IMSA Petit Le Mans: WTR Acura leads at halfway point
Wayne Taylor Racing is in the perfect spot to win Petit Le Mans and the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but there is still half of the race to go at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
An off for Ben Keating in the #52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports coincided with stops for the Prototypes, so Sebastien Bourdais was able to hand off the leading #01 Cadillac DPi-V.R to Scott Dixon, and Meyer Shank Racing was able to service Helio Castroneves’ Acura ARX-05 before the pits closed.
It meant Dixon led the field to the green with seven hours to go, chased by Richard Westbrook of JDC Miller MotorSports, Helio Castroneves in the Meyer Shank Racing Acura, Alex Lynn in the #02 Ganassi Cadillac, Brendon Hartley in the Wayne Taylor Racing Acura and Olivier Pla in the Action Express Racing Cadillac. Jimmie Johnson was a lap down after being penalized for spinning his wheels while the car was up on its jacks.
A dozen minutes after that restart, Dixon was just about holding off his old Ford GT teammate Westbrook, and the pair were 6.5sec up on Castroneves who was working hard to hold off Lynn. This pair had edged clear of Hartley’s WTR Acura and Pla.
Westbrook (handing off to Loic Duval) and Pla (handing off to Mike Conway) had just pitted before the yellows flew with 6hr35mins to go for Georg Kurtz dropping the CORE autosport into the gravel at Turn 6, so these two cars moved to the front.
Hartley remained onboard the WTR Acura and moved to third, Castroneves gave up his seat to Oliver Jarvis who emerged in fourth ahead of Dixon and the #02 Ganassi car, now piloted by another former IndyCar champion and Indy 500 winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay.
With 6hr12min to go came the news that the #01 Cadillac would have to serve a drive-through penalty for not meeting tire requirements regarding pressures. That dropped Dixon to sixth, 35sec off Duval’s JDC Miller car up front.
With six hours to go, Duval and Conway were still locked in battle at the head of the field, 10sec ahead of Hartley and Jarvis who ran 2.5sec apart, with the MSR car around three seconds clear of Hunter-Reay.
Conway was the first to stop again, with Duval doing the same a lap later, and the two Ganassi Cadillacs followed suit a lap after that.
Hartley went a lap longer than Jarvis before stopping and handing off the WTR Acura to Filipe Albuquerque. They breathed a sigh of relief as the yellows flew – Duval had tried to pass Aaron Telitz’s #12 Lexus GTD car at Turn 5, and the pair had made contact and then heavy contact with the tire wall.
The restart at 5hr22m saw Albuquerque leading Conway ahead of Jarvis, Hunter-Reay, and Renger van der Zande who had taken over the #01 Caddy from Dixon. A few laps after the restart, van der Zande moved ahead of RHR to take fourth.
By then, Albuquerque and Conway had pulled over five seconds clear of Jarvis, who was soon under intense enough pressure from the #01 Cadillac that he was having to get extremely defensive.
After three hours, Ben Barnicoat’s Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F led – just – ahead of Davide Rigon’s Risi Competizione Ferrari 488, Mikael Grenier’s WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3, John Edwards in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan-run BMW M4, and Ross Gunn in the all-pro Heart of Racing Aston Martin. The restart at this point saw Jordan Taylor’s Corvette and Matt Campbell in the Pfaff Porsche rub each other up the wrong way at Turn 10, causing punctures for both. The Corvette pitted immediately, the Porsche completed a slow lap before stopping.
Rigon took the lead in class after the pitstops with 6hr35 to go, ahead of Ross Gunn’s HoR Aston, Barnicoat now only third for Lexus ahead of Connor De Phillippi in the BMW M4, Maxi Goetz in the WeatherTech Benz, and Taylor’s Corvette.
Rigon pitted from the lead with 5hr55m to go, handing over the Risi Ferrari to Daniel Serra, who retook the lead when the Cadillac/Lexus shunt sent everyone scurrying to the pits.
Serra’s closest pursuer was then IndyCar rising star Kyle Kirkwood in the #14 Lexus, Goetz, De Phillippi, Nicky Catsburg who had taken over the Corvette, Tom Gamble in the #23 HoR Aston and Mathieu Jaminet’s Pfaff Porsche.
Just before the halfway mark, De Phillippi made contact with Goetz at Turn 10B, spinning the Mercedes to a temporary halt, but no action was taken by the stewards.
The green flag with seven hours to go saw Mike Skeen of Tea Korthoff Mercedes AMG GT3 leading but he lost that position to Mario Farnbacher’s Gradient Racing Acura NSX and also lost second to Erik Johansson in the Paul Miller Racing BMW M4.
In fourth ran Russell Ward in the Winward Racing Mercedes, Toni Vilander’s AF Corse Ferrari 488, Bill Auberlen in the Turner Motorsport BMW, Frankie Montecalvo’s Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F, Jordan Pepper in the Inception Racing McLaren 720S, Ralph Hardwick’s Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R and Ian James in the pro-am Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage.
Skeen kept dropping back, saving fuel, falling to sixth behind Ward, Vilander and Auberlen.
The pitstops during the caution at the 6hr35m mark saw Vilander hit the front ahead of Pepper’s McLaren, Johansson’s PMR BMW, Dinan’s Turner BMW, Aaron Telitz’s Lexus, Skeen’s Benz, and Till Bechtolsheimer who was now in the Gradient Acura. However, Dinan would be demoted by Telitz and Skeen by the time they’d completed 140 laps.
Vilander was the first of the class frontrunners to pit with 5hr55min to go and cede his seat to Simon Mann. Next time by, Inception pulled in Pepper and replaced him with Seb Priaulx.
Sadly, Telitz lost out when Duval struck the Lexus at Turn 5 and caused a huge accident, and the RC F had its front end removed by the tire wall.
The pitstops saw Robby Foley take over the Turner BMW and take the lead in class ahead of Priaulx and Mann, with Bryan Sellers fourth in the PMR BMW running fourth ahead of Philip Ellis (Winward Mercedes), Dirk Muller (Korthoff Mercedes) and Jan Heylen in the Wright Porsche.
In LMP2, following Keating’s accident, Josh Pierson led the class in the other PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports car, but the caution at the 6hr35m mark saw Anders Fjordbach of High Class Racing emerge ahead of Pierson, with Dwight Merriman third for Era Motorsport, Henrik Hedman fourth for DragonSpeed and John Farano of Tower Motorsport. However, Fjordbach got penalized for departing with pit equipment still attached, obliging him to take a drive through penalty, although he resumed second, around half a minute behind Pierson.
Their teammates continued the fine battle, with Tristan Nunez leading for PR1 Mathiasen ahead of Fabio Scherer in the High Class car, and Ryan Dalziel of Era.
The LMP3 battle between Felipe Fraga of Riley Motorsports, Gabby Chaves of Andretti Autosport and Nolan Siegel of Jr III Racing moving well clear of their pursuers.
That battle was closed up by the yellows, and at the halfway point Fraga led by five seconds for Riley Motorsports, ahead of Burdon in the Andretti car and Garett Grist of Jr III Racing.
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