IMSA Tudor USCC: At the halfway point, Bourdais leads the race
Heavy rain didn’t stop hard core spectators to come to Road Atlanta and follow their drivers for a 10-hour long season finale which started 11:10AM ET. In P class, series leader Richard Westbrook was on pole, followed by Christian Fittipaldi, whereas in PC, Tom Kimber Smith started the race from the first row. In GTLM, it was Oliver Gavin, and in GTD, Cameron Lawrence was the fastest one in his class, qualifying for the pole.
In overall drivers’ placement, the battle between P cars was to be intense, with VisitFlorida.com Racing in the lead with 279 points, followed by two Action Express Racing who shared second with 273 and Chip Ganassi Racing with 269 points. In PC class, Core Autosport drivers were leading with 289, and were followed by PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and RSR Racing with 277 and 275 points respectively. Patrick Pilet was leading in GTLM with 279, and Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner were behind him with 276 points. Christina Nielsen was leading the GTD class with 256, followed by Christopher Haase and Dion Von Moltke on second with 255 points and Townsend Bell and Bill Swiedler on third with 252. The battles for top three places in all classes were expected to be intense with just a few points separating top-placed teams and drivers.
Within the first five minutes, there’s been a full-course yellow for Ben Keating who slid off track in his Viper. PC car driven by Chris Cumming also had an accident, damaging the driver’s side, finishing the race early and jeopardizing team’s second place at the end of the season. After a relatively short period, the race resumed, but all the drivers had a cautious restart under extremely challenging conditions. The only lead change was in GTLM: Porsche driver Nick Tandy got to the lead followed by Lucas Luhr. while Oliver Gavin fell to third. By the end of the first hour, the rain was slowly becoming a light drizzle, but the track was still very wet. With five minutes left, #912 Porsche with Earl Bamber behind the wheel went into the gravel trap after a tire puncture, causing a full course yellow.
The second hour began under caution, and Earl Bamber managed to get out of the gravel and limp into the pits, as well as numerous GT cars whose pits were opened. In P class, Dane Cameron went to the lead and Spencer Pumpelly was leading the GTD class, and with 8:51 to go, the race resumed. At the restart, Tom Kimber Smith was overtaken by Johnny Mowlem for the first. No. 07 Mazda Prototype driven by Tom Long and Joel Miller had visibility problems and had their leaking windshield replaced, dropping significantly in the standings. With 8:42 to go, John Bennett spun his PC car, but resumed the race. Two minutes later, Oliver Gavin slid off track in his Corvette C7.R, returning to the track again with minor damage to his front end, but one lap down. With 8:27 to go, No. 87 BMW briefly went off track but returned to the race soon. A minute later, Wolf Henzler lost control of his car and cut the track in his No. 17 Porsche. Full course yellow went with 8:11 due to worsening conditions, and at the same time when Christian Fittipaldi slid into gravel and went back to the track, overtaking a PC car and facing possible penalties.
The third hour began under yellow as well, with Dane Cameron leading the race in P (No. 31), Patrick Pilet (No. 911) in GTLM, Alex Popow (No. 88) in PC and Marc Goossens (No. 93) in GTD. The race restarted with 7:54 to go with No. 17 of Wolf Henzler spinning again, luckily avoiding collision again. No. 90 P car driven by Michael Valiante spun too in the start-finish straight, managing to return to the track, but dropping to sixth in class, 13th overall. The race went to caution again because his return left mud on the track. In the pit stop race, No. 24 BMW Z4 driven by John Edwards went to the lead and in PC, Andrew Palmer went to first by overtaking Alex Popow. In GTD, the leader was No. 63 Ferrari 458 driven by Townsend Bell. With 7:23 to go, the race went green again, but the race went back to full course again when Deltawing, P No. 5 driven by Seb Bourdais and PC No. 88 slid off track with 88 hitting the wall hard.
The rain just didn’t plan on stopping and we entered the fourth hour of the race under yellow as well. With 6:48 to go, the race went back to green. Soon after the restart, Patrick Pilet started attacking GTLM leader John Edwards, almost paying the price, but managed to stay on track and continue closing down, eventually overtaking him, returning to the lead. With 6:35 to go, the race went full course caution when John Pew crashed his No. 60 P car badly, which ended the race for his team. With 6:25 to go, the race returned to green. In P class, No. 5 driven by Bourdais went to the lead, and in GTD, the new leader was No. 44 driven by Robert Renauer, who was later dropped to second by No. 93 Viper driven by Marc Goossens.
With six hours to go, Bourdais was still leading in P class, while in GTLM, Tommy Milner’s No. 4. Corvette was the first after Patrick Pilet pitted from the lead. In PC and GTD, Andrew Palmer and Marc Goossens were the leaders. GTLM cars soon quickened up the pace and went to the front of the field, which meant Tommy Milner was leading the race overall, in front of much more powerful Prototype cars. With 5:47 to go, No. 85 driven by Goikhberg made contact with Turner Motorsports’ No. 97 GTD BMW Z4, which punctured a tire in the BMW, causing it to go to the pits for a driver change and new tires. After race leader Milner went to the pits for a driver change, the new overall leader was another GTLM class Corvette, this time No. 3 driven by Antonio Garcia. In GTD, there was a switch as well with No. 44 Porsche returning to the lead. As Garcia pitted, the GTLM (and overall) lead went back to Patrick Pilet. With 5:36 to go, P class Mazda prototype spun in Turn 1, followed by a Deltawing driven by Memo Rojas, who trashed off the barrier, causing the seventh full-course yellow. With 5:07 to go, the race went green and Pilet kept the lead, even stretching it to three seconds over Bourdais.
Patrick Pilet was still in front of Bourdais with five hours to go. However, with just seconds past the fifth hour, Bourdais returned to the overall lead. In PC class, Andrew Palmer was still the leader, and in GTD, the No. 44 Porsche with Andy Lally held onto the first position.