Penske Priority Extends to IMSA

If there is one thing that Roger Penske prioritizes over all others, it’s “Win Indy.” First it was IndyCar, then NASCAR, and now that he owns the joint, that demand extends to the brand new Battle on the Bricks IMSA sports car race as well. And his Porsche team that started the ’23 season so roughly took that order to heart and delivered a 1-2 for The Captain.

“Well, they can practice on that track anytime they want to, can’t they?” said someone with skin in the game, talking about the Porsche program.

Back on a very hot day in July, the Penske Porsches led the first day of official IMSA testing at IMS. Did they sandbag the second day to BMW? They again topped the charts in Friday practice and Saturday’s qualifying session for the Battle on the Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on September 17, 2023.

Penske Porsches 1-2 in the reverse order of how they finished.

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.

“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.

Spun by the BMW, Bourdais gets tagged by the Acura while the Porsches flee into the lead.

The race got off to another tough start for Sebastien Bourdais, who with co-driver Renger van der Zande eventually finished seventh. “The run down to turn 1 at the start is so long and you get a crazy amount of tow,” said Bourdais, who used that tow to run end around from the his fourth qualifying position and head into the first turn even with the leaders. “They were all bunched to the right, so the only option was to go left. You know at that point that you’re in a three-wide situation and I was just trying to hold my position.”

Bourdais was tagged from behind, spun and hit again. He continued and brought the crippled car onto pit lane under yellow for a front bodywork change assembly and right-rear tire change.”We had to come in for a new nose and got a drive-through.” He returned to pit lane five minutes later under green for tires and fuel. Van der Zande took over the wheel for the final 1 hour, 51 minutes left.

“It was a frustrating race after the team prepared hard for this race. We’ll keep at it and hope to finish on a better note at Petit.”

Bourdais storms off in the distance as his headlight assembly sits within tire smoke in the middle of the track. Shockingly to me, the GT field was started straight into this scene under green flag conditions.

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 No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R led after a multi-lap battle under the yellow  flag over who should restart on point.

“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. Nasr and Tandy then battled intensely until Tandy wrested control of the lead on an exchange of pit stops.

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.”

The No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 and its co-drivers, Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque, are three points behind the Whelen Cadillac after finishing fifth, while Sunday’s victory pulled Jaminet and Tandy to within five points of Derani and Sims.

The winning #6

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.

“It’s mega,” Jaminet said. “That was the target this morning. We had a great qualifying. We had a great weekend. I have no words. It’s really a mega day for Porsche Penske Motorsport as well.

“It’s been great with Roger (Penske) here. 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.”

“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.”

Cool shot of one of the BMWs mowing some grass back during the July test.

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.

Jensen Powers TDS Racing to LMP2 Win

The No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA LMP2 07

Steven Thomas took a moment before answering a question Sunday to praise his co-driver, Mikkel Jensen. “Mikkel is being very humble,” Thomas said. “He was the fastest car on track by two seconds. He drove from 50 seconds down all the way to the lead and we won by (19.909) seconds. I think he’s the best prototype driver on the planet.”

Jensen anchored their winning run on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class, a victory that gave the No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA LMP2 07 the championship lead going into the season finale next month.

Thomas, Jensen and TDS now have a 20-point lead over the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA co-driven by Ben Keating and Paul-Loup Chatin, who finished fourth Sunday.

Ben Hanley and George Kurtz, who finished third in the No. 04 Crowdstrike Racing by APR ORECA, remain in the championship hunt, 100 points off the pace.

Jensen outlasted Louis Deletraz in a back-and-forth duel over the final 48 minutes of Sunday’s race. Deletraz’s No. 8 Tower Motorsports ORECA regained the lead with 42 minutes left before Jensen took control again with 26 minutes remaining.

“At every race, we’ve been the fastest but we didn’t stay out of trouble,” Jensen said. “That’s been the difference. … We just have to keep working, developing the car and win it in Atlanta.”

The victory was the second of the season for TDS, which won in May at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. “It’s very exciting to win one here at the Brickyard,” Thomas said before the team completed the postrace winning tradition of kissing the bricks at the start-finish line. “We’re really looking forward to going out there and kissing the bricks. I don’t think Mikkel knows what I’m talking about.”

Thomas was right. Jensen, a 28-year-old from Aarhus, Denmark, didn’t know about the tradition until earlier in the weekend. “I learned on Friday that you have to kiss the bricks,” he said. “I’m not into the American history, so I didn’t know. It’s very cool.”

