Action Express Racing took Petit Le Mans victory as Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran and Pipo Derani continued their blistering early pace as night fell at Road Atlanta, but the trio were helped by late drama for their sister Cadillac DPi and Mazda’s front-running prototype.
Running second going into the final hour behind the #5 Action Express car of Filipe Albuquerque, Mike Conway and Joao Barbosa, the polesitting #31 was handed the perfect opportunity to close up when a caution was called for with 40 minutes to go when Toni Vilander spun the Scuderia Corsa GTD Ferrari into the gravel at turn one.
With the leading DPi crews pulling in for a quick splash of fuel, the stage seemed set for a remarkable final 25 minutes of all-out action.
However, just as the action really got going, a dramatic brake disc failure for Albuquerque shot him off the track at turn 10a from the lead of the race. He recovered back to the pits, but lost a significant amount of time – six laps to be exact – as the team attempted to repair the damage, the #5 was classified in seventh at the flag.
The #31 also received a big stroke of luck when the #77 Team Joest Mazda of Timo Bernhard, Tristan Nunez and Oliver Jarvis suffered a misfire on the restart after the final caution period and faded down the order, finishing a twice lapped sixth.
Their misfortune allowed Action Express into the lead, but not a comfortable one. Jordan Taylor – in his last race for the family Wayne Taylor Racing team before replacing Jan Magnussen at Corvette Racing in 2020 – closed in on Derani in the closing minutes but ran out of time to make the decisive move into the lead, finishing second in the Cadillac DPi he shares with Renger van der Zande and Matthieu Vaxiviere by just 0.996sec.
After an up-and-down first half of the race, which saw Castroneves rear-ended the Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca LMP2, the #7 Team Penske Acura finished on the podium as Castroneves’ team-mate Ricky Taylor kept up with the front-runners to remain the only car on the lead lap but unable to do anything about the astonishing pace of the Cadillacs out front.
Fourth was enough for Juan Pablo Montoya to claim his first IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship title alongside now two-time winner Dane Cameron in the second Penske Acura. Despite finishing a lap down, the pair – who shared the car with Simon Pagenaud for the enduro rounds – took the title by five points from Nasr and Derani.
Completing the top five, less than five seconds down on the Penske, was the #84 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac.
Risi Competizione took its first IMSA win in three years as Ferrari’s crack Le Mans winning squad of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra proved to be the class of the GT Le Mans field in the team’s Ferrari 488 GTE.
Calado led going into the final caution period and although his advantage over Ryan Briscoe in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT evaporated, the Brit weathered Briscoe’s early attack and as the Ford faded Calado crossed the line with a comfortable 7.7sec advantage.
That Risi was even in a position to take the win was thanks to a faultless drive throughout the 10 hours of racing, which kept the Houston-based team within striking distance of the Fords – which were racing for the final time as a factory effort – and when Scott Dixon lost a fraction of pace in the #67, Pier Guidi made the decisive move to power ahead and into the lead.
BMW Team RLL finished the season on a high as the #25 BMW M8 GTE of Connor De Phillippi, Colton Herta and Tom Blomqvist finished on the GTLM podium.
The #3 Corvette Racing C7.R finished fourth in the hands of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller. The Corvette squad was fifth at the restart, but after the #912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR was shouldered off track by the Action Express DPi the Detroit team gained a place but ran out of time to fully chase down the BMW, finishing 4.9sec behind.
Despite the #912 losing a place, Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber – #Bamthor – still comfortably took the GTLM drivers’ title, having needed to finish at least eighth. The Porsche the duo shared with Mathieu Jaminet had a relatively quiet race, but the trio took on the strategy of not taking unnecessary risks as they finished a lap ahead of the sister #911 of Nick Tandy, Fred Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet.
Bill Auberlen took his 60th victory in IMSA competition as Turner Motorsports proved to be in the right place, at the right time to take a remarkable win in its BMW M6 GT3, having started at the back of the GT Daytona field after failing to set a lap time in qualifying.
After great stints from Robbie Foley and Dillon Machavern, Auberlen was in the car in the final hour and set about battling the Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 – which was shared between Felipe Fraga, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating. Fraga took the final stint, and after stopping with 65 minutes to go, knew fuel was going to be tight.
A period under caution allowed Fraga to save fuel, but with Auberlen – who made two stops in the same time Fraga made just the one – breathing down his neck, the Brazilian had to give it his all to secure victory.
The battle was decided on the final lap as Auberlen muscled his way through on the run through the Esses with Fraga running off track and then stopping as the Mercedes finally ran out of fuel.
Despite not taking the flag, the Riley squad was classified as fourth, giving the team enough points to take the GTD class honours in the North American Endurance Cup for the third year in succession.
Back on track, the Mercedes’ demise promoted the Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS into second, with Christopher Mies needing just one more lap to try and make a move for the lead, instead finishing just 0.510sec down in the runner up spot.
The Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3.R claimed the final spot on the podium after a clean race proved to be a smart tactic for Scott Hargrove, Zachary Robichon and Lars Kern.
Despite Vilander’s late trip into the gravel, the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 – also driven by Jeff Westphal and Cooper MacNeil – took fifth, just under three seconds ahead of the polesitting Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 0f Bryan Sellers, Corey Lewis and Marco Seefried.
Neither of the two LMP2 runners finished the race. After Performance Tech’s early retirement, a technical issue for the PR1 Mathiasen car just before the halfway mark proved permanent. PR1’s Matt McMurray had already secured the LMP2 title having started the race.