By IMSA Wire Service
Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand took out more than a year’s worth of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship frustration with a dominant GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory Sunday in the Monterey SportsCar Championship Powered by McLaren.
With Hand at the wheel, the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT crossed the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca finish line 20.039 seconds ahead of the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE to collect its first win since the Lime Rock Park race in July 2018.
“I’m not going to lie, that feels really great,” Mueller said. “It’s a sweet victory but it wasn’t an easy one.”
“We got in the car the first session here and it was pretty bad,” Hand added. “It was not good. And we fought our way from the worst car we ever had here to the best car we ever had here today in the race.”
Mueller started second in class alongside Motul Pole Award winner Jesse Krohn in the No. 24 BMW. They remained that way through the early laps on the 2.238-mile, 11-turn permanent road course, until the No. 24 stuttered briefly exiting the Andretti Hairpin in Turn 2. Mueller shot past into the lead and the No. 66 controlled the rest of the two-hour, 40-minute event.
“I knew my car was great, I could follow so closely behind (Krohn),” Mueller said. “I don’t really know what happened but he lost momentum and I took advantage (and) got by. That was tough because you don’t expect it. That was quite a close moment.
“From that moment, I think that was the milestone for the victory.”
Hand jumped into the No. 66 Ford GT following Mueller’s opening stint and stayed in the car to the finish. Opting for a two-stop strategy, Hand had only to outlast the three-stop effort of the Nos. 3 and 4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.Rs to earn his 19th career IMSA win and the 24th for Mueller.
The victory was especially rewarding for Hand, a native of Sacramento, California. It was his first race win at the track where he’s raced for more than two decades.
“I’ve been trying to win at this racetrack, my home racetrack, since like 1998,” Hand said. “That puts in perspective how this feels to me. I’ve got a lot of seconds here, I’ve been on the pole here in all different categories. I told my wife two weeks ago that 2019’s been kind of a tough year for me and I said, ‘I’m going to turn this one around, we’re going to win this one.’ That’s what we did today.
“This one feels really good. It’s not Daytona, it’s not Le Mans or whatever, but I’ll tell you what, this track stands out on the calendar for everybody. It especially stands out for a California guy like me.”
The entire race ran under green-flag conditions, with the GTLM leaders completing 114 laps. Mueller and Hand combined to lead 72 laps. Krohn ran the longest opening stint in the No. 24 BMW to lead 19 laps, with the off-strategy Corvettes leading the other 23 circuits around the iconic circuit.
Krohn and co-driver John Edwards brought home the No. 24 BMW in second place for the second time this season, but have yet to collect a win themselves.
Taking advantage of fresher Michelin tires with its three-stop efforts, the Corvettes chased down the No. 25 BMW in late stages to put three different manufacturers on the GTLM podium. With less than 10 minutes remaining, Antonio Garcia (No. 3 Corvette) and Tommy Milner (No, 4 Corvette) maneuvered past Connor De Phillippi (No. 25 BMW) on the same lap. Garcia held onto third place at the finish, giving the No. 3 its fourth second-place finish and sixth podium of the season.
“We got the most of our three-stop strategy,” said Jan Magnussen, co-driver of the No. 3 Corvette. “In practice, we learned that the (tire) degradation for us was quite high. It was a bit better in the race than I had feared; maybe we could have gotten away with two stops. But we stuck to our plan and ran our race.
“We got a podium out of it, which was a lot better than qualifying. I’m as happy as I can be for a third-place finish.”
The WeatherTech Championship points-leading Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSRs suffered a rare off day, finishing a lap behind the GTLM leaders. It’s the first time this season that neither Porsche finished on the podium. The No. 912, with co-drivers Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor, placed seventh. The No. 911 Porsche, with co-drivers Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy, wound up eighth.
The result allowed the No. 912 drivers to extend their lead by a point in the driver and team championships. Bamber and Vanthoor have scored 304 points to 292 for Pilet and Tandy. Garcia and No. 3 Corvette co-driver Jan Magnussen closed within three points of second place, with 289.
With the race win, Mueller moved into seventh in driver points with 283, leapfrogging teammates Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe (281 points), who finished sixth in the No. 67 Ford GT.
The 2019 GTLM season concludes Oct. 9-12 with the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. The race will begin on NBC starting at 12 noon on Saturday, Oct. 12 for the first three hours with the remainder of the 10-hour race on NBCSN, the NBC Sports App and NBCSports.com. The entire race can be heard on IMSA Radio.
Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Completes Dominant Weekend with Win at WeatherTech Raceway
In what can easily be called a trying season for Paul Miller Racing, the team found sweet relief Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with its first win of the season.
The No. 48 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 entered the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season as defending champion, but only recorded one podium in the first four races. An incident in practice at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park forced the team to withdraw from the event, ultimately ending hopes of back-to-back titles.
The luck turned around, however, with a finish of second at Road America in August and finally returning to the top step of the podium Sunday at the Monterey SportsCar Championship Powered by McLaren with Bryan Sellers and Corey Lewis, who stepped in for Ryan Hardwick the remainder of the season following his incident in Canada.
“In a lot of ways, we’ve had a lot of up and downs this year,” said Sellers. “Everyone says it’s been a tough year. This is our third podium of the season, so in a lot of ways it’s been pretty good. We’ve been first, second and third. The issue is a lot of the other races weren’t great. We’ve shown a lot of speed and a lot of consistency at the races. To finally be able to convert one and put a complete race together is obviously extremely satisfying.”
While happy with the victory, it wasn’t completely unexpected. The No. 48 Lamborghini led both practice sessions on Friday during the first official day of on-track activities. The next day, Lewis earned his first career pole position in IMSA to start from the top spot.
Between their two stints Sunday, Lewis and Sellers led flag-to-flag in the two-hour, 40-minute race.
“We had a dominant car all weekend long,” said Lewis. “And we both like the same setup on the car, so it made (engineer) Lar (Giersing)’s job that much easier and our job inside the car even better. Overall, I’m over the moon for the first win of the year. It means the world. We’ve got one more race here at Petit Le Mans, so we’d love to continue the stride from here.”
Stalking the No. 48 in second place for the majority of the race was the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa WeatherTech Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Cooper MacNeil and Toni Vilander. MacNeil qualified third on the charts, but jumped into second early in his stint. The team held the position for the rest of the race.
Finishing third was another Lamborghini, the No. 44 for Magnus Racing driven by John Potter and Andy Lally. The move onto the podium came in the final half hour of the race, taking advantage of then-third place, Scott Hargrove in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, being run off track by a lapped car. Lally snuck his Lamborghini past as Hargrove recovered for the team’s second top-three finish of the season.
GTD championship leaders, Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher, still maintain a strong lead in the championship despite an eighth-place finish Sunday. The No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 duo hold a 32-point lead over Pfaff Motorsports’ other co-driver, Zacharie Robichon, who clinched the first WeatherTech Sprint Cup championship with a fourth-place finish alongside Hargrove.
Robichon Wins Inaugural WeatherTech Sprint Cup Championship
With a fourth-place finish at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Zacharie Robichon has been crowned the inaugural champion of the WeatherTech Sprint Cup.
The championship consisted of the seven WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) races this year that were two hours, 40 minutes or shorter, with the last being Sunday’s Monterey SportsCar Championship Powered by McLaren.
Robichon, who drives full-time in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, entered the race at WeatherTech Raceway with a narrow one-point margin over No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 co-drivers Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher. In the end, Robichon’s lead expanded to six, 203-197, following the No. 86’s eighth-place finish.
“We almost got that podium, but at the same time we did what we needed to do to secure the championship,” said Robichon. “It’s not the way you want to do it. It looks like the Acura guys had a hard day, but we’ll take it. I’m very happy with what the Pfaff team has done this year.”
While Pfaff Motorsports did not compete in the second round of the Sprint Cup – the Detroit Grand Prix – the Canadian was picked as a substitute driver at that event for Park Place Motorsports’ No. 73 Porsche, allowing him to remain eligible for the championship. Back-to-back wins at Lime Rock Park and Road America vaulted him up the standings into contention for the title.
“I mean, this year I’ve had the opportunity to share the car with a lot of quick guys and we’ve been able to learn from them,” Robichon explained. “Scott (Hargrove), Dennis (Olsen), Matt (Campbell), Lars (Kern, endurance driver), Pat Long as well. They have a lot more experience and I think that is what helped me get to this position. The beauty about endurance racing is you have your teammate and you work together.”
It was announced on Friday that the 2020 WeatherTech Sprint Cup will see the addition of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in April, the first time GTD will return to the street circuit since 2017.
“I think for me, it’s really cool,” said Robichon. “It’s one of the ones I remember watching as a kid, but obviously it’s like Laguna Seca here. It’s one of those tracks that’s very iconic, like all the California tracks. I saw the announcement the other day and the first thing I did was text our team manager, ‘Did you see this?’ Obviously no plans for next year, but I’m excited if we get to race there.”