WeatherTech Porsche endures in GTLM; night setup key to Heart of Racing’s GTD triumph

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

WeatherTech Porsche endures in GTLM; night setup key to Heart of Racing’s GTD triumph

IMSA

WeatherTech Porsche endures in GTLM; night setup key to Heart of Racing’s GTD triumph

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The 2021 Motul Petit Le Mans was a tough one for the GT teams. The final GTLM race in WeatherTech SportsCar Championship history went to the WeatherTech Porsche squad in a one-two finish after both Corvettes and one of the BMWs failed to finish. For GTD, more than a third of the field was lost to a restart crash that also took out the No. 3 GTLM Corvette. The victory went to the No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin driven by Roman de Angelis, Ross Gunn and Ian James, while the team that finished second, the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911, earned the title for drivers Zacharie Robichon and Laurens Vanthoor, joined by Lars Kern for Petit Le Mans.

The major incident occurred during a restart while Jordan Taylor, who had already clinched the title with Antonio Garcia, in the No. 3 Corvette was trying to maintain pace with the field, came over the crest on the back straight at speed only to find a virtual parking lot of GTD cars stilled by the accordion effect of cars making it through Turns 10A and 10B.

“The leaders were coming out of 10B and they start accelerating out of the chicane,” Taylor explained. “So they start going and then when you get back to 15th or 20th, they are still braking in the chicane and it starts the accordion effect. We were so far back, we were pretty much flat-out all the way down the back stretch trying to kind of keep up with everyone.

“By they time we got to the crest, I was behind the 79 or 97 and at that point I’m in fifth gear. I’m just basically following him and trusting him that he knows where he is going and he could see where we were going. As soon as we crested, he went left and I went right. Basically where he had gone turned out to be the only safe place and when I popped up next to him, there were two cars stopped in the middle of the racetrack. I had nowhere to go so I slid into them about 110mph.”

That took out several GTD contenders, including the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Aaron Telitz, Jack Hawksworth and Kyle Kirkwood. In addition, the No. 32 Gilbert Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG, the No. 19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini, the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren, the No. 42 NTE Sport Audi R8 and the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG were done. All drivers were reported OK, and while a couple of cars drove away from the scene, they immediately headed behind the wall when they reached the pits.

Heart of Racing’s Aston Martin Vantage GT3 “came alive as soon as the sun went down,” said Ian James. Jake Galstad/Images

The GTD battle boiled down to the Heart of Racing Aston Martin and the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche, with the Aston taking the victory.

“We had a bit of a game plan starting today,” said James. “We started at the back of the field, but we knew the car was going to be good. So we just kept chipping away, moving up through the field, working on our fuel economy runs to shorten the stops each time. The car, really we set it up for the night and it came alive as soon as the sun went down.”

As for the battle with the Pfaff Porsche, noted Gunn: “It was really fun battle with the 9 car. They’ve been a formidable force all year, so it was really nice to end the year one up on them. I had some really fair fights, the car was really really strong today. It was really set up well for the night and it enabled us to do our job.”

Pfaff Motorsports’ Zacharie Robichon and Laurens Vanthoor “made their own luck” en route to winning the championship in GTD. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

The Pfaff squad’s chief rival for the championship — the No. 1 Paul Miller Motorsports Lamborghini drivers Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers, aided by Corey Lewis for this race — had struck trouble early, with contact forcing the car behind the wall to remove a wheel that wouldn’t come off. The car went down 13 laps, and Snow and Sellers were out of championship contention, giving the title to the Pfaff drivers.

“At the beginning of the year we set ourselves a goal,” said Robichon. “We knew it was attainable to battle for the championship, and we believed we had what it took to win. Halfway through the year we kind of looked at ourselves — I think Laurens said it best: ‘Luck hasn’t fallen on our side, so it’s time to make our own luck.’ That was before Road America. Before that we were trying to do too much and trying to have luck fall on our side. We had to go back to what we do best, not worry about what others are doing. Let’s not try and be fancy and just be the best we can be. Since that we won three races and second in the other two.”

The GTLM battle boiled down to the No. 4 Corvette and the two WeatherTech Porsches after Connor de Philippi in the leading No. 25 BMW Team RLL M8 went wide at the exit of Turn 12, took out some signage, and retired. The Corvette was eliminated with 10 minutes to go in the race after contact with the charging No. 55 Mazda DPi car disabled it with a broken suspension. That left the No. 97 WeatherTech Racing Porsche of Kevin Estre (at the wheel), Michael Christensen and Fred Makowiecki in the lead. But on the final lap, they let the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche through to give the win to the full-season car and drivers Cooper MacNeil, Mathieu Jaminet and Matt Campbell.

Cooper MacNeil and Mathieu Jaminet exult after victory in GTLM. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

“A fantastic result — one-two for the team,” said Campbell. “It is what we dreamed of, and that dream became a reality today. Definitely, a team effort. Both cars worked together the whole race. To get a finish like this, a photo finish, is fantastic for WeatherTech and a great end to the year and the last ever race for GTLM.”

“To get my third Petit Le Mans win, this one in GTLM, is spectacular,” added MacNeil. “Some of the best teams and drivers are out there so to beat them, especially at a racetrack like this, is amazing. Hats off to the team, the WeatherTech guys and girls, for an amazing job not only all day and all weekend but all season. A one-two for the team to send the RSR off in the last GTLM race is the best way possible. I couldn’t be happier for everybody. It feels great. This one is really nice to get.”

Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia brought down the curtain on GTLM with another championship for Corvette Racing. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

The championship was the second for Taylor and Garcia as a pair, and the fifth overall for Garcia as the Corvette GTLM program ends, with one car headed to GTD Pro and the other to the World Endurance Championship.

“This year was a really good year,” Garcia said. “We started by winning the Rolex 24. It felt like a really long time since my last one. It was starting to be a little bit like last year. Corvette was super strong and probably even stronger this year. We just kept doing what we did last year, Jordan and I. We seem to be really good together.”

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