NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Starworks Motorsport wins Northeast Grand Prix

Saturday afternoon saw the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship take on Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.  With the Prototype class not on-site, it was the Prototype Challenge class that were the headliners, despite GT Le Mans getting the majority of the attention (see: The fact that the GT Le Mans class got the anchor spot in the podium ceremonies).

Prototype Challenge

Friday’s action more or less indicated that the race would come down to a battle between Starworks Motorsport‘s No. 8 of Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow and CORE autosport‘s No. 54 of Colin Braun and team owner Jon Bennett.  Braun won the overall pole in the heat of Friday afternoon.  However, similar to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park two weeks ago, a post-qualifying driver change moved the No. 54 to the rear of the class and elevated the PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports‘ No. 52 of Robert Alon and Tom Kimber-Smith to the overall pole.

CORE autosport’s decision put Bennett down in the pack.  A number of early cautions kept Bennett somewhat close when the move was made to put Braun in the car.  However, Braun was hit by the spinning Dream Racing Lamborghini of Cedric Sbirrazzuoli in the chicane (or as Braun described him in a tweet, “Lambo Dude”).  That crash broke the left rear toe link on the No. 54.  After an attempted repair in the pits, CORE autosport retired the No. 54.

(Credit: Phil Allaway)
With teammate Misha Goikhberg getting into no less than three incidents on track, Stephen Simpson had a tough go at Lime Rock. (Credit: Phil Allaway)

Braun’s exit from the event was just one example of the rough stuff on the bullring.  The initial start was waved off because JDC/Miller MotorSportsMisha Goikhberg got in the back of Popow and put debris on the Sam Posey Straightaway.  The second start saw Goikhberg get in the back of outside pole sitter James French in the Performance Tech Motorsports No. 38, forcing French onto the grass.

Later on, Goikhberg was forced onto the grass entering the chicane and spun, hitting the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 driven by Christina Nielsen.  That resulted in more repairs being necessary.

https://youtu.be/Y_udGLSQZ7Q?t=3m30s

It didn’t leave co-driver Stephen Simpson much to work with as the No. 85 eventually finished seventh in class after pulling out late.

The CORE autosport driver change and French’s off-course excursion allowed Alon to lead easily during the first stint.  The IMSA Prototype Lites graduate was fast all weekend and managed to put a little distance on Popow.  However, Popow took the lead during the first round of stops under the third full course yellow when the PR1/Mathiasen crew had issues on pit road that dropped Alon to the back of the class.

Starworks exited pit road with a 1-2 with Popow leading and Jose Gutierrez in the new No. 7 in second.  On the restart, Gutierrez got off-course exiting turn 4 and hit a small placard with an advertising banner on it.  The placard was destroyed and the banner wrapped around the rear wing, forcing Gutierrez to pit.  Later, the No. 7 suffered clutch failure and retired from the race.

Alon came out of the pits eighth overall behind two GTLM cars, then charged right back to the front and took the lead back from Popow on lap 59, just 30 laps after losing it.  Alon held the lead until the fifth full course yellow came out.  That brought in the leaders for more stops. Starworks’ pit crew put van der Zande in for Popow and got the No. 8 out ahead of Kimber-Smith.

From there, van der Zande was able to pull away from Kimber-Smith once they encountered GTD traffic.  The race appeared to be won until van der Zande encountered the No. 38 of Kyle Marcelli in the last few laps.  Kimber-Smith closed up a nearly ten second deficit in a hurry in order to get to van der Zande’s rear bumper in the last couple of laps.  However, once van der Zande got by Marcelli, Kimber-Smith could do nothing as the Dutch racer held on to take his and Popow’s third win of the year.

Afterwards, van der Zande was very happy with the win.

“It’s so nice to win overall,” van der Zande said in the post-race press conference.  “Usually we are not the ones who get to take the checkered flag into the car, but today we get to. I really like this place, every ten laps you have to fight through traffic a lot.

“The fight with Tom Kimber-Smith was great, I had a 10 second lead, and then 2 laps later I have a 0.7 second lead. That makes it very interesting. I love fighting with these guys. I want to say, the LMPC is a very competitive class. The silver drivers are really quick. It’s nice to be around those guys and fight for victories against them. Altogether I’m happy to be on top of this podium.

Kimber-Smith and Alon finished second, just under a second back.  French and Marcelli were third, a lap down.  BAR1 MotorsportsMatt McMurry and Johnny Mowlem were fourth, while Starworks Motorsport’s Mark Kvamme and Remo Ruscitti were fifth.

GT Le Mans

The GT Le Mans class saw a number of problems early on.  Pole sitter Richard Westbrook was passed for the lead in the first turn by BMW Team RLL‘s Dirk Werner.  Unfortunately, that pass was probably the highlight of BMW Team RLL’s day at Lime Rock.  Shortly afterwards, Westbrook was bumped off the road in turn 4 by Risi Competizione‘s Toni Vilander and dropped down the order.

