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There’s something about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Roger Penske. Put the two together and the outcomes are often victorious.
In the first GTP race at the storied track, where Penske is now the owner, Penske Porsche Motorsport and its Porsche 963s were “Uber Alles.” The team’s winning No. 6 of Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet led the No. 7 of Matt Campbell and Felipe Nazr across the line of bricks at the checkered flag.
On a dominating weekend that began with Campbell’s pole, the runner-up Porsche was 16 seconds clear of the nearest competitor, the third-placed BMW M Hybrid V8 of Connor De Fellippi and Nick Yelloly.
The Penske team was “in a league of their own,” said Pipo Derani, who led the race with 90 minutes to go before finishing fourth with Alexander Sims in the Action Express Racing Cadillac V-Series.R. That was enough to re-take the championship lead from Acura drivers Ricky Taylor and Felipe Albuqerque by three points. But the winning Porsche drivers are now within five points.
“It was a terrific drive by our guys in both cars,” said Penske, who maintained his usual stoic attitude when Campbell locked his brakes trying to beat Jaminet into Turn 1 at the start. The racing was close, but clean between the two Porsche after that hair-raising moment in the first corner that sent the Cadillac of Sebastien Bourdais for a spin and banged up the BMW of Phillipp Eng. “They were trying to decide the championship, but we needed both cars to finish,” said Penske.
After a dismal showing at the Le Mans 24-hour in June, the Penske team’s depth is showing in the second half of the season.
There was more at work than the Penske mystique at the Brickyard, where his teams so often rise to the occasion. The sports car team’s improved performance is attributed to better use of engineering to process the set-up of its cars for races. Calculating the best way to collect and disburse the electrical energy that comes from the GTP’s “brake-by-wire” system is critical to success on each of the various tracks on the schedule. At Indy, the Penske edge was apparent from the beginning of the weekend.
“We’re not necessarily shining in any one (sector) at the moment,” said Campbell after the first practice. “I think we can just really put together a lap quite well, whereas with everyone else we’ve seen a lot of mistakes in practice with brake-locking and running off track. We have as well, but I feel like a lot less as some of the other competitors.”
Not Exactly Penske Perfect
The Penske Porsches might have led from start to finish other than pit stops if not for a bizarre episode under the day’s second full course caution when Derani passed both cars to take the lead. The Brazilian recognized that the two Porsches were not maintaining their pace during the reorganization of the field for the restart and quickly shot past.
“We’re on top of the rules,” said Derani of his first career overtaking under a yellow flag. “We know what to do. I think they were hesitant to re-go. It just shows the whole Action Express team is on top of the rules.” He led until getting balked in traffic, which enabled Nasr and Tandy to get past. Tandy took the lead with an overcut on the final round of pit stops when Nasr went off track on his out lap.
The open stands at Turn 1 attracted lots of fans as is typical for road races. But the covered main grandstand at Indy was virtually empty as were the terraces behind the pits. The track opened the infield to RV and tent camping, but the turnout was light. About half of the RV spaces remained unfilled. Attendance was the only setback for the owner of the winning team and track on a near-perfect day. “Come back next year and bring your friends,” advised The Captain.
Championship Close Again for Prototypes
The WeatherTech Championship’s prototype championship will once again be decided at the season-ending Petit Le Mans, no surprise given IMSA’s points system that keeps all competitors close.
But even the points system may not be enough to help the drivers at Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Global unless they score their first win of the season in the final race. Their bid to be the first to win IMSA’s top prototype championship without a victory since the team owner’s World Sports Cars title in 1994 suffered a setback in the eighth of nine rounds.
After braking problems during practice and Ricky Taylor’s off-course excursion in the morning warm-up, the team’s Acura ARX-06 finished fifth. Even that took some aggressive driving by Felipe Albuquerque, who nudged the JDC Miller MotorSports Porsche 963 of Mike Rockenfeller off the racing line before the final round of pit stops.
Action Express drivers Derani and Sims lead the points by three over the Taylor team duo. Five points behind the leaders are Tandy and Campbell, who won their second GTP race. That will put a premium on qualifying, which pays points, at the Petit Le Mans as well as a race victory.
GTD Pro Title All But Decided
Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat need only to start the Petit Le Mans in the Lexus RC F GT3 for their Vasser Sullivan team to claim the GTD Pro title. At Indy, their third-place finish gave the Lexus duo a eighth podium in nine race starts. The winning drivers Daniel Juncadella and Jules Gounon scored their third victory of the season in the Mercedes AMG GT3 of WeatherTech Racing.
As expected, Paul Miller Racing and its drivers clinched the GTD title with a steady race among 17 competitors in the class. Madison Snow was again brilliant in the Miller team’s BMW M4 GT3, winning the overall pole among the GTD classes and carrying the lead through his first stint. Co-driver Bryan Sellers, who finished third, carefully kept the BMW out of trouble on a crowded track where spins and contact among those seeking a prestigious win at Indy kept officials busy all day.
The front running Mercedes of Winward Racing and the Lamborghini of Forte Racing aggressively exchanged blows, drawing officials’ attention after Philip Ellis banged into the rear of Loris Spinelli’s Huracan to take the lead at the finish.
In the pro-am classes, Steven Thomas and Mikkel Jensen of TDS Racing weathered an exhibition of contact, crash and spin to win the LMP2 class. Wayne Boyd and Anthony Mantella survived to win LMP3in the AWA team’s Duqueine D08.
Night Time is Fight Time
If the finishes in the two classes of the Michelin Pilot Challenge are any indication, next year’s six-hour race for the WeatherTech Championship could produce some fireworks in a race that is also expected to finish in the dark.
In this year’s Saturday night preliminary, Daniel Morad won the Grand Sports class and took the overall victory after a contentious battle with Elliott Skeer, whom he accused of blocking in the braking zone at Turn 1 several times at the end of the long front straight before making his winning pass.
“Everything was kind of stacked against us and we just couldn’t catch a break with anything,” said Morad, who took over in 13thplace from co-driver Bryce Ward and then drove his Mercedes-AMG GT to the front. “The racing was aggressive. (Skeer) was moving in the brake zones every single time and it was making it so difficult. We’d have contact, and I’d have to go through the runoff. There were little things I didn’t appreciate.
“But that gave me more motivation,” continued Morad, who scored his third victory on the Indy road course. “One thing I know is that I drive better when I’m angry and he gave me motivation.”
Another angry driver was Robert Wickens, who lost the lead in the Touring Class to the Audi of Mikey Taylor with two minutes remaining. “I don’t want to be the poor loser, but I’ve never raced the (JDC Miller MotorSports Audi) yet this year where there hasn’t been contact,” said Wickens. “I can race everyone else without any contact. It’s just the way Taylor is. If that’s how he wants to play, that’s how we’re going to play.”
The victory was the third of the season for Taylor and co-driver Chris Miller and the second straight. Wickens and Harry Gottsacker, the co-driver of his Bryan Herta-run Hyundai Elantra, lead the Touring Class championship by 20 points with the final race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta remaining.