Daniel Morad and Bryce Ward scored an incredible and improbable Grand Sport (GS) class and overall victory Saturday night in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 240, the four-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race on the famous venue’s 2.439-mile road course.
Ward qualified the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4 seventh in the 27-car GS field, but he was bumped into a spin in the opening laps that dropped the No. 57 to the tail of the field. He methodically worked his way up to 13th place before a rapid driver change and pit stop by the Winward crew elevated Morad up to seventh.
From there, the 33-year-old Canadian stole the show. Morad advanced through the field and first took the lead about a third of the way into the twilight endurance race. He comfortably held the top spot into the final hour, only to see a series of full-course cautions erode his advantage, bringing the No. 47 NOLASPORT Porsche 718 GT4 RS Clubsport shared by Adam Adelson and Elliott Skeer into contention.
Skeer led into a restart with 41 minutes remaining, but Morad regained the point at Turn 7 at the end of the IMS road course’s back straight. Skeer fought back, and with half an hour to go, the Porsche and the Mercedes completed nearly two full laps battling side-by-side for the lead. Their scrap allowed Scott Andrews and the No. 27 Lone Star Racing Mercedes he shared with Anton Dias Perera into the frame.
On multiple occasions, Morad attempted to outbrake Skeer into Turn 1, but was forced to take an escape road when Skeer refused to cede the position. Morad finally seized the lead for good with just under four minutes on the clock, and his path to victory was made easier when Skeer had to make a pit stop for a splash of fuel on the next-to-last lap, dropping to 16th place in class.
Morad crossed the famous yard of bricks finish line 0.566s ahead of Andrews, with Paul Sparta and Kenton Koch claiming third place in the No. 92 Random Vandals Racing BMW M4 GT4, 7.334s in arrears.
“By far, that was the most intense race of my life,” said Morad, who earned his third victory on the IMS road course dating to 2007 but first at the track in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. “I think I have finished on the podium at Indianapolis every time I’ve raced here. I just can’t thank Winward enough, and Mercedes gave us a great package.”
This victory was certainly a challenge, and not just because of Ward’s early contact with the No. 59 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 that dropped the Winward car to the tail of the field.
“Everything was kind of stacked against us, and we just couldn’t catch a break with anything,” Morad related. “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,” he added. “One thing I know is that I drive better when I’m angry, and he gave me motivation.”
Ward, who is the owner of Winward Racing in addition to serving as a co-driver, paid tribute to Morad’s performance.
“This is a team sport, but Daniel just drove it to the front,” Ward said.
Andrews admitted that when he saw Morad and Skeer racing so intensely, he thought the victory may fall into his hands.
“We had a lapped car between ourselves and the two leaders, and that made it difficult,” he said. “I’m normally pretty quiet on the radio, but I was pretty loud then. We just couldn’t quite capitalize, but it’s an absolute testament to the team because we never give up. A one-two for Mercedes-Benz in fantastic.”
In the battle for the GS class championship, incoming points leaders Christian Szymczak and Kenny Murillo had a rough run in the No. 72 Murillo Racing Mercedes, finishing 13th after starting fifth.
That dropped them to third in the standings, 10 points behind the No. 71 Rebel Rock Racing Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R with drivers Robin Lidell and Frank DePew, who finished fourth Saturday, and 70 points behind new championship leaders Robby Foley and Vin Barletta in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW (who finished fifth in the race). Mercedes pushed its GS manufacturer lead to 40 points over BMW.
Late-race pass from Taylor in No. 17 Audi at Indy creates hotly contested championship battle heading to season finale
A wild pass in the dark during the final minutes left one team happy and another angry as the Touring Car (TCR) class championship intensified in Saturday’s penultimate round of the 2023 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Mikey Taylor passed Robert Wickens heading into Turn 7 with two minutes left, giving Taylor and polesitter Chris Miller their second consecutive victory, and third of the season, in their No. 17 Unitronic/JDC Miller MotorSports Audi RS3 LMS TCR.
“I knew if I had a big enough run, I’d be at least side-by-side,” Taylor said of his approach on the pass. “But he actually braked earlier than I expected, and I got a nice run around the outside. I don’t think he was necessarily expecting me to go there. It’s not a normal place to pass.”
The contact surrounding the pass didn’t go over well with Wickens, who, with co-driver Harry Gottsacker, managed to help maintain the TCR championship lead for the No. 33 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR.
“I don’t want to be the poor loser, but I’ve never raced the No. 17 yet this year where there hasn’t been contact,” Wickens said. “I can race everyone else without any contact. It’s just the way he is. If that’s how he wants to play, that’s how we’re going to play.”
Wickens and Gottsacker will unofficially take a 20-point lead over Taylor and Miller into the season-ending race next month at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
“We have to perform, every race, to catch back the deficit we had at the beginning of the season,” Taylor said. “We’re taking it to Atlanta now. I think the ball is in our court. If we win, it doesn’t matter what they do.”
On a restart with 11 minutes left, Taylor passed Wickens, who quickly regained the lead when Taylor tangled with the No. 79 NV Autosport Ford Mustang GT4 driven by Drew Neubauer in Turn 14.
Minutes later, Taylor pulled his Audi alongside Wickens’ Hyundai, and the final tussle for the victory commenced. When asked if there was contact in the dark, Taylor replied, “Oh, for sure.”
“It was just good racing,” he continued. “That’s how we’ve all raced all season. I have a lot of respect for them. … If I finished second at Indianapolis, I wouldn’t be happy either.”
The two shook hands during the post-race celebration, but Wickens expressed his frustration with the late move and the previous pass on the restart.
“He hit me to get by, and then he hit a GS (Neubauer),” Wickens said. “I get back in front of him, and then their car is so fast that they just catch back up. I’m blocking for my life, and eventually all he’s going to do is just hit me out of the way. That’s what he does.”
Taylor’s winning margin at the line was 1.138s. The No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR co-driven by Mark Wilkins and Mason Filippi finished third.
The Fox Factory 120, the season finale for the Michelin Pilot Challenge, will be held Oct. 13 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Peacock will provide live streaming coverage in the U.S.