For much of the last 40 minutes of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Motul Petit Le Mans Saturday (Oct. 13), it seemed like Action Express Racing’s Filipe Albuquerque was going to bring home the win. With just a couple of corners to go, Albuquerque’s Cadillac DPi-V.R. ran out of fuel. That allowed Wayne Taylor Racing’s Renger van der Zande, who had made his final pit stop later and been stalking him all the way, to get past and take the overall victory for himself, Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“I did [see Albuquerque burble],” van der Zande told Frontstretch after the race. “It was a game of saving fuel; if you save enough fuel, then you’ll make it [to the finish]. At the end, [Albuquerque] was pushing very, very hard and I think that’s why he ran out of fuel. I was asking over the radio, ‘you told me [Albuquerque] wasn’t going to make it. We’re in the last lap now and it’s not going to happen.
“At the end, into [Turn] 10a, I saw he was running kind of slow and I thought, ‘is he really going to run slow now? Is this a dream?,” van der Zande continued. “But, it wasn’t a dream and made the move. I’m super happy and I was screaming on the radio.”
Tequila Patron ESM’s Pipo Derani started from the overall pole and spent much of the first couple of hours battling with both of the Mazdas. Both of the Acura Team Penske entries were right there in the hunt as well.
Unfortunately for Juan Pablo Montoya, his charge was short-lived. Early in the second hour, Montoya had a right rear failure that pitched him into the tires in Turn 3. Montoya was ok, but any chance of a good finish was over. Acura Team Penske did get the car back out, but the No. 6 Acura finished 13th in class, 133 laps down.
For much of the race, Acura Team Penske’s No. 7 of Graham Rahal and the No. 77 of Tristan Nunez swapped the lead back and forth. Tequila Patron ESM’s No. 22 with Derani, Johannes van Overbeek and Timo Bernhard was not far behind.
In the final hour, the race looked like it was going to come down to a race between Derani and Albuquerque. Derani had the lead until Albuquerque made an agressive move to take it away at the chicane with a half-hour remaining . Van der Zande was close behind and at times, was able to close up to Derani’s rear end to make it a three-way battle for the win.
With seven laps to go, van der Zande was able to get past Derani after haunting him for 20 minutes. Shortly afterwards, Derani had to pit for a splash of fuel, falling to a sixth-place finish.
With the chaos of the final lap, van der Zande’s margin of victory was 5.306 seconds over the No. 77 Mazda shared by Nunez, Oliver Jarvis and Lucas di Grassi. The No. 55 Mazda of Jonathan Bomarito, Marino Franchitti and Spencer Pigot was third. Pigot admitted after the race to agricultural racing on the final lap, getting all four wheels off the track while passing Albuquerque to get onto the podium.
Albuquerque was able to coast the No. 5 Cadillac shared with Christian Fittipaldi and Tristan Vautier to a fourth-place finish, while Acura Team Penske’s No. 7 ARX-05 for Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal and Ricky Taylor were fifth.
Championship-wise, Action Express Racing’s Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr entered the race with only a four point advantage over CORE autosport’s Colin Braun and Jon Bennett. Much like the race for the win, the championship came down to fuel mileage. Nasr pitted with 48 minutes to go and had to enter into a substantial fuel conservation program in order to make it to the end. Braun ran much harder than Nasr and ran up to fourth overall late.
Braun was in position to earn the championship, but the fuel light came on with 11 minutes remaining. A late pit stop dropped Braun back to seventh, two-thirds of a lap down. Meanwhile, Nasr slowed his pace down nearly five seconds a lap and fell off of the lead lap, desperately trying to make it to the end.
Ultimately, while Braun did finish in front of Nasr’s No. 31 Cadillac, Nasr finished eighth. That was enough to give Curran and Nasr the 2018 Prototype championship by a mere three points.
In GT Le Mans, the whole class was squarely in contention for much of the race. First-lap contact nearly ripped a headlight from the No. 25 BMW. A stop under an early yellow for a replacement nose cost the team a lap. They were able to make that up and the whole class was on the lead lap as late as the eighth hour.
Then, trouble struck. During a full course caution, Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia appeared to clip the grass exiting the pits after a stop. He then spun and nosed into the wall, throwing the championship up in the air. Garcia drove back to the pit and directly to the paddock. Quick repairs were made that got the No. 3 back on-track in only two laps. However, given the closeness of the field, the goal was simply to get as much as you can for the rest of the race.
Porsche GT Team’s No. 911 driven by Nick Tandy made his final stop with 54 minutes to go. From there, Tandy was able to conserve enough fuel to get the Porsche 911 RSR shared with Frédéric Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet their second win of the year.
Despite having to save a significant amount of fuel, Tandy got to the line 11.443 seconds ahead of the No. 4 Corvette shared by Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner. BMW Team RLL’s No. 24 of John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Chaz Mostert were third, followed by the No. 25 of Bill Auberlen, Connor De Phillippi and Alexander Sims. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing IMSA’s Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon and Richard Westbrook were fifth.
The issues for the No. 3 Corvette gave Briscoe and Westbrook a chance at the GT Le Mans championship. However, Briscoe dropped back in the final hour, allowing Garcia and Magnussen to successfully defend the class championship despite not winning a race. The final margin was six points.
In GT Daytona, the race for the championship was between Paul Miller Racing teammates Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow and Meyer Shank Racing’s Katherine Legge. The points lead was six points entering the race and both cars were right on par.
Another strong effort was that of Riley Motorsports’ Mercedes for Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Luca Stolz. After breaking a rear suspension piece during qualifying, the team went straight to the front during the race. They had a great chance at winning until Stolz made a terrible mistake in the seventh hour. Stolz committed a wave-by error under yellow. That’s a very strict penalty. A stop and 166 second hold cost the team two laps and dropped them clean out of contention.
Scuderia Corsa’s No. 63 Ferrari for Daniel Serra, Gunnar Jeannette and Cooper MacNeil was in position to pick up the slack. In the final hour of the race, Serra was in the lead with Àlvaro Parente in the No. 86 Acura baring down on him. Sellers was third, keeping Parente in sight. Over the final stint, Parente would make runs up to a few car lengths behind Serra, but could not get up to the WeatherTech Ferrari. Serra held on to give Scuderia Corsa their first win of the year.
The margin of victory was seven-eighths of a second over the No. 86 Acura of Legge, Parente and Trent Hindman. Paul Miller Racing’s Sellers, Snow and Corey Lewis finished third, followed by Wright Motorsports’ Porsche for Patrick Long, Christina Nielsen and Robert Renauer. The No. 64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Townsend Bell, Matteo Cressoni and Frankie Montecalvo were fifth despite visible donuts and damage.
Paul Miller Racing’s third-place finish was enough to give Sellers and Snow the GT Daytona championship for 2018. The final margin was a mere four points over Legge.