Nick Tandy said on Friday the only real way for he and Mathieu Jaminet to be in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTP title fight when the season concludes at Petit Le Mans next month was to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Mission accomplished as the two Porsche Penske Motorsport went one-two in Roger Penske’s playground.
“Second win of the season, came back in the championship fight, so it’s a great day for Porsche, for the whole team,” said Jaminet. “And the first one-two for for the Porsche Penske operation, so I think that’s a day for history books. Really pleased with that.”
The two PPM 963s had been dominant all weekend, leading all the practice sessions and locking out the front row in qualifying. In particular, it was Matt Campbell in the No. 7 who had been quickest. But a lockup at the start – deja vu for Campbell after a similar incident from pole at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – and another at a critical moment for Campbell’s co-driver Felipe Nasr meant their teammates took their second victory of the season in the No. 6 963. It also turned the championship into a four-way battle at the finale, thanks in part to Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly finishing third in the No. 25 BMW.
Polesitter Campbell locked up heading into Turn 1 at the start and ran wide, sending Jaminet to the front.
“It was tough race for us,” said Campbell after noting the importance of the one-two finish for the team. “It sort of started going to shit a little bit at Turn 1. I just couldn’t stop the car on a dirty line, unfortunately, and just ran that little bit wide.”
Campbell’s bobble may have contributed to a mess behind him, where Philipp Eng in the No. 24 BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8 tagged Sebastien Bourdais’s No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac, spinning it. Tom Blomqvist couldn’t get the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura ARX-06 stopped in time, and the Acura and Cadillac had nose-to-nose contact. Bourdais had to take the Cadillac in for emergency service during the ensuing full-course caution (two GTD cars also had contact at the start, giving further cause for a caution) for a new nose and tire. Blomqvist was left with an ill-handling car until the nose could be replaced during the first pit stop, which came during a full-course caution. Neither car would be much of a factor afterward.
That left Jaminet in the lead, Campbell in pursuit, with the pair of BMWs in third (No. 24) and fourth (No. 25). Things quickly went south for Eng and the No. 24, as he first had to pit for a new tire, then a new nose, and then a long stop for a power-loss issue that left him 10 laps down.
Watch as drivers scramble to avoid the spinning driver.
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While the two PPM 963s finished-one two at the boss’s racetrack, where naturally they had had an abundance of testing, it was far from a sure thing in the middle of the race. Through a rather bizarre set of circumstances that began with the second of the race’s two full-course cautions – which came somewhat ideally for most competitors at just under two hours to go in the race, Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac V-Series.R was in command. In fact, one of the most memorable images of IMSA’s return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway may have been Derani jockeying with Tandy for position behind the safety car.
All the GTP leaders came in for tires, fuel and new drivers, with the exception of AXR, which kept Derani in the car while changing tires and fueling. Derani actually left the pits in between the two Porsches, but couldn’t merge and had to fall behind before the pit exit. When the class split commenced, the Porsches didn’t go, and Derani did. Officials determined that Nasr and Tandy hadn’t followed proper procedure for the class split, and had to give the lead to Derani. For a few moments of confusion, they seemed to be fighting for the position as they circulated behind the safety car.
“I was a little late, getting the call to go, but I had already pulled out in line to initiate the class split and and I went for it,” explained Tandy. “But at the same time, the 31 obviously had already started exhilarating and did pass us before we made made the class split. So I maintained my my position that we had, hopefully, done the procedure correct, they obviously felt that they had done the procedure correctly, and it was obviously ruled by race control that they should be in front. It compromised, a little bit I think both of our tire warm-up, being side by side for two laps.”
Derani was in front, and determined to stay there. Nasr got by Tandy, and proceeded to attack whenever the opportunity arose, but Derani remained in control for a while, even getting some nice advantages in traffic. With a little over an hour to go, Derani got held up by a couple of LMP3 cars racing each other in the Turn 12-13 complex. That gave Nasr a good run down the long front straight, and as Derani approached the turn, moving inside another P3 car, he locked up and ran wide just as Campbell had done at the start. Both Porsches went through, Nasr leading over Tandy.
