A runner-up finish isn’t always cause for celebration. But this was Le Mans, after all, and a major accomplishment for WeatherTech Racing, so let the celebration continue.
Cooper MacNeil, Julien Andlauer and Thomas Merrill co-drove the No.79 Porsche 911 RSR-19 to a second-place finish Sunday in the GTE Am class in the 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was the best Le Mans finish by a full-time competitor in the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“The race was eventful, exhausting and anything but easy,” said MacNeil. “We couldn’t do more than second place against such tough competition. Our 911 RSR ran like clockwork and our WeatherTech Racing team did a great job. Thanks for the incredible support, particularly to Porsche. If you finish second, your eyes are always on the top step of the podium. Still, I’m satisfied with my third podium finish at Le Mans.”
WeatherTech Racing wasn’t alone among the IMSA regulars celebrating at the end. Ben Keating, the 50-year-old Texas auto dealer who claimed the WeatherTech Championship’s Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) title last year, teamed with Henrique Chaves and Marco Sorensen to win the GTE Am class in the No.33 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage AMR. Keating is competing only in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds of the WeatherTech Championship this year, with PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports in LMP2.
Keating called the Le Mans win on Sunday vindication for 2019, when his winning Le Mans entry was disqualified in postrace inspection.
“What it means to me is that I’ve now won Le Mans twice,” Keating said. “But it’s nice to have a little bit of vindication. … It’s nice to show in the record books.”
The iconic endurance race, which included 19 fulltime IMSA drivers, wasn’t without heartbreak for some of those WeatherTech Championship regulars. Corvette Racing appeared to be a top contender to claim the GTE Pro victory when a crash ended the effort of the No.64 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R co-driven by Alexander Sims, Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner.
Sims was battling with an LMP2 entry driven by Francois Perrodo when Perrodo suddenly turned left, sending the Corvette into the barrier on the Mulsanne Straight. It ended the race for the car that had won the GTE Pro pole and set the class lap record.
“So Le Mans was eventful as always and despite the early end, I am so proud to have been a part of the Corvette Racing effort,” said Sims on Twitter. “No hard feelings for the accident, it’s part of the game we play. We’re all humans and I wholeheartedly believe it was a genuine mistake.”
Just minutes earlier, the team’s sister car, the No.63 Corvette co-driven by WeatherTech Championship reigning champions Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor and endurance teammate Nicky Catsburg, retired with a suspension problem. Corvette Racing was attempting to win at Le Mans for the ninth time.
“This isn’t how we wanted our Le Mans race to end,” said Laura Klauser, GM Sports Car Racing Program Manager. “… Our focus now is on our two full-season efforts in the WEC and also the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.”
The WeatherTech Championship season resumes June 26 with the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International.