WeatherTech Mercedes, Forte Lamborghini Score GTD Wins @ Petit Le Mans

WeatherTech Mercedes, Forte Lamborghini Score GTD Wins @ Petit Le Mans

With championship battles settled early in Grand Touring Daytona PRO (GTD PRO) and Grand Touring Daytona (GTD), Saturday’s 26th annual Motul Petit Le Mans allowed the class races to shine through.

WeatherTech Racing scored its fourth IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD PRO win of the season, while Forte Racing Powered by USRT overcame several setbacks to capture its maiden GTD win.

The WeatherTech GTD PRO trio of Jules Gounon, Daniel Juncadella and Maro Engel in the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 car had one in-race penalty on a day that featured a bevy of them throughout the 52-car field. A fourth hour drive-through was assessed for failure to adhere to the minimum refueling time.

But that was their only major issue on the day and the trio’s pace kept them in the top four in class most of the race. The car came alive in the cooler night conditions and Juncadella held off the advances of Kevin Estre, in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (992), to bring home the win.

Additionally, the win secured Juncadella and Gounon the GTD PRO title in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup. Engel was part of the team’s bookend wins here and the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. It is the fourth career WeatherTech Championship win for all three drivers.

“It was up and down with the drive-through, but we came back through to the win,” Engel said. “What an endurance season it’s been for these guys, big thanks to these guys.”

The rest of the GTD PRO race generally revolved around ends of runs.

Pfaff’s five-year run with its fan favorite “plaid Porsche” ended on the podium, Estre sharing the car with full-season co-drivers Patrick Pilet and Klaus Bachler. The Steve Bortolotti-led team switches to McLaren in 2024.

Risi Competizione, racing 25 years on from winning the inaugural Petit Le Mans in 1998, rounded out the podium with a largely trouble-free drive to third with Daniel Serra, Davide Rigon and Alessandro Pier Guidi aboard their No. 62 Ferrari 296 GT3.

Vasser Sullivan, in their No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3, won the title at race start but suffered their first finish outside the top-five in more than a year. In the fifth hour, Ben Barnicoat hit the Turn 3 curb, which launched the car airborne, into a sign and destroyed the front end of the car.

Lastly, a to-be-determined engine issue sidelined Corvette Racing and its No. 3 Corvette C8.R in its last race as a full factory program. That left the trio of Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Tommy Milner an unrepresentative seventh after contending for the win in the opening hours.

Forte Lamborghini Overcomes Three Penalties to Win GTD

An otherwise luckless year for Lamborghini in WeatherTech Championship competition came good at the end, with the brand’s first victory of 2023. It came in unusual circumstances.

The trio of Loris Spinelli, Misha Goikhberg and Patrick Liddy incurred three drive-through penalties in their No. 78 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO2 yet rallied through strategy and pace to secure the victory. It is Goikhberg’s fourth, and Spinelli and Liddy’s first WeatherTech Championship win.

Leading in the fifth hour, the car received a drive-through for jumping a restart. Then in the eighth hour, the car picked up two more: one for incident responsibility with the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and the other for working on the car outside the pit box.

That dropped the car well outside the top five but through a methodical charge from Spinelli, the No. 78 Lamborghini was back in fourth at the start of the ninth hour and leading moments before the tenth and final hour

Liddy, watching from the pit box, perhaps had the best view of the proceedings.

“It was unbelievable. Watching Loris the last couple hours was gut wrenching!” he said.

“It was a clean race, other than our three drive-throughs,” Liddy continued. “The strategy from our crew was absolutely unbelievable. It’s probably the coolest race I’ve ever been in.”

From the driver’s seat, Spinelli praised the Forte by USRT team.

“We started the race really well, and ran in the top five for a couple hours,” he said. “We had a couple penalties but the guys gave me an amazing effort for the last three hours. I’m thankful to Lamborghini and the Forte team.”

The podium changed on the final restart of the race, leading to the 13th full-course caution. What looked to be a possible Porsche second through fourth finishing order behind the Lamborghini, came unglued. 

Two cars appeared to squeeze Jan Heylen’s No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (992), running in second place, exiting Turn 10, and the resulting damage led to a fire that forced the Belgian to pull off course at Turn 3 and extinguish the flames himself. Seb Priaulx, poised to score a podium in the No. 80 AO Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R (992), ran off course behind Heylen at Turn 10 and lost track position.

In the chaos, Turner Motorsport leapt to second with Robby Foley, Patrick Gallagher and Michael Dinan sharing the No. 96 BMW M4 GT3. The only Porsche on the GTD podium was the other Wright Motorsports car in third, with Alan Brynjolfsson, Trent Hindman and Maxwell Root sharing the No. 77 Porsche in potentially that trio’s last race together for the time being.

Similar to GTD PRO, trouble befell the champions, as early contact and a potential steering rack failure stifled Paul Miller Racing’s attempts at adding a Michelin Endurance Cup crown to its full-season GTD and WeatherTech Sprint Cup titles.

The team that provisionally picked up the Michelin Endurance Cup crown in GTD was Korthoff Preston Motorsports, with Mike Skeen, Mikael Grenier and Kenton Koch finishing sixth in the No. 32 Mercedes-AMG GT3. 

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