Mantella, Boyd, AWA Complete Iconic LMP3 Double with Indy Win

The No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08

Daytona. Indianapolis. Racetracks with great histories and legacies. Anthony Mantella and Wayne Boyd have now written history of their own at the legendary circuits.

The co-drivers of the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 won the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) portion of the Battle on the Bricks, following their LMP3 triumph in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January. Talk about your tremendous bookend wins.

“It’s a dream come true,” Mantella said after starting the race before turning the No. 17 over to Boyd on the first pit stop. “I’ve been following auto racing all of my life and you dream of doing something like this. It is surreal.

“When I think back to Daytona, it is one of the greatest moments of my life – especially to be driving with such professionals. And Indy is on that bucket list. To kiss the bricks after a win is every kid’s dream. Everybody that did it – (team owner) Andrew Wojteczko, Wayne and myself – we all did it with tears in our eyes because it means that much.”

The #54 LMP3 with some serious tire rub.

The tears almost were for another reason after Boyd spun early into his stint, losing valuable time. But he completed a Danny Sullivan-like 360-degree and kept going unscathed. It was then that the AWA team made the call for Boyd to run longer than the rest of the LMP3 field on that stint before making a final pit stop.

The Brit did just that, pitting from first place with just less than 45 minutes remaining and re-entering the track still in the LMP3 lead by a narrow 1.5 seconds. He pulled away from there, crossing the finish line 12.755 seconds ahead of Josh Burdon in the No. 74 Riley Ligier JS P320 that he shared with Gar Robinson.

“I just took too much curb and it didn’t agree,” Boyd said of the spin. “But when we got going again, the pace in the car was unbelievable. Then all credit to the team. The car was unbelievable and the strategy got us the win.”

AWA’s victory ended the four-race winning streak of the No. 74 Riley Ligier. Still, by finishing second, Robinson and the No. 74 hold a comfortable 244-point lead over Mantella, Boyd and the No. 17 Duqueine with only the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans on Oct. 14 remaining on the schedule.

Yet regardless of whether they can win the LMP3 title, Boyd knows he and Mantella have accomplished something exclusive with 2023 wins at a pair of illustrious tracks.

“It’s awesome,” Boyd said. “To get the opportunity to even race in IMSA is fantastic, but as Anthony says, it’s a dream to win in such events with the prestige that they have of Daytona and then to win at Indy. It’s very special.”

WeatherTech Mercedes Battles to Third GTD PRO Win of Season at the Brickyard

Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella drove the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 to the Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) class victory Sunday in the Battle on the Bricks on the IMS road course, the penultimate round of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. That followed up a win Saturday for Winward Racing and the GT4 variation of the Mercedes-AMG in a four-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at the same venue.

Winward’s joy was compounded Sunday as its No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 was victorious in the GTD class in the hands of Russell Ward and Philip Ellis. The GTD race was also notable for a third-place finish by Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 that clinched not only the team’s second consecutive triumph in the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup, but also the 2023 season championship.

Gounon assumed the GTD PRO lead just 10 minutes into the 2-hour, 40-minute contest when Motul Pole Award winner Klaus Bachler served a drive-through penalty for a start procedure violation. He and Juncadella were never seriously challenged after that, ultimately winning by 4.394 seconds over Ross Gunn and Alex Riberas in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3.

Celebrity crewman Bozi Tatarevic on the grid

“It always tastes good to win a race, this is the third one after a tough summer,” said Juncadella. “There were a lot of things out of control at the last couple events that didn’t play into our favor results-wise. Performance-wise we were not far off, but obviously at this event, we were stronger. I think the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is very good around this place.

“This track suits our cars and it suits our driving, and today was a smooth race,” he added. “We avoided mistakes and brought it home.”

Gounon was taken by surprise when Bachler pulled out of his lane before the start line when the cars were released at the beginning of the race, a clear violation of IMSA rules.

“I was on the radio about that right away,” Gounon said. “I knew there was going to be a penalty, so I immediately backed out of it and that opened the door for us. I think it would have been a difficult fight for us, but we were up for it.”

Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat finished third in the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, extending their GTD PRO championship lead to 188 points over the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD and drivers Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor. Juncadella and Gounon leapfrogged Bachler and his co-driver Patrick Pilet into third in the GTD standings, 227 points behind the No. 14 Lexus.

As a result, the No. 14 team and drivers only will need to leave the grid at the start of next month’s Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta to secure their first WeatherTech Championship team and driver titles.

GTD: Brickyard Win for Winward, Season Crown for PMR

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 11:40 a.m. ET.

photos by Tim Hailey, story by Hailey, IMSA, and manufacturer reports

, , , , ,