Michelin and its GT Le Mans (GTLM) class technical partner teams combined to deliver a dramatic finish to today’s penultimate round of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship here at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
BMW’s John Edwards (Martin Tomcyk) stretched fuel to the extremes, going 53 laps and more than 76 minutes after his final stop and held off a stirring closing charge by the pole-winning Risi Competizione Ferrari of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella to take an exciting 0.152-second victory here in Monterey.
The No. 911 Porsche GT Team of Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner was finally overtaken by Vilander for second place in the final two laps and would finish in third position.
“This is what competition in the WeatherTech Championship is all about,” said Chris Baker, director of motorsport, Michelin North America. We saw our GTLM teams and drivers going all out, taking on different fuel and tire strategies leading to the race outcome being in doubt until the very last corner.
“This was breathtaking stuff, highlighted by a gutsy fuel strategy by BMW Team RLL for the 24 and a truly heroic closing stint by Tony Vilander in the 62 Ferrari. We saw all three types of our tires used today, despite this afternoon experiencing the highest ambient and track temperatures that we’ve seen all weekend here at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.”
After leading long stretches of the race, Vilander backed up his Ferrari’s pole-winning run with a new race lap record as he emerged from his final pit stop with 34 minutes remaining in the two hour, 40-minute race. The popular Houston based team, desperately trying to score its first victory of 2017 for team principal Giuseppe Risi and the thousands of people impacted by the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida, turned in an inspired performance.
Vilander took back two and even three seconds per lap as he attempted to reel in the leading BMW and Porsche who were trying to stretch fuel. The gap ebbed and flowed as each encountered traffic in the 33 car field on the historic 2.238-mile, 11-turn, natural terrain road course, which features an 18 story climb from the pit area to the top of the famed Corkscrew with a corresponding spiraling descent that often bottles up traffic.
All five Michelin technical partner manufacturer linked teams placed a car in the top five. The WeatherTech GTLM championship leaders, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia of Corvette Racing, finished in fourth place with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s defending race champions Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook forced to settle for fifth position.
Corvette Racing’s fourth-place finish here leaves Magnussen and Garcia, the 2013 class champions, on the brink of another title heading into the season finale in two weeks. The GTLM Manufacturer’s battle remains extremely tight with Chevrolet leading Ford by just four points 316-312, and BMW closing in with 307 points.