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Michael Shank Racing Wins IMSA Season-Ending Petit Le Mans

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, October 2 2016
Members of the Michael Shank Racing team celebrate their in in Saturday's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. (Michael L. Levitt LAT Photo USA)

Members of the Michael Shank Racing team celebrate their in in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. (Michael L. Levitt LAT Photo USA)

RacinToday.com

Olivier Pla held off Pipo Derani in a battle of Honda-powered Ligiers to win the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s season-ending Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta in Georgia.

Corvette Daytona Prototype drivers Dane Cameron and Eric Curran captured the 2016  series championship with a fourth-place finish.

“It was a dream weekend from the beginning,” said Pla, who won the pole on Friday. “I had a really good feeling and sometimes it works. I always go for it, but I really wanted this one.”

Pla was joined by Ozz Negri and John Pew in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Honda Ligier JS P2, leading 230 of the 412 laps in their second victory of the season. After 10 hours of competition, Pla beat Derani to the checkered flag by 3.524 seconds, stopping a late-race charge by the Daytona and Sebring-winning No. 2 ESM Honda Ligier JS P2 co-driven by Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek.

“I was catching him a little bit at the end, but unfortunately there were a few GT cars between us at the restart,” said Derani. “It was a great result for Ligier. We couldn’t do it this time, but congratulations to Ollie and his team.

“What a tough race. We were never between the top five the whole race. To be able to finish 2nd is a great achievement this weekend. We started the weekend later than everyone else. We had a few problems in the first couple practices and being able to finish 1-2 for Ligier is the best that it could have been. Obviously, I wanted to win this one. The restart was really close. I had GTs between me and Oli [Pla], he was able to build a gap. It’s still great.”

To celebrate its 250th Prototype race, Michael Shank Racing featured a red, white and blue livery on the No. 60 and invited spectators from the outstanding crowd to autograph the race car during the pre-race grid walk.

The race also marked the final appearance of the Daytona Prototype, which has competed in North America since 2003.

Brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor, joined by Max Angelelli, finished third in the No. 10 Corvette DP, taking the podium position from the championship-bound Curran and Cameron in the closing laps.

“We would’ve been ecstatic if we knew we were going to end up on the podium,” Ricky Taylor said. “We were fifth or sixth, at best, on pace. We knew from the green flag we didn’t have a chance to get it done with outright speed and we were just going to have to get it done with no mistakes and executing. I wouldn’t say we had a flawless race – our telemetry went down for a little while, Ricky had a little issue in traffic – but we never really gave up. When we made it to fourth late in the race when the Mazda blew up, that restart was a little blessing because we had a strong car on restarts and we knew Dane wasn’t going to take too many risks with the championship on the line. I kind of put him in a precarious position and he didn’t fight back too hard, so we ended up with third and that made us best of the rest. Being the top DP in its last race isn’t too bad.”

“It felt like a real fight the whole year,” said Cameron, joined by Curran and recently crowned IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud for the finale in the No. 31 Action Express Corvette DP. “This is a very stressful race, there are a lot of things that go wrong.”

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In Proto Type Challenge:

PRI/Mathiasen Motorsports took its third Prototype Challenge victory of the season in the No. 52 spec ORECA FLM09, with Robert Alon, Tom Kimber-Smith and Jose Gutierrez combining to lead all but 65 of the 404 circuits.

“It’s great to end the season with a win,” Kimber-Smith said. “We’ve been consistently strong this season, we just had some bad luck at a couple of circuits. My teammate’s stints (Alon) were really impressive, he set the fastest lap of the race in our car. It’s amazing at how much he’s progressed in the last nine months.”

James French, Kyle Marcelli and Kenton Koch finished second in the No. 38 ORECA. French needed a late pit stop for a splash of fuel with six minutes remaining, putting him 51 seconds behind the winners.

Rolex 24 At Daytona PC winners Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson and Chris Miller rounded out the podium, taking third in the No. 85 car.

Although Starworks Motorsport parked its No. 8 ORECA with less than two hours remaining because of brake problems, its sixth-place finish was good enough for Alex Popow and Renger van der Zande to tie the race winners in the final standings with 355 points each. For the tiebreaker, the Starworks drivers took the championship after winning four races.

“It’s a sweet and sour feeling, because we wanted to win the race,” Popow said. “But a championship is a championship. It’s amazing for what we’ve done all year. We’ve fought a lot up until now. We won it this way, but racing is what it is.”

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In GT Le Mans:

The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE co-drivers Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and James Calado broke through for their first GT Le Mans class victory.

