Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

Northeast Grand Prix: Five Takeaways

By IMSA Wire Service

The Northeast Grand Prix on a sweltering Saturday at Lime Rock Park delivered excitement to the checkered flag, with a pair of first-time winners in the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe collected their first win in nearly a year, capitalizing on a three-stop strategy in the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing No. 67 Ford GT to earn the victory in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. Westbrook didn’t take the race lead until less than seven minutes remained and pulled away to win by more than seven seconds.

Meanwhile, Pfaff Motorsports captured its first-ever win in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the most breathtaking fashion. Dennis Olsen guided the No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3 – which was slowed by a tire puncture on the final lap – across the line just .010 seconds ahead of the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3.

While the late-race dramatics were certainly deserving of the headlines, there was much more to the weekend story. Here are this week’s five takeaways.

Bamber, Vanthoor Increase GTLM Championship Lead

Despite losing out late on victory to the Ford GT, the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR finished second at Lime Rock, allowing drivers Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor to extend their lead in the GTLM championship. Bamber and Vanthoor hold an eight-point edge over their teammates Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet, who finished fourth Saturday in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR.

Bamber admitted he was more focused on driving for the race win and not as concerned about the season standings as he battled Westbrook for the lead late in the event. And why not, since one of the Porsche cars had finished first in the past five races.

“We were still trying to make it six in a row, to be honest,” Bamber said. “We tried our hardest, it was a really, really tough race. Tough with strategy, tough with tire deg. I knew when Westy came out with about 11 laps fresher tires and they tried a three-stopper, we’d be in a bit of trouble at the end of the stint.”

The No. 912 Porsche, following a two-stop strategy, led 140 of the 182 laps at Lime Rock. Bamber battled and bumped with Westbrook in an effort to hold the lead late, but the Ford GT muscled its way past and left Bamber and Vanthoor on the second step of the GTLM podium.

“(We) managed to get to the lead and pull a bit of a gap, and then he hunted us down and I was trying to hold on for love nor money,” Bamber said. “Tried to keep the elbows out but it was great racing, I think, for the fans.”

In the big picture, however, the Porsche cars remain in good stead. Bamber and Vanthoor have accumulated 218 points to 210 for Tandy and Pilet. The next closest competitors in the standings are No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R drivers Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia with 201 points.

“We (need to) not make any mistakes and (keep) getting results at the end of the day,” Bamber said of the drive toward the championship. “We need to keep trying to chip away each weekend and try and keep being on the podium. I think Corvette Racing’s pretty good at that, of being every time on the podium or an average of fourth and you win. We’re trying to emulate that.”

Narrowly Missing Win, Farnbacher and Hindman Take Consolation in Larger GTD Advantage

The No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 missed out on victory by the narrowest of margins in the GTD race, but drivers Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman still managed to extend their championship lead in the class by 11 points.

The No. 86 Acura dominated the day, leading 129 of the 178 laps completed. But as is often the case, lapped traffic played a role in the outcome. Olsen squeezed past Farnbacher on the 173rd lap and they battled to the checkered flag, with the No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3 – tire going down and all – barely able to hold off the charging Acura at the finish line.

“The last few laps were intense,” Farnbacher said. “All of a sudden, two BMWs came up in front of us; I don’t know what they were doing there. It just confused everybody, messed everything up.

“Then Andy (Lally) in front of me with the Lambo, that was a whole big of a mess-up there. But it is what it is. We finished second, that’s good. We made some good points. The Pfaff guys had a pretty tough season so far, so they deserved to win as well. It was cool racing, for sure.”

With the runner-up result, Farnbacher and Hindman increased their championship lead to 30 points over Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. Townsend Bell and Frank Montecalvo entered the Lime Rock weekend second in the standings, but slipped to fourth in points following a disappointing 11th-place finish in class on Saturday.

Farnbacher said the season-long reward remains top of mind as the WeatherTech Championship heads to Road America for the IMSA Road Race Showcase from Aug. 2-4.

“For sure, the championship is always in our head right now,” he said. “We increased our points gap to our (nearest) contender, so we’ll keep working on this.”

Turner Motorsport Considers Podium Finish ‘Like a Win’ at Lime Rock

Auberlen and Foley were ecstatic after finishing third in GTD on Saturday in the No. 96 Tuner Motorsport BMW. The Lime Rock circuit didn’t favor the BMW’s strengths, so Auberlen considered it a victory just to reach the podium.

“It’s just getting to where I think we need it to be,” Auberlen said of the car. “We didn’t come here thinking we were going to win, but a podium is like a win for us here. The M6 is happy on a high-speed circuit; this is kind of the opposite of that.

“Off we go to Road America and I think this thing’s going to come alive there. I can’t wait.”

And could that favored road course in the Kettle Moraine of Wisconsin be the setting for Auberlen’s historic 60th victory, which would tie him with Scott Pruett for the most in IMSA annals? Fingers are crossed.

“I hope so, I hope so,” Auberlen said. “We’re going to try like crazy!”

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Dominates GTLM Podium at Lime Rock

The GTLM win by Westbrook and Briscoe was exciting enough for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, but the team doubled its fun when Joey Hand and Dirk Muller brought home the No. 66 Ford GT in third place. It was the best finish for the No. 66 since it placed second at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts in March.

“It’s a great day for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing,” Hand said.

“All our boys did a great job. We did two stops and (the No. 67 car) did a three-stop, and fresher tires is what prevailed here today. I just struggled to keep my left front under me and it just falls off at the end. That’s why it’s great to have two cars; you have two bullets there.

“These boys deserve it, they work hard. We’ve been going for it all year long and I love this place. Such a great atmosphere, such a great race. I doored some people, I wheeled some people. Hopefully, the fans enjoyed it.”

Hand is hopeful that the team can carry the momentum from Lime Rock on to Road America in two weeks. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing has won the GTLM race at the Wisconsin track each of the past two years, which makes Hand even more excited.

“Looking forward to Road America, my favorite track,” he said. “I love it. If we don’t win there, I’ll be disappointed. It’s just a great track for us as a team. Dirk and I love it. We normally go real good there, so we look forward to that. … Can’t wait to get me some cheese curds and hopefully another podium.”

Porsche, Acura Remain Atop Manufacturer Standings

Porsche and Acura held tight to the No. 1 spots in the GTLM and GTD manufacturer standings, respectively, following the Lime Rock results.

In GTLM, Porsche owns a 24-point advantage over Ford, which leapfrogged Chevrolet for second in the season standings on the strength of the No. 67 Ford GT’s win on Saturday. The duel for second place in the GTLM manufacturer standings is hotly contested, with Ford, Chevrolet and BMW separated by a mere four points.

In GTD, Acura nudged its lead to seven points thanks to the second-place finish by the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing entry on Saturday. But it still remains tight throughout the top five manufacturers, with Acura (184 points), Lexus (177), Lamborghini (176), Porsche (168) and BMW (165) all clustered within 19 points of each other.

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