It was a magical Saturday at Lime Rock Park for Aston Martin, the Heart of Racing Team, and its team principal, Ian James.
As James celebrated his 50th birthday, the Heart of Racing-prepared Aston Martin Vantage GT3s swept both IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes at the FCP Euro Northeast Grand Prix presented by Liqui Moly.
Motul Pole Award winner Ross Gunn and co-driver Alex Riberas claimed their first race win of the 2023 slate in Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) competition in the Heart of Racing’s No. 23 Aston, while the No. 27 Vantage GT3 shared by Roman De Angelis and Marco Sorensen triumphed in GTD for the first time since the season opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“I guess you want to forget birthdays as you get older, but what an awesome gift for me,” said James, who also serves as a co-driver in the No. 27 in rounds of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.
The Heart of Racing saw its overall tally of IMSA race wins jump from nine to 11 in the course of Saturday afternoon’s 2-hour, 40-minute contest. The final 48 minutes ran caution free, setting up tense battles down the stretch in both classes.
Ben Barnicoat (No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3) kept Riberas under heavy pressure in GTD PRO before making a slight mistake in Turn 1, also known as ‘Big Bend,’ with a little more than five minutes remaining. That gave Riberas a bit of breathing room, and he eased up before crossing the line 0.336 seconds ahead of Barnicoat as the top four cars were separated by just 1.138 seconds.
“This was mega important,” said Gunn after his sixth career IMSA victory. “We’ve been searching to get a clean race in for quite a while. It’s been such a tough year, and things just haven’t been able to click. But this weekend, everything came together. We had an awesome car in the race, which wouldn’t have been possible without the team.”
“Finally today, everything came our way,” added Riberas, a five-time winner in IMSA. “Ross drove phenomenal, and at the end, it was all about managing the tires. I think we were all struggling to keep the car underneath, and we did enough to bring home the first win of the year.”
Gunn and Riberas raced a brand-new chassis that had to be built up in the two weeks since the No. 23 team’s primary car was heavily damaged in last WeatherTech Championship race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“That car had never run before and it was faultless,” said James. “The crews and the driving teams on both cars have just executed and I couldn’t be prouder.”
GT Daytona (GTD)
It was a similar story in GTD, where Sorensen was pursued but never passed by a pair of Porsche 911 GT3 R (992)s – the No. 92 fielded by Kellymoss with Riley and driven by Alec Udell and Julien Andlauer, and No. 77 Wright Motorsports with drivers Alan Brynjolfsson and Trent Hindman – with Andlauer closing to within 0.555 seconds at the checkered flag.
“Keeping the two Porsches behind was definitely a challenge today,” Sorensen admitted. “This win is really big.”
The triumph for the No. 27 was a big boost for their championship hopes. Incoming GTD class leaders Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 found themselves in comeback mode for the second half of the race at Lime Rock after a pit penalty, recovering to eighth place. That unofficially cut their points cushion over De Angelis and Sorensen from 208 points to 86.
“We really needed to start making progress on the No. 1 car,” said De Angelis, the defending WeatherTech Championship GTD champion. “They’ve had a really strong year and pulled out a decent gap. To win on a day when they were struggling quite a bit means a lot. It’s good to close the points gap at the halfway point of the season. Still a lot of racing left, but we’ll see if we can keep the ball rolling.”
In GTD PRO, the No. 14 Lexus team’s return to the podium extended its lead in the standings to 151 points, with a fourth-place finish at Lime Rock for Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor (No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD) moving them from third to second. The top four are clustered within 181 points.
The next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the IMSA SportsCar Weekend at Road America, August 3-6.