It was somewhat expected that Porsche Penske Motorsport would dominate Sunday’s TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after topping the charts in Friday practice and Saturday’s qualifying session.
What emerged, though, was somewhat unexpected – an unusually close battle among at least three teams for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) title next month.
Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet propelled the team’s No. 6 Porsche 963 to victory in the 2-hour, 40-minute race, with Tandy finishing ahead of Felipe Nasr in the team’s No. 7 sister car with co-driver Matt Campbell.
The result created a championship battle in which just five points separate the top three cars in the GTP class heading into the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans on Oct. 14 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
One of those three cars was Sunday’s winner.
“I said before the weekend that we really needed to win here to have a decent shot going into Atlanta,” Tandy said. “It’s given us a chance at the end of the day. The teamwork that’s gone into giving the people that work in this team a chance to win in Atlanta is amazing.”
The GTP points shake out like this: Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims will go into Petit with the lead in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R after finishing fourth Sunday.
The No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 and its co-drivers, Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque, are three points behind after finishing fifth, while Sunday’s victory pulled Jaminet and Tandy to within five points of Derani and Sims.
“It’s been great with Roger (Penske) here," Jaminet said. "It feels like a home race. I’m really happy to bring this one home. This puts us right back in the championship, so It’s going to be a fight back in Atlanta.”
As for the Penske sweep, it didn’t happen as easily as sweeps usually do.
Tandy and Nasr overcame a ruling by race control for not following instructions in a timely manner while the prototype classes were splitting from the GT cars under caution an hour into the race.
The ruling allowed Derani to retain first place after he passed Tandy and Nasr when race control called to commence the class split. Nasr eventually regained the lead from Derani, only to be passed later by Tandy.
“The 31 already started accelerating and did pass us before we made the class split,” Tandy explained. “I maintain my position that we’d done the procedure correctly. They obviously thought they had done the procedure correctly. It was ruled by race control that they were to be up front.”
After the restart, Derani held the lead for 33 minutes before his brakes locked heading into Turn 1 and Nasr – and then Tandy – got past.
The finish wasn’t as important as the points, said Derani.
“We fought hard to bring home a solid finish for the championship,” he said. “We moved up the grid from P8 to P4 and back in the championship lead. Obviously, (it’s) not the race result we were looking for when we arrived here. We always want to win, but if you can’t win, you always try to get your best finish.”
Nasr and Tandy then battled intensely until Tandy wrested control of the lead on an exchange of pit stops. The victory was the second of the season for Tandy and Jaminet, while Nasr and Campbell, who won the Motul Pole Award on Saturday, recorded their third podium finish of the season and remain in the championship battle in fifth place, 73 points behind.
Connor De Phillippi finished third in the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 he shares with Nick Yelloly. They are currently fourth in the GTP championship standings, just 38 points behind the leaders and also very much in the mix heading to the season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Nearly overlooked in the renewed championship possibilities was the historic nature of a Penske team winning at a track owned by team owner Roger Penske.
“This is Indianapolis,” Tandy said. “It’s a world-renowned, historic venue. The IMSA series is a world-renowned, historic race series. To come here to a venue like this, especially for Porsche Penske Motorsport and all the ties the Penske Corporation has with this place, is massive. It means a huge amount. The fact that it’s a team 1-2 makes it even sweeter.”
The GTD class featured a more closely contested race that resulted in Ward guiding the No. 57 Winward Mercedes-AMG GT3 to a 1.268-second win over Loris Spinelli and Misha Goikhberg in the No. 78 Forte Racing Powered by US RaceTronics Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO2 after a battle that sometimes turned contentious.
Snow and Sellers led the majority of the race before determining with the championship in mind that discretion was the better part of valor. They dropped back to third place, letting Ward and Spinelli fight amongst themselves for the race win.
Spinelli’s driving was especially aggressive, to the displeasure of Ellis.
“Initially, I had a battle with Bryan, which was all clean and fair,” Ellis remarked. “That was good, and nice to watch, I guess. Then Loris came along and tried to pass me on the grass, which is quite risky. Luckily our car wasn’t too badly damaged, and in the end, I just gave back what he dished out.”
Ward was delighted to deliver Winward Racing its first WeatherTech Championship race win in 13 months. His father Bryce, the team owner, shared the winning GS-class Mercedes-AMG with Daniel Morad in Saturday’s four-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge race.
“That was our first double win,” Ward observed. “For the last couple years, this team has been kind of feast or famine. This year we’ve been struggling due to different things – sometimes performance, sometimes, mistakes, and sometimes just bad luck.
“So it’s really nice to see it all come together for both cars, and it shows the potential of the team and what the group of guys we have is capable of.”
Sellers and Snow wrapped up the GTD class crown one race early, in addition to clinching their second consecutive WeatherTech Sprint Cup sub-championship. The duo won five races so far this year.
“We led quite a bit of the race, but didn’t have quite enough for the No. 57 or the No. 78,” Sellers said. “As soon as those guys (Spinelli and Ellis) started mixing it up, our goal was just to beat the No. 27 (the Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and drivers Roman De Angelis and Marco Sorensen), watch the points situation, and let the race win go – which is difficult to do. But in the end, we were able to achieve our goal.”
Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta will begin Oct. 14 at 8:40 a.m. PT. Peacock will provide flag-to-flag streaming coverage in the U.S., and USA Network will join the live coverage at 3:30 p.m.