Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

Five Takeaways: Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen

By IMSA Wire Service

The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen was an unforgettable race, especially for the Mazda Team Joest program, which earned its first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi) victory in a dominating team performance.

The Porsche GT Team earned its fourth consecutive GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory between its two cars, matching a similar four-race run of victories achieved by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and its pair of GTLM machines last year.

The GT Daytona (GTD) class featured the first win of the season for the class-leading No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura team as a two-race GTD win streak for the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 came to an end, while PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports celebrated in LMP2 victory lane for the second consecutive race.

The 3.4-mile Watkins Glen International circuit is now in the rearview mirror of all WeatherTech Championship team transporters, which now are on their way to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for this weekend’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix presented by Acura.

But before we shift our focus north of the border and IMSA’s first race to be televised live on NBC network television (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET), let’s take one more look back and what we learned from the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen:

Celebrations Continues for Mazda Team Joest
It’s a good possibility the victory celebration for Mazda Team Joest is still in progress, more than 24 hours after the checkered flag flew and sealed the team’s 1-2 result in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.

Make no mistake, the celebration included the entire team and drivers for both cars. Obviously, the No. 55 RT24-P DPi won in the hands of Harry Tincknell, Jonathan Bomarito and Olivier Pla; but there was an incredible sense of pride in the second-place finishing No. 77 team of Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez and Timo Bernhard as well.

Jarvis started the race from the pole position in the No. 77 – the third time this year that he’s won the Motul Pole Award – but the No. 55 car seemed to have slightly more pace on race day. That’s not to say the No. 77 couldn’t have won. When the left-side engine cover dislodged on the No. 55 in the closing minutes of the race, Jarvis easily could have pounced on the opportunity to take the win for himself and his co-drivers. Instead, he was the ultimate team player.

“I mean, this has been a huge team effort,” Jarvis said. “Huge congrats to the 55, what a drive from them three. The whole team did an amazing job. They had a bit of damage at the end, but they hung on. It’s been a long while coming, but it’s worth the wait. We’re going to enjoy tonight, but we’ve got another race next week. We want to go win again.”

If the No. 77 wins – which could happen as early as next Sunday’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix presented by Acura at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – it’s likely to be another emotional one, especially for Nunez.

He started as a Mazda factory driver as a teenager and has been part of the team’s driver lineup dating back to 2015 when it entered the WeatherTech Championship with a pair of diesel-powered LMP2 prototypes. With that much history in the program, Nunez had some postrace tears of joy himself on Sunday.

“I was wiping tears from my face,” said the now 23-year-old driver. “At this point, it didn’t matter which car won. I’m crying tears of joy because a Mazda won a race. It’s something we needed for so long and it’s finally showed the hard work and dedication that’s gone into this program.

“We have everything now, an amazing team, the best drivers – I think – in the world, and it shows today. A really dominant 1-2 finish from Mazda and nothing can beat these emotions right now.”

Meet The New Boss… It’s the No. 6 Acura Team Penske DPi Squad
Besides the Mazdas, there was one other car in the DPi field to lead more than a handful of laps in the Sahlen’s Six Hours and that was the No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 co-driven by Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya, which led a total of 19 laps in the fifth and sixth hours after battling back.

In fact, Montoya had both Mazdas in his rearview mirror – albeit close behind him – until Tincknell fought his way past with 43 minutes left in the race. Montoya eventually surrendered second place to Jarvis and brought the No. 6 home in third place.

“We had nothing for them,” said Montoya of the Mazdas’ pace. “They were in their own league. You could see the speed traps and every sector. In qualifying, we can normally get the car really close and Dane did an amazing lap. In optimum lap time, I think Dane had the lap to beat him and everything, but realistically today, we didn’t. We got a BoP adjustment from the last race to this race, and those extra 15 kilos really hurt the tires on the long runs. On one lap, it isn’t the end of the world, but over a run, it makes it a lot harder. It’s part of the balancing process, but I think we’re in a good place.

“We still ended up with the sort of result – this morning I was talking to Dane and we said, ‘We’ve got to get podiums from here to the end.’ If we can be on the podium every race, we’ll have a strong shot at winning this, so we’ve just got to keep doing it.”

