IMSA Tudor USCC Season Finale ends with a GTLM overall winner

  • Nick Tandy racing in his Porsche at 2015 Petit Le Mans

In a superbly bizarre turn of events, Nick Tandy won the Petit Le Mans race which ended prematurely with 2:08:56 to go. The victory made Tandy the championship winner in his class and Porsche the manufacturers’ champion.

In the Prototype class, the title was won by Action Express Racing with Fittipaldi and Barbosa winning the drivers’ championship, for the second time in a row. Tom Kimber Smith, and Mike Guasch won the Prototype Challenge class, but CORE Autosport won the team title. In GTD class, No. 93 Viper won the Tequila Patron Challenge while Scuderia Corsa team won the GTD championship.

Even heavy rain couldn’t stop the die hard racing enthusiasts from coming to Road Atlanta and following their drivers for a 10-hour long season finale which started  at 11:10AM ET. In the P class, the 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 the overall drivers’ rankings, the battle between P cars was to be intense, with 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 the top three places in all classes were expected to be intense with just a few points separating the top-placed teams and drivers.

Within the first five minutes, there was a full-course yellow for Ben Keating who slid off track in his Viper. The PC car driven by Chris Cumming also had an accident, damaging the driver’s side, finishing the race early and jeopardising the 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 Oreca 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 behind its wheel held onto the first position. Just as Bourdais started expanding his gap over Jordan Taylor, another full course occurred with 5:15 to go due to weather conditions. A big storm was coming, and with 4:37, the race was red flagged.

With 3:33 to go, the race restarted under full course yellow. Just a lap later, Prototype cars returned to the pits for driver changes. No. 911 Porsche driver Nick Tandy was scored the overall leader, but as he pitted, Eric Curran went up to the lead in the No. 31 Corvette Prototype. With 3:22, the race restarted under green and GTLM drivers Oliver Gavin and Antonio Garcia raced their Corvettes C7.R to try to snatch the overall lead. The duo was followed by No.25 BMW Z4 driver Augusto Farfus and Nick Tandy. After an exciting period spawning for just three and a half minutes, No. 54 PC car driven by Anthony Lazzaro went off track, causing the full-course yellow. No. 70 Mazda Prototype driver Tristan Nunez reported problems with his car and went to the pits, ending the race prematurely.

With three hours remaining, the race was still under full course caution. No. 31 car driven by Curran was leading with GTLM driver Oliver Gavin in second overall and the first in his class. In PC, Mike Guasch was in the lead and in GTD, No. 44 Porsche driven by Andy Lally was the first. No. 07 Mazda also went to the pits for undisclosed problems. The race went green with 2:51 on the clock. With 2:47 No. 912 GTLM Porsche slid off track at Turn 1, but Fred Makowiecki returned to the race without causing the yellow. The car went to the pits and Earl Bamber took Makowiecki’s place. In GTD, Spencer Pumpelley overtook Andy Lally for the lead. With 2:35 to go, Eric Curran was overtaken by Nick Tandy who catapulted past him straight to the overall lead. With 2:26, Eric Curran went to the pits and a full course caution went out for No. 11 PC car of Bruno Junquiera crashing.

With 2:08:56 still on the clock, the race went checkered and Nick Tandy won the race overall, just like in the big Le Mans when he drove the LMP1 car. Tandy was followed by Jens Klingmann in a No. 24 BMW Z4 GTE. Joao Barbosa won the race in Prototype class (third overall), while the Prototype Challenge winner was Tom Kimber Smith. In GTD class, Spencer Pumpelley won the race.

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