BMW Team RLL walked out of Lime Rock with a double DNF and the same entry for Porsche North America was at least partially responsible for both.  Just a couple of laps into the race, John Edwards was hit in the Diving Turn by the No. 912 of Frédéric Makowiecki.  Edwards spun the No. 100 BMW M6 GTLM and hit the tires head-on to bring out the race’s second full course yellow (officially, the first one was because the initial start was waved off).

https://youtu.be/YQJlxuovk94?t=50s

Edwards walked away from the crash, but the No. 100’s full season funk continued in force as the team was done for the day on lap 5 of 164.  Officials did look into the incident, but determined it to be a “racing deal.”

Past the halfway point, the Nos. 25 and 912 collided again in the same turn.  Werner was still driving the No. 25, but this time, Earl Bamber was behind the wheel of the No. 912.  Bamber got a run exiting West Bend and tried to pass Werner for second in class.  Bamber bounced off the curbs and hit Werner.  The result was that both cars went off the road and hit the tires.

https://youtu.be/X2ebvA3sj-Q?t=38s

As you can see, both cars were heavily damaged.  Both drivers walked away, but Werner was very unhappy with Bamber’s tactics.  Porsche North America’s day was about as bad as BMW Team RLL’s.  In addition to the No. 912 crashing out, the No. 911 stalled twice on track with Patrick Pilet driving, bringing out full course cautions both times.

Risi Competizione had the class lead with Giancarlo Fisichella on the final restart and seemed like they were in good position to win.  However, Fisichella got off-course with 30 minutes to go and lost the lead to Corvette Racing‘s Oliver Gavin.  A couple of laps later, Fisichella was nerfed off the road by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Ryan Briscoe and dropped back to fourth.

The off-course excursion resulted in Corvette Racing ending up 1-2 with Gavin leading and Antonio Garcia‘s No. 3 in second in a recovery drive after a penalty.  Gavin was able to hold on to take the victory for himself and co-driver Tommy Milner.

Garcia and Jan Magnussen were second while Westbrook and Briscoe snapped their three race winning streak with a third-place finish.  Fisichella and Vilander were fourth, while Joey Hand and Dirk Müller were fifth in the second Ford GT.

GT Daytona

In GT Daytona, the action was close, fast and furious on Saturday.  The top 11 cars in the class qualified within five and a half tenths of a of pole.  Magnus Racing, with team owner John Potter driving, was the 11th of those cars.  Teammate Andy Lally was confident ahead of the race.

“I am pretty optimistic,” Lally told Frontstretch during the pre-race Fan Walk.  “John [Potter] hates this track, but had his best time yet.  This is the closest to pole that he’s ever qualified before.  The fact that we’re this close to the tight pack is a good sign.  If [Potter] can hold onto these guys, do a little battle with them, stay clean and hand over on the lead lap, I’m looking forward to seeing if I can reproduce those fast times [from Friday].”

(Credit: Phil Allaway)
John Potter, pictured here during qualifying, helped set up Lally’s charge during the race on Saturday. (Credit: Phil Allaway)

Ultimately, the start and stop nature did keep Magnus Racing in the hunt early on during Potter’s stint.  Choosing not to stop under the third full course yellow bumped Potter up to second in class behind Alex Job Racing‘s Cooper MacNeil.  Potter was able to maintain second until he stopped shortly after the restart from the fourth full course caution to put Lally in the car.  Since there were only 11 minutes between cautions three and four, the pits weren’t open during the caution.  Potter stopped when he did because it was close to a full fuel run.  Lally got in the car, but resumed a lap down.

Lally showed a lot of pace in charging up through the GTD pack, but had to get a caution in order to get back onto the lead lap.  Once he got that yellow, the large pack that Lally mentioned formed.  The top 9 drivers in class were nose-to-tail with Alex Job Racing’s Leh Keen trailing in tenth.  Riley MotorsportsJeroen Bleekemolen had the lead with Alex Job Racing-Team Seattle‘s Alex Riberas in second.

Lally then initiated a charge up the order. While the tires wouldn’t allow for laps in the 52-second bracket like on Friday, Lally was on a roll, coming from seventh to second quickly.  With 22 minutes to go, Lally took the outside at Big Bend and swept around Bleekemolen to take the overall lead.  Stevenson MotorsportsRobin Liddell followed past.

As Liddell pressured Lally for the lead, Riberas challenged Bleekemolen for third.  With 13 minutes to go, Riberas ran into the back of Bleekemolen and damaged the No. 23 Porsche.

With Scuderia Corsa’s No. 63 way back due to earlier crash damage, Riberas and teammate Mario Farnbacher had a chance to make up significant ground.

That was not meant to be.  The hit on Bleekemolen broke a steering arm on the No. 23 Porsche, forcing them into retirement.  They actually lost ground to Scuderia Corsa as a result.

Lally eventually shook off Liddell and pulled away to take his and Potter’s second win of the year.  Liddell and Andrew Davis finished second, followed by Bleekemolen and Ben Keating in what they described as the slowest car out there in third.  Paul Miller Racing‘s Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers were fourth, while Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell were fifth in the second Stevenson Audi.

The next IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America on Aug. 7.  Live coverage will air on FOX Sports 1 at 4 p.m.

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