The podium result was the No. 6 duo’s fourth straight, including back-to-back victories at May’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio and the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic in Detroit on the first weekend of June. As a result, they’ve moved into the WeatherTech Championship DPi points lead by one point, 177-176, over the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R pairing of Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani, who had a problem in the first hour of the race and wound up seventh in the final race standings.

“That was the goal, to keep slashing the deficit, so to take it all and take the points lead for the first time is wonderful,” said Cameron. “I’m super-excited about that. It was obviously a little bit bumpy there at the start, and we just didn’t quite have the pace of the Mazdas for what they had here.”

Corvette So Close… Again
It’s been well documented how the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R and co-drivers Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen have parlayed tremendous consistency into WeatherTech Championship GTLM titles each of the past two years.

They had eight podium finishes in 11 races last year to score their second consecutive series championship. In 2017, they had five podiums – and three wins – to win that year’s GTLM title.

This year, they’ve finished on the podium in each of the past four consecutive races and are currently just one point behind GTLM points leaders Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet in the WeatherTech Championship standings after five of 11 races. But it’s clear that – while podiums are nice – Garcia and Magnussen really want to win again, as Tandy and Pilet did Sunday.

That’s why there was a tone of disappointment in Garcia’s voice after the race. He and the No. 3 Corvette had plenty of pace to win – as evidenced by Garcia’s pole-winning performance in qualifying on Saturday – but the way the race played out didn’t align with the team’s strategy. Garcia finished 0.452 seconds behind Tandy.

“It was a difficult race,” Garcia said. “Tandy was, like, six, seven seconds up the road if not more (in the final hour). At this level, even if you have almost half an hour to do it, I mean, it’s very, very difficult. It’s a shame that I got all the way there, but again, that makes it feel like it didn’t make a ton of difference if you’re finishing four-tenths behind or seven seconds behind, because the end result is the same.

“But at least I gave it a try. The Corvette was really good. It’s a shame. I mean, we led a lot of parts of the race but not the ones that counts. It’s a difficult race, but I think we have to be happy for, again, this consistency car, but not the winner car.”

Strong Weekend for Shank Squad
The pair of Meyer Shank Racing-prepared Acura NSX GT3s had an outstanding weekend in the GTD class at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.

Trent Hindman won his second Motul Pole Award of the season in Saturday’s qualifying session aboard the No. 86 Acura. Teammate Christina Nielsen turned in her best WeatherTech Championship qualifying result of the season in the No. 57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Acura to line up alongside Hindman in second place on the grid.

Both cars led at different times throughout the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, with the No. 86 car shared by Hindman, Mario Farnbacher and Justin Marks leading when it counted – at the drop of the checkered flag. The win allowed Hindman and Farnbacher to extend their lead in the GTD championship standings to 16 over No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 co-drivers Jack Hawksworth and Richard Heistand, who finished fifth in class.

The No. 14 team came home one spot behind Nielsen and her co-drivers, Katherine Legge and Bia Figueiredo, who finished a season-best fourth.

“What a great weekend for the Heinricher Racing and Meyer Shank Racing team,” said Heinricher Racing Principal Jackie Heinricher. “Yes, we wanted to be on that podium with our winning sister car. Huge congratulations to them.

“But, to have the cars qualify on the front row and then take two of the top four places in the race is the level of consistent success we’ve been building towards this season. I am so proud of our drivers and the entire crew for their level of performance.”

Front Runners Pick Up First Half Awards from VP Racing Fuels at Watkins Glen
Twice per season – once at the halfway point and once at the season-ending WeatherTech Night of Champions – VP Racing Fuels presents “Front Runner Awards” to the teams in each class that have led the most laps in the most races.

With the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen marking the halfway point in the 2019 season, it was time for some hardware to be handed out by IMSA’s official fuel supplier. And the winners were…

In the DPi class, the No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 squad. In LMP2, the VP Front Runner Award went to the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA team. The GTLM VP Fuels Front Runner for the first half of 2019 was the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR squad, and in GTD, the award went to the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 team.

Interestingly enough, all four VP Fuels Front Runner Award recipients also happen to be leading the WeatherTech Championship standings in their respective classes.

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