Pfaff takes dramatic GTD Pro win after final lap Porsche battle

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Pfaff takes dramatic GTD Pro win after final lap Porsche battle

IMSA

Pfaff takes dramatic GTD Pro win after final lap Porsche battle

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Pfaff Motorsports took the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD title with Zacharie Robichon and Laurens Vanthoor. Little did team owner Chris Pfaff and team manager Steve Bortolotti know when they moved to IMSA’s new GTD Pro class with an all-Porsche-factory driver lineup of Mathieu Jaminet and Matt Campbell, plus new Porsche hire Felipe Nasr for the endurance races, it would be their former driver Vanthoor battling them for the Rolex 24 win in the final hours.

The No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R seemed in control of the first GTD Pro field from the beginning. But before long it was clear that the No. 2 KCMG Porsche 911 GT3R of Vanthoor, Patrick Pilet, Dennis Olsen and Alexandre Imperatori would be a threat for the win. The Asian team, which had already scored a Le Mans win in LMP2, was making its first Rolex 24 At Daytona start, and nearly won the thing.

The No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche of Cooper MacNeil, Julien Andlauer, Matteo Cairoli and Alessio Picariello was making its presence known early, and the No. 97 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG of MacNeil, Daniel Juncadella, Maro Engel and Jules Gounon looked like contender later. Both, however, ended up having issues.

In the end, although the No. 62 Risi Ferrari 44 GT3 and its strong driver lineup of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Daniel Serra and Davide Rigon and the No. 14 VasserSullivan Lexus RC F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood were always close, it came down to a fight between Pfaff and KCMG. For the final two hours, the battle between Jaminet and Vanthoor raged, with Jaminet ending up in front for the final stint and trying to hold off Vanthoor, for whom the Rolex is the biggest prize he hasn’t won.

“Those last two hours have been maybe the most stressful of my life,” said Jaminet. “Yeah, I mean, what a crazy fight with Laurens. We all know how good he is, one of the best GT drivers out there in the world. We had a great fight. It was sometimes on the limit, maybe even over.”

Two laps from the end, Vanthoor attacked Jaminet on the outside in Turn 1, cut back inside at Turn 2, went side-by-side and finally, after several incidents of contact and as the two Porsches were alongside each other in the Kink, took the lead. Jaminet wasn’t done, however, as he attacked in Turn 3 to take the lead back on the final lap. As they headed into the Le Mans chicane –oto Bus Stop – Vanthoor pulled alongside again and the two had side-to-side contact with Vanthoor getting the worst of it and going into a half-spin. Jaminet continued to take the victory for the No. 9.

“I’m at a loss for words,” said 2021 DPi co-champ Nasr, making his first GT start after being picked up by Porsche for its LMDh program. “I’ve been trying so hard to win this race since I’ve been coming here in 2012. I came close in ’18 and ’19. And the first time driving for Porsche here and having those two aces in the car, Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet – it was incredible! What a last lap – that was incredible what he did!”

The incident allowed the No. 62 Risi Ferrari to move into second, while Vanthoor gathered the Porsche up to finish third for KCMG.

In the debut of the GTD Pro class, the teams familiar with GT3 cars certainly seemed to have the edge, although the former GTLM teams, BMW Team RLL and Corvette Racing were dealing with new GT3 cars in the case of the BMW M4 GT3 or the converted-from-GTLM Corvette C8.R GTD. The BMWs struggled with pace all week, and most times the Turner Motorsports M4 GT3 running in GTD was quicker. The Corvettes seems to fare better in the race and were flirting with top-five finishes until both struck trouble.

For much of the final fight between Jaminet and Vanthoor, Jan Heylen had a front-row seat. At that point, he was in control of GTD in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R he shared with Robichon, Ralph Hardwick and Richard Lietz. Likely the only reason he wasn’t pulling away from the No. 21 AF CorseFerrari 488 GT3 of Simon Mann, Luis Perez Companc, Nicklas Nielsen – driving at that point – and Toni Vilander was that the Jaminet-Vanthoor battle was holding him up.

“You don’t expect to finish such a big race that way, but it was very much under control and even then, with three hours to go, we had a pretty substantial lead,” said Heylen. “You know there’s gonna be a yellow coming at some point, so I was a little nervous about that, but then the yellow came and we just had the pace. It’s never easy, but we didn’t have to do anything too crazy to to do what we did. It’s just a big team effort between the team and the drivers, not making any mistakes for 24 hours. That’s what gets you to the end and that’s what we did today.”

The No. 21 Ferrari got hit with a penalty late, and it was the No. 44 Magnus Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of John Potter, Andy Lally, Spencer Pumpelly and Johnathan Adam that survived to finish second in the Pro-Am class, with the No. 32 Gilbert Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG of Mike Skeen, Stevan McAleer, Scott Andrews and James Davison finishing third. The AF CORSE Ferrari was the last car on the same lap in fourth.

The two teams that seemed to give Pfaff the biggest challenge were the polesitting and defending Rolex winner No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG of Russell Ward, Philip Ellis, Mikael Grenier and Lucas Auer and the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren 720S of Brendan Iribe, Frederic Schandorff, Jordan Pepper and Ollie Millroy. Winward Racing had mechanical difficulties that left them eight laps down, and the McLaren had brake issues that necessitated a caliper change last in the race.

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