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Big Surprise Finish for Cadillac at Petit Le Mans

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 18 2020

Drivers of the No. 10 Cadillac celebrate their victory at the Petit Le Mans on Saturday evening. (Photo courtesy of IMSA)

By Jonathan Ingram
Senior Writer | RacingToday.com

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – One never knows how the racing gods might introduce a sudden change of fate at the Petit Le Mans. In yet another surprise ending, the 23rd running of the now classic endurance event at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, this one sponsored by Motul, turned on a bid for the lead with 10 minutes remaining in the 10-hour event. 

The dispute over real estate at the apex of Turn 6 sent the Acura of Ricky Taylor and the Cadillac of Pipo Derani spinning, handing the lead to the winning Cadillac of Renger van der Zande, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon. 

Was Taylor overly optimistic in his Acura DPi when trying to overtake leader Derani’s Cadillac after the two had dueled nose-to-tail for 60 minutes and exchanged the lead twice? Did Derani close the door only after Taylor had gotten halfway alongside? 

It was a question best left to the racing gods such were the valid arguments on either side – and deep disappointment. The championship standings were very much in doubt until the incident, which was followed by a crash in the Esses on the final re-start that put the race finish under caution.

“This is massive,” said Briscoe, whose Wayne Taylor-owned team struggled with brake issues in practice and then had to change a battery during van der Zange’s first stint due to electronic problems. “It was such a great finish,” continued Briscoe, “and it just shows never give up and just hang in there. Renger did a hell of a stint there at the end, and he kept saying, ‘I’m not going to give up.’ Then fortune fell our way. We had a fast car all afternoon and I’m just so proud of this team.”

IMSA officials decided not to penalize Taylor’s re-entry to the track after his spin, which nearly collected the Cadillac of van der Zande, who had closed the gap to the leaders from 18 seconds to less than ten before the tandem spin of the leaders took place. In his previous stint, he set the race’s fastest lap. It was the second Petit victory for the Dutchman, who won in 2018 with two wheels on the grass at the flag stand to maintain his lead. Briscoe and IndyCar star Dixon, a four-time winner at the Rolex 24 of Daytona, scored their first victory in the Petit.

Derani directed his ire at Taylor in the Penske pit after the race before talking with IMSA’s designated pool reporter in the pits. “I was in front, and he pushed me out. There’s nothing much to say. And, unfortunately, we lost the race. We did everything we could, leading the race with 10 laps to go, and he just pushes me out on a desperate move to try and go to the lead. I think it was a mistake on his part, and I hope he sleeps on it.

“I lost a little bit of respect for him and for his teammates, who tried to accuse me of doing something wrong,” continued the Brazilian. “It is what it is. I’m not at a racetrack to make friends – I want to win the next one.” 

After leading the race only during exchanges of pit stops, Briscoe and van der Zande extended their lead in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with two races remaining in the re-arranged schedule, usually bookended by this Georgia event. Taylor and co-driver Helio Castroneves (joined by IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi) now trail by eight points and Derani fell to 12 points behind the leading duo headed into the postponed event at the Laguna Seca circuit and the 12-hour at Sebring, Fla.

On a glorious Indian summer day that brought a throng of fans and their vehicles into the track’s infield fan zones and into the camping areas earlier in the week, the racing gods began twisting fate before the sun had set. 

In a late-afternoon incident at the opening of the fifth hour, the contending Mazda DPi and the No. 6 Acura of Team Penske were each collected at the crest of the hill of Turn 2 when a GTD driver was blinded by the low trajectory of an autumn sun. Alessandro Balzan, at the wheel of a Ferrari 488, collided with the Mazda as Oliver Jarvis rejoined from the short spit of asphalt at the pit exit. The Acura driven by pole winner Dane Cameron, which had dominated the lead in the first four of ten hours, was then collected by an LMP2 car trying to dodge the incident.

The No. 6 Acura took an extra pit stop after returning to the course to change the nose on the ARX-05. Cameron and co-drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud moved up to third place when Derani, joined here by Felipe Nasr and Filipe Albuquerque, lost a lap before being towed out of the gravel.

Mazda was less fortunate. First, the No. 55 entry of Harry Tincknell was knocked off the track in a collision at the pit exit when he emerged from his first pit stop – hit by the same Ferrari, this time with Cooper McNeil at the wheel – in the first hour. It finished 19 laps behind the leaders, which was 14 laps ahead of the No. 77 Mazda.

In LMP2, the Starworks ORECA of John Farano, Mikkel Jensen, and Job van Uitert led the final three hours to claim the victory.

The surprise endings continued in the GT classes. After leading the GTLM class most of the day and the night, the M8 of BMW Team RLL driven by Augusto Farfus ran into a traffic jam and put his left-side wheels into the grass, blocking the brake ducts. Following a pit stop, when the BMW’s left-front brakes caught fire, the Porsche 911 RSR-19 of Fred Makowiecki, Nick Tandy and Matt Campbell inherited the victory for Stuttgart’s factory team, narrowly edging the No. 3 Corvette of Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Nick Catsburg.

The biggest surprise, perhaps, was the victory by the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of McNeil, Balzan and Jeff Westphal in the GTD class. The only Ferrari in the field, it was one of the few to survive more than one incident after twice uncannily running afoul of the Mazda DPis exiting the pits.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 18 2020
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