But it was the No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R duo of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin picked up their first WeatherTech GTLM title with a third-place class result alongside endurance co-driver Marcel Fassler.

The No. 62 Ferrari team had shown plenty of speed – particularly during the second half of the season – but bad luck plagued them prior to Saturday’s race. In the 10-hour Petit Le Mans, however, the Risi Ferrari spent the entire race among the GTLM front-runners, and the vast majority of it at the head of the field.

Fisichella took the lead for the final time with just under 30 minutes remaining when Dirk Mueller brought the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT – which was on a different strategy – onto pit lane. He brought the No. 62 Ferrari home to victory by 15.618 seconds over Mueller.

“From when we came here from the first practice we were always on the top,” Fisichella said. “The car’s balance was really good. We made some adjustments in the right direction. I think we dominated the race and the guys did a fantastic job on the pit stops. We, both of us, we drove at the maximum. I think it was a perfect race and we deserve this victory this year. It’s good for us, and Mr. Risi and the crew.”

It was Fisichella’s third victory in WeatherTech Championship competition, but the first for both Vilander and Calado. It also was the first GTLM victory of the season for Ferrari. The No. 62 team also won the DEKRA Green Award. The award recognizes the cleanest, fastest and most efficient team in the GTLM class in each race through a scoring system developed in a partnership between IMSA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy and SAE International.

Mueller wound up second in GTLM alongside his No. 66 teammates, Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais. In their most recent race together, Mueller, Hand and Bourdais combined to win the GTE Pro class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The No. 4 Corvette team picked up its seventh podium result of the 11-race season to sweep WeatherTech Championship and Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup drivers’ titles for Milner and Gavin, team championships for Corvette Racing and manufacturer championships for Chevrolet.

“Every year, this class somehow gets more competitive,” Milner said. “This year was even that much more so. Ford came in with a great car, great drivers, and pushed us to the end. A good example of the guys who keep pushing was the Risi guys; they got the win and you could see the relief on their faces. That shows how much it means to get a win in this class. This whole year, we can think about all the good memories and moments we had. I’m proud to be a part of this team and represent Chevy and Corvette. It’s exactly what a driver wants in a car, is a chance to win. It’s good to see all those efforts were rewarded this year.”

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IN GT Daytona:

Dodge Viper GT3-R, No. 33 teammates Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller sent the car out on top with a GT Daytona class victory while Christina Nielsen of the Scuderia Cora Ferrari team became the first female driver to win a major, full-season professional sports car championship in North America.

“It is emotional,” Keating said. “The goal was to give it a good sendoff. Viper has such a rich racing history, and to do our last race in the Viper with IMSA at Petit Le Mans and go out on top is a huge deal. 2017 is the last year they’ll build the production-car Viper and it seemed fitting to finish off the season this way.”

It was the third GTD victory of the season for Keating and Bleekemolen, while it was the first in WeatherTech competition for Miller, a full-time 2016 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competitor who joined the team as a third driver for Petit Le Mans.

Bleekemolen – who earned the pole on Friday – originally crossed the finish line behind Andy Lally in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3, but the No. 44 car was moved to last place in the GTD class as John Potter, who was paired with Lally for the full season, did not meet the three-hour drive-time requirement for a Bronze- or Silver-rated driver in the Pro-Am class.

Patrick Lindsey, Joerg Bergmeister and Matt McMurry teamed up to finish second in the No. 73 Park Place Porsche 911 GT3 R. Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal finished third in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3.

Nielsen and Balzan wrapped up GTD championships for themselves and the Scuderia Corsa team with their seventh podium result of the season. It was the second consecutive GTD title for Scuderia Corsa, which won last year with drivers Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler. Audi claimed the GTD manufacturers’ championship.

Nielsen started the race and, despite some contact and an extremely fast race pace, Nielsen logged her three hours and eight minutes in back-to-back stints to earn the championship before handing the car over to Jeff Segal.
“I was pretty tired when I got out of the car, but I felt great,” said Nielsen. “To be honest, it was a bit mentally draining to be in the car longer than a regular IMSA race distance. The team did a great job of keeping me calm, taking to me, keeping me updated and giving me feedback.”
“Everyone has enjoyed the hard work that we have put in all year and to be champions is just amazing! And there are no other people than Alessandro Balzan, Jeff Segal and Scuderia Corsa that I would like to share it with. Time flies with these guys and I really enjoy racing the Ferrari 488 GT3. Ferrari gave us a great car to race with!”

All champions will be honored on Monday during the WeatherTech Night of Champions at Chateau Élan Resort and Winery in Braselton, Georgia.

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, October 2 2016
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