The race for GTD in the Lexus Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio turned into a fuel-saving contest, and while at first it appeared nobody did it better than Jordan Pepper in the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren 720S that he took over from Brendan Iribe, it was Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley taking the victory.
While Pepper went an astonishing 58 laps on his final fuel load and went from fifth to first in the final 20 minutes, the McLaren was found to be underweight in post-race technical inspection and moved to last in class. So the Turner Motorsports squad, which went with an alternate pit strategy very early in the race, was awarded the win, its first with the new BMW M4 GT3. Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow were second in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW, with Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo third in the No. 12 VasserSullivan Lexus RC F GT3.
The GT3 cars in GTD can typically go a bit over an hour on fuel in green flag conditions. But Robby Foley, who had started the No. 96 BMW in fourth and was caught in traffic, brought the car into the pits after only 44 minutes.
“We’ve done this now a few times because we’re not leading and it’s very difficult to pass here,” explained Auberlen. “So we kind of go off strategy, we put new tires on Robby, Robby rips off these fast laps one after another while the other people haven’t done their stop and they’re two seconds off the pace. Within five laps we’ve, in theory, passed them and then all of a sudden we put a 15-second gap on them. It was working and then we came in before a yellow, ducked in and topped up, and then when everybody else came in during that yellow we just topped up again because we knew it was gonna be tight.”
The race’s only caution period came 30 minutes after Foley made his first stop when Rasmus Lindh spun and stalled the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier LMP3. Officials slightly delayed throwing the yellow, allowing several cars to stop before the pits were closed. Once the pits were open, the Turner squad was one of many that topped off with fuel, but it was still going to be a long run to the checker if the race stayed green.
“The fuel number they wanted me to hit to make it to the end seemed impossible, but everybody else for the most part had to do it as well. So Bryan Sellers and I made an agreement on the radio, our teams were talking, that we were going to work together to save as much fuel as we could, and leave it till about a lap and a half at the end, that we could race at least one lap at the end to try to defend. The McLaren caught us too early, so we had to just kind of let them by, and we thought for sure he wasn’t going to make it. We wouldn’t have made it one more lap,” Auberlen added.
The victory was Foley and Auberlen’s second straight GTD win at Mid-Ohio, and their second straight podium, having finished third at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca two weeks ago. It was Auberlen’s 65th victory in IMSA competition and sixth at the track.
“We didn’t expect the McLaren to make it,” said Foley. “So we weren’t totally worried about them. But everybody behind us was on our same situation. Bill did a great job to go to the end and save a lot of gas. It’s great to get the first win with this new car for Turner and everybody did a great job. Don Salama on our pit box was calculating fuel numbers down to the tenth of a liter, so it was getting pretty insane.”
Stevan McAleer had seized the lead at the start in a confusing scrum ignited by Richard Heistand jumping the start in the No. 17 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, for which Heistand received a drive-through penalty. McAleer even managed to put an LMP3 car in between his Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG and the rest of the field to pull out a nice gap. But Snow would eventually catch McAleer and take the lead while Foley was struggling in the pack behind. The Korthoff car ran into tire trouble during the yellow after Mike Skeen took over and eventually finished sixth.
The No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Acura NSX was also on a different strategy, and Ryan Eversley led for a while after taking over from Aidan Read. While the strategy wasn’t going to earn a victory, it had potential to put them fairly high in the resutls until a pit miscue — moving the car with pit equipment attached, earned them a drive-through penalty.
Despite the sixth-place finish, McAleer — who drove without Skeen at Laguna Seca — holds the points lead with 1237, 12 points ahead of Jan Heylen and Ryan Hardwick. Auberlen and Foley are third in the standings at 1161.