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There’s something about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Roger Penske. Put the two together and the results are often successful.
In the first GTP race at the historic track, of which Penske is now the owner, Penske Porsche Motorsport and its Porsche 963s were “Uber Alles”. The team’s winning No. 6, Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet, led the No. 7 of Matt Campbell and Felipe Nazr over the brick line under the checkered flag.
In a dominant weekend that began with Campbell’s pole, the second-placed Porsche was 16 seconds behind its nearest competitor, the third-placed BMW M Hybrid V8 of Connor De Fellippi and Nick Yelloly.
Team Penske was “in a league of its own,” said Pipo Derani, who led the race with 90 minutes to go before finishing fourth with Alexander Sims in the Action Express Racing Cadillac V-Series.R. That was enough to retake the championship lead from Acura drivers Ricky Taylor and Felipe Albuqerque by three points. But the winning Porsche drivers are now within five points.
“It was fantastic driving by our guys in both cars,” said Penske, who maintained his usual stoic demeanor when Campbell locked his brakes trying to beat Jaminet into Turn 1 early on. The race was close but clean between the two Porsches after that hair-raising moment at the first corner that sent Sebastien Bourdais’s Cadillac spinning and into Phillipp Eng’s BMW. “They were trying to decide the championship, but we needed both cars to finish,” Penske said.
After a disappointing performance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, Team Penske’s depth shows itself in the second half of the season.
There was something more at work than Penske’s mystique at the Brickyard, where his teams so often rise to the occasion. The sports car team’s improved performance is attributed to better use of engineering to work out the setup of its cars for racing. Calculating the best way to collect and distribute electrical energy from the GTP’s brake-by-wire system is critical to success on each of the program’s various tracks. At Indy, Penske’s advantage was evident from the start of the weekend.
“We’re not necessarily shining in any area at the moment,” Campbell said after the first practice. “I think we manage to put together a lap quite well, whereas with everyone else we saw a lot of errors in practice with brakes locking and going off track. We did too, but I feel much less than some of the other competitors.
Not exactly perfect
The Penske Porsches might have led from start to finish, aside from pit stops, if not for a bizarre episode during the second caution of the day, when Derani overtook both cars to take the lead. The Brazilian noticed that the two Porsches were not maintaining the pace during the reorganization of the field for the restart and quickly overtook.
“We are respecting the rules,” Derani said of his first career overtaking under the yellow flag. “We know what to do. I think they were reluctant to go again. This simply shows that the entire Action Express team respects the rules.” He drove until he got stuck in traffic, which allowed Nasr and Tandy to pass. Tandy took the lead with an overcut in the final round of pit stops when Nasr went off the track on his exit lap.
The open grandstands at Turn 1 attracted plenty of fans, as is typical for road races. But Indy’s main covered grandstand was practically empty, as were the stands behind the pits. The trail opened up the campground’s infield for campers and tents, but turnout was poor. About half of the camper spaces remained empty. Attendance was the only inconvenience for the winning team owner and he raced a near-perfect day. “Come back next year and bring your friends,” advises the Captain.
Championship still closed for Prototypes
The WeatherTech Championship prototype championship will be decided once again at the season-ending Petit Le Mans, no surprise given IMSA’s points system that keeps all competitors close.
But even the points system may not be enough to help the Wayne Taylor Racing drivers with Andretti Global unless they get their first win of the season in the final race. Their attempt to be the first to win the IMSA Prototype Championship without a win since the team owner’s World Sports Cars title in 1994 suffered a setback in the eighth of nine rounds.
After brake problems during practice and Ricky Taylor going off track in the morning warm-up, the team’s Acura ARX-06 finished fifth. This, too, required aggressive driving from Felipe Albuquerque, who pushed Mike Rockenfeller’s JDC Miller MotorSports Porsche 963 off the racing line before the final round of pit stops.
Action Express riders Derani and Sims lead the standings by three points over the Taylor team duo. Five points behind the leaders are Tandy and Campbell, winners of their second GTP race. This will reward points-earning qualifying, Petit Le Mans and race victory.
The GTD Pro title is almost decided
Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat need only start Petit Le Mans in the Lexus RC F GT3 for their Vasser Sullivan team to claim the GTD Pro title. At Indy, third place gave the Lexus duo an eighth podium in nine races. Winning drivers Daniel Juncadella and Jules Gounon took their third victory of the season in the WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3.
As expected, Paul Miller Racing and its drivers captured the GTD title with a smooth race among 17 competitors in the class. Madison Snow was once again brilliant in the Miller team’s BMW M4 GT3, taking overall pole among the GTD classes and maintaining her lead during her first stint. Co-driver Bryan Sellers, who finished third, carefully kept the BMW out of trouble on a crowded track where spins and contact among those seeking a prestigious victory in Indy kept officials busy all day.
The Winward Racing Mercedes and Forte Racing Lamborghini exchanged blows aggressively, drawing the attention of officials after Philip Ellis rammed the rear of Loris Spinelli’s Huracan to take the lead at the finish line.
In the pro-am classes, TDS Racing’s Steven Thomas and Mikkel Jensen withstood a display of contact, crashes and spins to win the LMP2 class. Wayne Boyd and Anthony Mantella survived to win LMP3 in the AWA team’s Duqueine D08.
The night is a time for fighting
If the placings in the two classes of the Michelin Pilot Challenge are any indication, next year’s six-hour race for the WeatherTech championship could produce fireworks in a race expected to end in the dark.
In this year’s Saturday night preliminary rounds, Daniel Morad took the Grand Sports class and overall victory after a controversial battle with Elliott Skeer, who he accused of stalling multiple times in the braking zone at Turn 1 at the end of the long front straight before making his winning pass.
“Everything was against us and we just couldn’t catch a break with anything,” said Morad, who took over in 13thplaced by co-driver Bryce Ward and then took his Mercedes-AMG GT into the lead. “The racing was aggressive. (Skeer) was moving in the braking zones every time and that made it very difficult. We would have had a contact and I would have had to pass the runoff. There were little things I didn’t appreciate.
“But that gave me more motivation,” continued Morad, who took his third win on the Indy Road course. “One thing I know is that I drive better when I’m angry and he gave me motivation.”
Another angry driver was Robert Wickens, who lost the Touring class lead to Mikey Taylor’s Audi with two minutes to go. “I don’t want to be the poor loser, but I’ve never raced the JDC Miller MotorSports Audi this year without there being contact,” Wickens said. “I can race everyone else without any contact. Taylor is just like that. If that’s the way he wants to play, we’ll play that way.”
The win was the third of the season for Taylor and co-driver Chris Miller and the second in a row. Wickens and Harry Gottsacker, the co-driver of his Bryan Herta-run Hyundai Elantra, lead the Touring Class championship by 20 points with the final race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta remaining.