While the buildup was over-hyped as usual, the actual running of GT-only cars at Lime Rock on Saturday was a close and treacherous racing as you’ll ever see in American sports car.
After the debris had been cleared and the yellow flags disappeared a Lamborghini took first in GTD, with the following race cars – all of which are closely related to their production versions – Acura, Porsche, BMW – touched doors on the bucolic and windy course in North Western Connecticut.
In the marginally faster LMGT class (particularly at Lime Rock because there are no long straights where power rules, just seven challenging different radius turns) Ford Chip Ganassi Racing played the rare role of spoiler by finishing first Saturday in the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park.
It was the third consecutive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTLM win for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing with Hand and Mueller winning two races ago at Watkins Glen, and the No. 67 Ford GT of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe winning the most recent race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Too bad for Corvette Racing with promoters hyping the potential of an historic 100th career IMSA win following what had been a dominant weekend for the team. However, the No. 66 Ford GT of Joey Hand slowly caught and eventually passed the No. 3 Corvette C7.R of race leader Jan Magnussen with 13 minutes remaining, driving away to an 11.431 second victory alongside co-driver Dirk Mueller.
The winning pass came when Magnussen tried to make a move on a GT Daytona (GTD) car in Turn 7. Magnussen cleared the car but ran wide- in an extremely rare mistake, allowing Hand to slip by. It was as unexpected as it was exciting since the old pro Magnussen and co-driver Antonio Garcia were strong all weekend, starting on the pole and combining to lead 150 of the race’s 178 laps.
“I think today we capitalized on some opportunities, some guys made mistakes and we were right there to take advantage of it,” said Hand. “Winning races is all about that, winning championships is all about winning races…I hope everybody enjoyed the race today. This is one of those places where you get that feeling, you have such genuine fans here. You can see them on the hillside, it’s like a stadium race. It’s like a short track Saturday night. I think that’s what makes this WeatherTech series a show, and it has to be a show. That’s why we’re all paid to be here. I’ll tell you, when I get to race in the show and I get to win, that’s what makes it worth it.”
With their second consecutive podium finish Andy Lally and John Potter in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 drove to survive on the tight track. Lally’s drive to the front for second place imposing. Also impressive was Gunnar Jeannette, who survuved a spin during his stint to finish third with co-driver Cooper MacNeil in the No. 63 WeatherTech Racing Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3.
Both Ford GTs are now in a tense points battle with Corvette Racing with four races remaining. Mueller and Hand unofficially now have 208 points in a Ford, with Garcia and Magnussen a point behind with 207 in the C7.R Corvette and Briscoe and Westbrook one point further back with 206.
After seeing a five-race podium streak in the IMSA SportsCar Championship broken two weeks ago, the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow powered to the GT Daytona (GTD) class victory. Five manufacturers were atop the leaderboard at some point during the close race. When the checkered flag dropped the No. 48, Lamborghini proved to be the best of the day – it was close though – as they led the final 63 laps of the two-hour, 40-minute race. By the race’s end, six different manufacturers made up the top six finishers.
“It was a great race,” said Snow. “Anytime you end up on the podium, it’s good, and when you win, it can’t get any better. Bryan gave me the car in a position where there was nobody around, so I just sat there and did laps. That’s a lot of pressure when you’re handed the car like that. You do everything you can to keep the car there and stay ahead. No matter how big of a gap you have to the people behind you, it’s never enough. You’re always nervous.”
The victory is the second of 2018 for Paul Miller Racing. The team’s previous win this season came at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March. With six podiums now on the season, Sellers and Snow widened their lead in the GTD championship standings to 10 points (218-208) over Katherine Legge, who finished fourth in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 with Alvaro Parente.
The WeatherTech Championship returns in two weeks at Road America with its long straightaways for the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase on Sunday, Aug. 5. The race signals the return of the Prototype class following Lime Rock’s GT-only even. It can be seen live on FS1 at 2:30 p.m. ET. The race will be carried live by IMSA Radio on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius 138/XM 202/App 972).