Motul Petit Le Mans Rearview Mirror
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Motul Petit Le Mans represented a fitting end to the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, with the 10-hour Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup event offering intense competition and class battles from start to finish.
The race had it all: an upset victory, championship-worthy performances and a sneak peek at 2018…here are “five takeaways” from Road Atlanta:
One of the major storylines coming into the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s season finale was the debut of one of the most iconic organizations in all of motorsports. Team Penske was a late entrant to the Motul Petit Le Mans, with Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud joining forces to drive the No. 6 ORECA LM P2. Many saw it as a glorified test for the team that will campaign a pair of full-season Acura DPi prototypes beginning in 2018 with Castroneves, Montoya and current Action Express Racing driver Dane Cameron, but it took just one practice session to dispel that myth.
Team Penske rolled off the transporter and immediately equaled the pace of the Prototype class stalwarts. After Castroneves finished the opening practice session third fastest, Montoya jumped to the top of the charts in the second session. One day later Castroneves earned his first TOTAL Pole Award.
While the team didn’t win in its debut, it showed qualities that will make it an instant contender in 2018, racing back from two laps down to finish third.
“I made some mistakes out there, but we knew going in that we were going to make some mistakes,” said Montoya. “That is what we ran this race for in the first place. These races are just crazy. I'm excited for next year. I wish we could start tomorrow."
The two-car Penske team is one of many expected additions to the WeatherTech Championship’s growing Prototype class, a list that also includes the debut of Mazda Team Joest.
Somewhat lost in the impressive back-to-back championship performance this season by co-drivers Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan is the three-peat in the GT Daytona (GTD) class by the Scuderia Corsa team. The longtime Ferrari program also won the 2015 championship with co-drivers Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler. Going even further back, it was Scuderia Corsa’s fourth team championship in five years.
The No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 team all but clinched the team and driver championship coming into the Motul Petit Le Mans, only having to start the race win the title. But with the manufacturer title still on the line, Nielsen and Balzan were able to do just enough to give Ferrari the manufacturer title as well.
It was certainly a milestone for the Italian automotive manufacturer.
"I couldn't be happier to not only win our fourth IMSA championship in five years, but to deliver such a special championship to Ferrari in its 70th Anniversary and the day before its official celebration in New York," stated Giacomo Mattioli, team owner of Scuderia Corsa. "Everyone on the team was ready to fight and never give up, and it's that spirit that was able to secure another championship for our team, drivers, as well as Ferrari. I'm extremely proud of each of my team members, and I look forward to even further success in 2018."
Corvette Racing winning the GT Le Mans (GTLM) championship was certainly not a surprise, with the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R team of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen tying the No. 25 BMW Team RLL team for a GTLM season-high of three wins. What may come as a surprise, however, is the consistency the team rode to that title in a class that is as competitive as any form of GT racing in the world.
A combination of a fast car, great pit work and strategy and a little luck resulted in the No. 3 Corvette team finishing in the top-five in all 11 races this season. Even more impressive is the fact that the team’s lone fifth-place finish came at Long Beach when Garcia seemed headed for certain victory until a multi-car incident at the final turn blocked the track and brought a handful of cars to a stop.
It was the second championship effort for the duo with the first coming in the 2013 American Le Mans Series GT class. In all, Corvette Racing has now earned 11 driver titles and 12 team championships in North American professional sports car racing dating back to 2001.
"This championship was absolutely a team effort," said Mark Reuss, Executive Vice President, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. "The drivers, crew members and engineers were versatile and adaptable, and everybody on the No. 3 Corvette C7.R team contributed throughout the season. Jan and Antonio were consistent, smart behind the wheel and took advantage of opportunities when it mattered most. This was a hard-earned championship."
It was the first career victories for the trio of John Falb, Garett Grist and Tomy Drissi in the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09. And while the win comes in the final race in the class, team owner Brian Alder perhaps gave a hint about what is to come in 2018.
“We're just glad we didn't give them the broom so they couldn't sweep the year,” he said. “We've been working hard and the crew guys deserve this. They worked hard the entire year and never gave up. This one's for them, they did a great job. We’re putting it together, we'll be on the grid somewhere in the P2 class.”
The No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team will earn a special award at this evening’s IMSA WeatherTech Night of Champions – the DEKRA Green Racing Award.
GTLM class teams competing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship must utilize alternative fuels such as ethanol or biodiesel. These alternative fuels are relevant to the world’s automotive manufacturers and energy companies as they develop transportation solutions for the future that are sustainable and have a low environmental impact.
Additional factors established by the United States Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE) in conjunction with IMSA, are also taken into consideration to score each car.
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