over, it took the eventual decision to pull the goggles down for the tangled net to be revealed. With the rest of the GTD leaders having pitted and left, the stationary Lexus was finally dispatched with Hawksworth in fifth, 16 seconds behind GTD championship Mario Farnbacher.

Auberlen went on to chase down the Acura and build a ridiculous lead, but there was some drama that took place in the exchange. Entering the chicane on the back straight, and fighting the BMW – despite the clear difference in speed – Farnbacher aborted his effort to hold Auberlen at bay. But it was too late, as he was carrying too much momentum on approach to the chicane, and went straight.

With IMSA’s rule in those missed-chicane situations requiring the offending driver to come to a complete stop before resuming, Farnbacher had a toll to pay. Stopping on the front straight, he fell from second to third, directly ahead of Hawksworth, as Long on the Wright Porsche took Farnbacher’s former spot.

Locked in a tight battle for the GTD title, the Lexus driver spent the majority of the remainder of the race trying to find a way by the Acura to land on the podium, and came close on a few occasions under braking into the front or back chicanes.

On the final restart, however, an ugly exchange between Farnbacher and Hawksworth saw the Lexus drill the Acura entering the front chicane, which dropped the points leader to eighth and earned the AVS driver a trip down pit lane for his transgression. Once he served the penalty, Hawksworth was back where he started—directly behind Farnbacher – albeit towards the bottom of the field. The two would finish seventh and eighth in class, and as a result, Long and Hardwick displaced Telitz and Hardwick in the standings, capturing second in GTD with the season entering its twilight.

With Corvette Racing in command of GTLM, the final run through Petit Le Mans, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and Sebring poses the most GT intrigue for the Pro-Am class as Acura, Porsche, and Lexus all have strong chances of coming out on top.

If you were wondering about all of the rain-related mayhem that took place Saturday night in Charlotte:

Fighting for third on the opening lap BMW’s Bruno Spengler went for a spin through the chicane leading onto the front straight. He resumed in eighth, trailing the two leading GTD cars. On the next lap, BMW GTD driver Robby Foley, running second in class, copied Spengler’s spin, falling to 11th as a result of the miscue. Acura’s Misha Goihkberg was next, spinning in Turn 1 and executing a prolonged attempt to get the car pointed in the right direction.

Porsche’s Laurens Vanthoor was next, sliding off course and slamming the wall with the left-rear corner, which produced enough damage to warrant a lengthy pit stop and premature end to its race. Moments later, Vanthoor’s teammate Fred Makowiecki was next, spinning in Turn 1 and smacking the wall with the left-front corner. Left sitting in the middle of the road, IMSA threw its first caution flag to sort the mess. Once the car was driven back to pit lane, the Porsche GT Team assessed the situation and pushed both 911 RSRs back to the transporter a began the packing process.

The return to green lasted less than a lap as Till Bechtolsheimer hammered the front of his Acura on the restart and slowed to a stop, which brought the pace car back out to control the field and give the tow truck ample time to remove the NSX GT3. The next restart, with just 14 laps completed, defied expectations and went according to plan.

A considerable amount of time went by – along with a stop to the rain – when the next drama occurred when Paul Holton spun his McLaren into the tire barriers. Fortunate to avoid damage, he continued after getting the car rotated 180 degrees.

Next on the list of retirees was Tommy Milner whose Corvette experienced a big crash with 12 minutes remaining on the clock. In what appeared to be a right-rear suspension failure while racing on the banking, Milner went for a wild and instantaneous ride that came to an end at the top of pit lane.

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