Some IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races are won on the track and some are won in the pits.
During Sunday’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP), it was a case of the latter for the winning No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.
After starting second – one week after collecting the pole position at Watkins Glen International – the No. 67 paced itself throughout the first half of the race, as each of the four manufacturers in the class took their turns atop the leaderboard.
With less than an hour remaining, Westbrook took the reins from starting co-driver Briscoe and ran second behind the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia. Garcia then ducked into the pits as the class was set to cycle through another round of stops and Westbrook cycled into the lead.
Drama quickly began to unfold as the No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi of Juan Pablo Montoya lost a tire on track, bringing out a full-course caution. Aware of the situation, the No. 67 Ford dove into the pits immediately before the caution was called and completed its stop as the safety car exited pit lane.
“You never stop believing,” said Westbrook. “We really improved the car after first practice. It was a real handful. And at period of times during the race, it was still a handful. We see stuff from the pickup. But when the guys gave me some clear track, I managed to clean up the tires and the pace wasn’t too bad.
“They just did a great call, so this goes to the team and my fantastic teammate giving us a fantastic chance putting it on the front row, which was definitely over-achieving. It just gives us great confidence knowing we can win in this way. It’s just great to be part of.”
The win at CTMP is the second of the year for Westbrook and Briscoe, who also delivered Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s 200th team win at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.
And for the first time this season, the team entered the race weekend not in the GTLM championship lead, but in second place behind teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford GT, who won last Sunday at at Watkins Glen. However, with their victory and a fifth-place finish for the No. 66 at CTMP, Westbrook and Briscoe reclaimed their position at the top.
“Unreal,” said Briscoe of getting the championship lead back. “This result today, as Rick said, played the strategy perfectly, play the traffic, and Rick just drove unbelievably. I mean the car was not easy to drive today. He was just masterful. What a result. We’ll definitely take that.”
A pair of Corvettes rounded out the remaining steps on the GTLM podium, with the No. 3 of Garcia and co-driver Jan Magnussen holding on to second place and the No. 4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin in third. With the runner-up result, the No. 3 moves into second place in the point standings, six points out of first, 181-175.
Next up, the GTLM class heads to Lime Rock Park in two weeks for the first GT-only duel of the 2018 season. The two-hour, 40-minute Northeast Grand Prix will be televised on a delayed basis beginning at 4 p.m. ET on FS1. Tickets for the race are available at www.limerock.com.
Keating, Bleekemolen Drive Mercedes-AMG to Victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
Mercedes-AMG returned to victory lane Sunday in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen co-driving to the win in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Bleekemolen capitalized on a late-race restart to get around the No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Kyle Marcelli for the win. The pass came with 14 minutes remaining, one lap after the restart, with Bleekemolen leading the final 13 laps en route to winning the race by 2.919 seconds.
It was the first win of the season for Keating and Bleekemolen and the No. 33 Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3, and the team’s first since Circuit of The Americas in May, 2017.
“I’m excited to be back in victory lane,” said Keating. “It’s been over a year since we’ve had a win, so it’s nice to be back. We had a really good car today. We came out of the truck with this setup. We really hit it well.”
“The Lexus was struggling a little more than I was,” added Bleekemolen. “We were fighting and I got a little bit of a gap, and then we tried to keep it and just bring it home. (Marcelli) had a little slide going through Turn 9. I tried for Turn 10, I got inside of him there. He gave me the space, so I took it.”
The win also keeps Keating and Bleekemolen alive in the GTD championship hunt. The duo entered the weekend 21 points behind the points-leading No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers – who finished fourth – and 20 points behind Katherine Legge in the No. 86 SiriusXM Acura NSX GT3 for Meyer Shank Racing, who finished fifth co-driving with Alvaro Parente.
Sellers and Snow now lead Legge by three points, 183-180, while Keating and Bleekemolen are 14 points out of the lead.
The runner-up finish for Marcelli and co-driver Dominik Baumann was the duo’s second podium of the season. It also caps off a special weekend for Barrie, Ontario native Marcelli, who won yesterday’s IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race.
“Of course, we’re competitors and we want to win and it’s a good thing when you’re upset with second,” said Marcelli. “We had a fast car, but we really struggled at the end of the stint with our rear tire and we knew that, so we did not need the yellows. I needed it to stay green.”
A hard-charging Andy Lally rounded out the podium, moving from fifth to third in the final 15 minutes in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 co-driven by John Potter. Lally just missed a second-place finish, falling 0.095 seconds short of Marcelli at the stripe.
Five races remain in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season for the GTD class. Up next is the GT-only Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park on July 21.