After losing out with a blocked track at the last corner at the last event, the No. 3 Corvette Racing C7.R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen escaped a first turn mess, saw all three of its main rivals pick up pit penalties and then beat the heat to take the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory at Circuit of The Americas (COTA).
Less than 20 seconds into the two hour 40 minute IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race, five of the nine GTLM class entries had their race significantly impacted by a major incident. Home state favorite Risi Competizione Ferrari was eliminated after being tapped from behind at the first corner. Joining the Ferrari on the damaged list was both Ford GTs, the No. 4 Corvette and the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR.
Hot, medium, cool tires all play
Racing here in May for the first time, the ambient temperatures were milder than at past September events, but track temperatures rose to a season high 122 degrees in the final hour of the race. That rewarded the veteran Corvette Racing team which had anticipated the heat and sacrificed qualifying pace (qualifying sixth and eighth) in choosing a set up and Michelin “hot weather” fitments to assure consistency over long stints in the race.
“Our Michelin technical partner teams tried all three of our temperature options (‘cool’, ‘medium’, ‘hot’) and combinations of options as they looked for every advantage in the incredibly tight competition,” said Chris Baker, director of motorsport, Michelin North America.
“In qualifying, the top seven GTLM cars, from five different manufacturers, posted times within 0.252 seconds on a 122.8 second pole time, a spread of just 0.205 percent –which is just incredible considering the different cars and engines.”
Double podium for BMW
The BMW Team RLL had both its BMW M6 GTLM entries escape the first-turn carnage as the pole-sitting No. 24 BMW of John Edwards and third place starter No. 25 BMW of Alexander Sims emerged 1-2 when the race restarted. But while they escaped the mess at the start, both were hit with costly pit lane penalties. Edward’s co-driver Martyn Tomczyk closed on Garcia’s Corvette to finish second, while Sims and Bill Auberlen fought off the No. 911 Porsche, which also took a pit lane penalty, to claim third.
The left front Michelin tire on the No. 25 BMW was heavily flat spotted when the driver locked up the brakes trying to avoid the mess in turn one at the start, but despite a vibration, the tire held on for the entire first stint as he maintained third place at the first pit stop. “That left front tire was heavily damaged but it held on and kept the pace and that helped keep the No. 25 BMW on the podium,” said Baker.
Next stop Le Mans
The next race for the Corvette Racing, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and Risi Competizione Ferrari teams is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, June 17-18. The CGR Ford GTs finished first and third at Le Mans in 2016, flanking the Risi Competition Ferrari team to create an all IMSA, all America class podium. Corvette scored its eighth victory at Le Mans in 2015.
The victory at COTA was the third consecutive 2017 WeatherTech Championship GTLM win for Corvette Racing, following success at Sebring for Garcia, Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller, and the Long Beach win for teammates Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner.
Garcia and Magnussen now lead the WeatherTech GTLM class championship where their next stop is the Six Hours of Watkins Glen, July 2.