ESM takes the win as Mazda rue costly error

Tequila Patron ESM took its second win of the IMSA season in what was a drama-filled America’s Tire 250 at the Laguna Seca Raceway.

It was Pipo Derani that took the chequered flag in the No. 22 Nissan Onroak DPi, with a dominant final handful of laps to open up a 10.9 second gap for victory.

Mazda lost out on its first ever win with Joest Racing after an over-zealous lapping manoeuvre by Harry Tincknell on another prototype. Up until his blink-of-an-eye moment with 35 minutes to go in the two-hour 40-minute contest, Tincknell had been the most impressive driver on-track, but in one split second his positive rise came crashing down when he clipped Gustavo Yacaman’s Oreca-Gibson and spun.

Tincknell wasn’t under any real pressure from behind having eked out a considerable gap on his DPi rivals, which only made the rotation more frustrating. The Ford World Endurance GT driver made a late lunge on Yacaman into the trick turn five left-hander, and as the pair rubbed sides the Mazda started to loop around. That gifted the lead to Pipo Derani, who never slipped up in the final half-hour of racing to take a first win since the 12 Hours of Sebring in March.

In a sense, Derani also deserved to win a fractious and multi-faceted race. The Brazilian, who shared the #22 Nissan with Johannes van Overbeek, successfully cleared Colin Braun’s Oreca-Gibson LMP2 and Juan Pablo Montoya’s Penske-Acura DPi in an exciting three-way battle in the final hour.

ESM’s mechanics then fitted Derani with a set of tyres and a top-up of fuel for the run to the flag, during which he extended his lead over Braun and Montoya and made some inroads on Tincknell before the Mazda driver spun. It was also a ‘spin and win’ of sorts, because Derani rotated early on whilst negotiating traffic at turn one which cost him some superficial time to his rivals.

The race commenced in a similarly dramatic fashion. Two botched starts resulted in separate safety car interventions that took out the first half-hour of racing in total. These involved cars in all three classes, but the most significant was the pile-up occurring even before the cars had crossed the line to kick off proceedings.

Robert Alon (JDC-Miller Oreca) appeared to bog down at the start, resulting in a concertina effect behind his yellow LMP2 machine. Some of the drivers, such as João Barbosa in the #5 Action Express Cadillac DPi, responded to the situation by slowing down, while others such as Misha Goikhberg in the sister JDC-Miller car continued at the usual speed.

Goikhberg subsequently collided with the back of Barbosa’s Cadillac leading the Portuguese driver into a spin, which collected two of the front-running GT Le Mans cars in the process. At the same time, pole-sitter Jordan Taylor had been overtaken by both Acuras on the run down to turn one, with Dane Cameron leading Helio Castroneves. Then, when the race returned to green, Taylor’s Cadillac DPi broke down on the hill leading to the Corkscrew, bringing out another brief safety car intervention. Eventually, after much clearing up, the prototype field did manage to settle into some form of rhythm as the race progressed.

The Acuras were impressive during the first half of the race; most notably the #6 car which had 2016 champion Cameron at the helm. He pushed out several seconds while Castroneves dealt with increasing pressure from Jonathan Bomarito in the racy #55 Mazda RT24-P that would eventually be driven by Tincknell.

At this stage, Mazda offered the sternest challenge to the Acuras, with Oliver Jarvis also running well in fourth. However, the #77 Joest-run car dropped out of the fight when Jarvis couldn’t get it going from its first visit to the pits. That left Bomarito to seek out the Acuras, which he managed to split before switching with Tincknell. The Mazda cycled to the front of the field during a mid-race full course caution to retrieve a stranded GTD BMW from the same bit of Corkscrew hill that Taylor parked up on and remained there until Tincknell’s unfortunate altercation with Yacaman.

The Acuras didn’t seem to be as consistently fast as the remaining competitive Mazda through the whole duration of the contest, but that might have been because the Penske cars spent much of the second half battling each other. Juan Pablo Montoya – in for Cameron – and Ricky Taylor got too close for comfort on several occasions, reflecting Roger Penske’s revered IndyCar tactic of cancelling team orders - so long as the cars don’t crash.

Taylor made the final move of the battle with a thrilling pass either side of traffic coming out of turn four, but he later lost a handful laps after picking up suspension damage in a positional clash with CORE Autosport’s Colin Braun who had risen past the sister Acura in the #54 Oreca. Braun continued unabated and had a clear road ahead to finish 10 seconds adrift of Derani with co-driver Jon Bennett, who barely turned a racing lap.

Bennett, who is silver-rated per the FIA’s driver grading system, started the race and used up most of his mandatory drive-time under the early string of safety cars. When the field returned to green, Bennett still had about half a minute until he could come in and hand over to his rapid team-mate, so he parked up at the pit entry line and waited for the clock to count down. It was an unusual method, but it prevented CORE from taking a penalty and enabled it to maximise the amount of time Braun spent behind the wheel.

Montoya came through to complete the podium, a few seconds adrift of Braun, while Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran took third in the sole surviving Cadillac DPi. The championship leaders were in the thick of the class action but were never a force right at the front, but that didn’t necessarily matter as the #5 Action Express car’s pre-race accident meant they preserved their points lead heading into the season finale at Road Atlanta next month.

GTLM – BMW Wins Again

It’s understandable if Alexander Sims and Connor de Phillippi were rather nervous heading into the final 10 minutes of Sunday’s race. The reason for their likely concern would have been the sight of their team-mates’ BMW M8 GTE rolling into the pits for a late splash of fuel from the lead. Even more so, De Phillippi’s BMW had pitted at the same time as the John Edwards/Jesse Krohn car 53 laps before the end of the race, meaning a similar fate was looming for him and Sims.

However, De Phillippi proved he had the lightest foot of the GTLM contingent as he held on to the last drops of fuel and shreds of tyre tread he had to win for the second time in a row. Had the BMW pitted, it would have fallen into the clutches of the two Corvette C7.Rs which were definitely good to the end having pitted some 20 laps after the M8s.

But that prospect never materialised with De Phillippi instead holding off an equally-lean Laurens Vanthoor in the #912 Porsche 911 RSR by two seconds at the line. Edwards, however, emerged from his splash between the Corvette pair of Antonio Garcia and Oliver Gavin, proving that while it would have been close, a Corvette would have won had De Phillippi and Vanthoor not been so diligent with their fuel loads.

Third was not a disappointing result for Garcia and Jan Magnussen, who led for a brief period in the contests’ middle portion. The reason for this was that both Ganassi-run Ford GTs suffered damage in separate incidents that gave the #3 Corvette pair a nine-point swing heading to Petit Le Mans. The #67 car, which arrived in California second in the points, retired after its steering broke when Richard Westbrook came to blows with Oliver Gavin in the other C7.R.

The #66, meanwhile, was one of the cars involved in the pre-race collision. Dirk Müller was tapped into a spin by Barbosa’s errant Cadillac, while Nick Tandy ploughed into the prototype to also eliminate the #911 Porsche before it had a chance to show its hand.

In GT Daytona, Katherine Legge had the perfect weekend as she closed in on championship leaders Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow with a maximum points haul.