Vasser Sullivan Lexus and Gradient Racing claim first Petit Le Mans victories

Michael Levitt/Lumenl

Vasser Sullivan Lexus and Gradient Racing claim first Petit Le Mans victories

IMSA

Vasser Sullivan Lexus and Gradient Racing claim first Petit Le Mans victories

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Jack Hawksworth started the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 on the GTD PRO pole, and along with Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood, the team remained strong throughout the race to claim victory in Petit Le Mans, with some bumps along the way.

The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari actually crossed the finish line first, but Daniel Serra had driven the Ferrari 4h11m in a six-hour span, a violation of IMSA’s drive time rules, and was moved to the back.

The Pfaff Motorsports duo of Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet had already clinched the GTD PRO title when the race began, but along with Felipe Nasr, they were still contending for the win in the closing stages, able to race for victory without concern for the championship.

The No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3R was the source of some of the bumps for the Lexus and actually helped set up the apparent victory for Risi. After the penultimate full-course caution for the two Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs coming together, Jaminet was chasing Hawksworth, and had bumper-to-bumper contact heading into Turn 10A. That slowed both cars, and Ferrari and the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL M4 GT3 were propelled into the fight. Hawksworth fought them off, but later, already hurting for straight-line speed compared to the Ferrari and further slowed with body damage, the Ferrari got by on the back stretch.

The Vasser Sullivan Lexus took a few good licks en route to the win. Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

“[Jaminet] rear ended me pretty hard a couple of occasions,” said Hawksworth. “I don’t know how many times I had contact in that last 30 minutes, but somehow the car stayed together.

“[Serra] just drove by me on the straight. We had a little bit of damage. Probably maybe a combination of them having a little bit more there at the end of the race on the straight and also kind of us losing a bit with the kind of damage we were carrying. He just got a run off 7 and just yeah, got around me and that’s how they got the lead.”

It was the first Petit Le Mans win for Vasser Sullivan, Lexus and all three drivers, and the second GTD PRO victory of the season, and a bit of consolation for their GTD teammates, Aaron Telitz, Frankie Montecalvo and Richard Heistand in the No. 12, getting taken out less than halfway through the race by a DPi car.

“Just an amazing day with the whole team at Lexus. We’ve been at this for a long time now. This has always been the aim to win the long races, the endurance races, and I couldn’t be happier for everybody involved in the program and all the hard work. It’s a big thank you to the whole team. Big thank you to these two, they just drove their socks off all day, all weekend and yeah, just a perfect day for us.”

The No. 25 BMW M Team RLL M4 GT3 with Connor De Phillippi, John Edwards and Jesse Krohn finished second after going lap down early from a stop and 60-second hold for working on the car in a closed pit. Pfaff ended up third, getting the worst of the contact with the Lexus. And that contact wasn’t the only trouble they got into during the race.

The No. 3 Corvette of Jordan Taylor, Antonio Garcia and Nicky Catsburg and the Pfaff Porsche ended up at the back of the field after coming together, and it altered the face of the GTD PRO race. Campbell in the No. 9 Porsche was attempting a pass on Jordan Taylor in the No. 3 Corvette into Turn 10A when the two had contact. Taylor, immediately felt that something was off and ducked into the pits, while Campbell didn’t realize he had a tire going down until it was too late, and had to lap slowly with a flat until he got back to the pits. Fortunately it happened early enough that they were able to pull their way back into the race.

The No. 66: Gradient Racing Acura NSX GTD of Kyffin Simpson, Till Bechtolsheimer and Mario Farnbacher led all GT cars to the finish. Michael Levitt/Lumen

While they won GTD PRO, the Lexus team actually finished sixth among the GT cars due to a rather bizarre set of circumstances.

The GTD-class No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW had been strong and was leading GT overall when a full-course caution came out about three hours in. Because of the timing of the yellow, the No. 1 was on lap 100, and the GTD PRO-leading Lexus was on lap 99 when it came out. Thus all the cars in GTD that were ahead between the pace car and the No. 1 BMW when the yellow came out received a wave-around, while the GTD PRO cars did not. Once the class split commenced, all the GTD cars on the lead (GT) lap were put together ahead of the GTD PRO cars, a lap ahead, although they were actually behind the PRO cars on the restart.

The No. 1 BMW faded toward the end of the race; so did the other GTD BMW, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport car that had a problem in qualifying but Robby Foley had pulled into contention with a spectacular first stint. In the end it came down to the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren 720S GT3 and the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 for victory.

Brendan Iribe qualified and started the Inception McLaren and fulfilled his minimum drive time requirement before leaving it to teammates Jordan Pepper and Seb Priaulx and jetting to Spain for another race. Especially in the hands of Pepper, the car was strong and also getting excellent mileage.

The Gradient Acura, though, had had a wastegate issue in qualifying and started next to last. But Mario Farnbacher, Till Bechtolsheimer and Kyffin Simpson pulled the car into contention, Farnbacher chasing Pepper toward the end. But a bit of bad luck for Pepper put Farnbacher in front after the final pit stop, and he held on to give Gradient Racing its fist victory in IMSA competition.

“We made it into pit lane and we did our stop and they had stopped the lap before,” explained Pepper. “When I pulled down pit lane there was a red light and stopped by the Lamborghini which stopped as well, and then they were delayed to pull away when it went green. Unfortunately it was just a couple tenths that split us.

“Then the fight was on. Mario was pushing like he could, gave it everything at the end and I was obviously giving it everything behind him. It was quite fun, I think. the two of us were having our own battle and trying to charge through the GTD PRO field as well. And I think it kind of got stuck at the end when the four PRO cars were smashing into each other. I think that’s when he stopped his progression forward and I could try make an attack. I had one or two opportunities. Maybe a bit of smashing between the two cars would have led to an overtake but I don’t think that’s fair way to race. Mario did incredible job and I think congrats to them.”

Foley, Bill Auberlen and Michael Dinan were third in the Turner BMW.

Unlike in some of the other classes, the protagonists in the GTD championship fight were never really big factors in the race. Roman De Angelis came into Petit Le Mans with a healthy lead in the points over Team Korthoff Motorsports’ Stevan McAleer and Wright Motorsports Jan Heylen and Ryan Hardwick. Korthoff certainly had their opportunity to claim the championship, and at some points in the race, the No. 32 Mercedes-AMG with Mike Skeen and Dirk Mueller was enough positions ahead of De Angelis’s struggling Heart of Racing Aston Martin he shared with Maxime Martin and Ian James that McAleer would have claimed the title. However, an electrical problem late in the race ended that possibility, and De Angelis took the championship.

It was a long hard day for Heart of Racing’s, Aston Martin Vantage, but ended up netting the drivers’ title for Roman De Angelis. Michael Levitt / Lumen

“Definitely lots of lows today up until now so a pretty hectic race,” he said. “We qualified in a pretty good spot, but it was just very messy. We went through a couple of steering wheels today. I’m just swapping through the pitstop. A lot of issues and then a drive through, so I just just really fought to try to get that lap back the whole race because the points gap was basically one position we won by. The team did an awesome job through all the chaos, and through points where we were very far away from getting the championship, to keep motivated and keep fighting. But it definitely all paid off in the end. I’m just really happy to to come up with the championship.”

The Wright duo ended up second in the championship with a fourth-place finish, and McAleer fell to third in the championship.

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