For 20 minutes they battled, nearly touching each other at one point, until the final round of pit stops. Nasr brought the No. 7 in first, but on cold tires on the out lap, he locked up and slid into the grass while Tandy was getting tires and fuel. That was the difference in the race, and the No. 6 cruised to victory without further harassment.
“It feels good,” declared Jaminet. “I’ve been very disappointed since Watkins Glen. We’ve had only — pretty much — bad races. And looking at it, it still hurts. So we finally get a win back, and that put us back on the championship hunt. And I’m just hungry for more, to be honest. I just want to go to Atlanta now and race.”
The No. 31 was still looking at a podium finish, which would have put the team in a much better position going into the finale, but De Phillippi took over third after Derani handed the Cadillac over to Alexander Sims, who brought the No. 31 home fourth. Erstwhile championship leaders Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor finished fifth in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport Acura.
The fact that the top four in the championship finished in inverse order of the points coming in meant that it’s a dead heat going into the Petit Le Mans finale for the first championship of the new GTP era. Sims and Derani now lead with 2460 points. Albuquerque and Taylor are only three points back, and Jaminet and Tandy are five points off the lead. But De Phillippi and Yelloly still have a solid shot at the title, being only 38 points – which could be two positions in the race – out of the lead. Even Nasr and Campbell, as unlikely as it might be, are within reach of the championship.
“I said before the weekend, we really simply needed to win here to have a decent shot going into Atlanta, and it’s given us a chance at the end of the day,” said Tandy. “To give the people that work in his team a chance of winning a championship in Atlanta. It’s amazing. So really, really pleased to cross that yard [of bricks]. It was it was an emotional moment for sure.
Steven Thomas and Mikkel Jensen won LMP2 in the No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA, propelling them into the lead of that class championship.
“When we started the year our goal was to win the championship,” said Thomas. “So that’s at the front of our mind all the time. But you know, right in front of you is a win in Indianapolis, so that’s a pretty big deal if you’re a racer anywhere in the world. So we were thrilled to get the win and thrilled now to be in first place.”
It wasn’t an easy victory by any means. When Jensen got in the car, he had a big deficit to the No. 8 Tower Motorsports car of Dan Goldburg and Louis Deletraz, and the PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA of Ben Keating and Paul-Loup Chatin, but they had pitted during the second yellow leaving them with more than an hour-and-a-half to go for two stints, and needed to drive conservatively to make it to the end.
“When we had the yellow, the Tower car and the PR1 car pitted, but it was probably three laps short for them to make it to the end, so they had to fuel save,” explained Jensen. “So when I got in the car, I had 50s to the leader, 40 seconds to P2. And obviously they have to fuel save, but you never know how much do you have to push. After the first stint I was up in second and then only had to pass for the lead. But the whole race you’re hunting something and I think they were even over doing their fuel numbers to try and see if they could put pressure on us. But we just tried to stay consistent, focus on our own race and at the end they had to give up and lost a lot of pace because they had to save a lot of fuel.”
Goldburg and Deletraz ended up second, and George Kurtz and Ben Hanley in the No. 04 Crowdstrike Racing by APR ORECA were third. Jensen and Thomas lead Keating and Chatin in the championship by 20 points, 1680 to 1660. It’s another 80 points back to Kurtz and Hanley.
The LMP3 championship may be out of reach, but Anthony Mantella and Wayne Boyd had plenty to celebrate after taking the second LMP3 victory of the season, the first coming in the non-points Rolex 24 at Daytona. Boyd had to overcome his own spin in the No. 17 AWA Duqueine to take the victory, however.
“I had a lack of talent in Turn 8 early on in my stint,” Boyd explainjed. “I just took too much curb and lost it but, thankfully, it was basically a 360 and we got going again very quickly. It was interesting because … it wasn’t planned, but it actually opened up our strategy a little bit more because we were kind of further back, then it allowed us to go longer in the stint, which really paid off into our favor.”
Mantella and Boyd are 244 points back of Gar Robinson, who has virtually clinched the championship, and 29 points ahead of Garret Grist going into the finale.