The Action Express Corvette Daytona Prototype of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi won Sunday’s IMSA race at Watkins Glen.
CORVETTES FINISH FIRST AND SECOND IN 6-HOUR RACE
The Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen isn’t the longest endurance race on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule – the Rolex 24 at Daytona has that distinction — but traditionally, the race at Watkins Glen International has been one of the toughest to win. That was compounded this year by new pavement on the 3.4-mile road course, so much of the car setup information gathered over the years by the top teams went out the window.
So it was likely that the 2016 Sahlen’s Six Hours would go to the team that figured out the new track first, and it did: The Action Express two-car Chevrolet Corvette DP team finished first and second overall and in the Prototype class, with the No. 5 Mustang Sampling entry of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi taking the victory, and the No. 31 Whelen Engineering car of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran finishing second. Filipe Albuquerque was entered as the third driver for both cars, but did not end up driving.
Third was the No. 60 Shank Racing Honda-powered Ligier JS P2 of John Pew, Ozz Negri and endurance specialist Olivier Pla. That car was the fastest in the field, with a best lap of 1 minute, 34.515 seconds, compared to Barbosa’s fastest lap of 1:35.601. Led by former NASCAR crew chief Gary Nelson, the Action express cars often win due to superior race and pit strategy, and that’s likely what happened today. “We’re here today due to pure racecraft,” Fittipaldi said in the winner’s interview.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that two of the top competitors in the Prototype class dropped out. The polesitting No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Honda-Ligier JS P2, which won both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, retired shortly after the halfway mark after losing oil pressure. Then the very fast No. 55 Mazda prototype, sporting the green and orange colors of the Mazda 787B that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 25 years ago — stopped on the track while running third with an engine issue.
Action Express now takes over the lead of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Championship, which is awarded to the top performer in the four longest races in the IMSA WeatherTech series — Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, and the 10-hour Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta that closes out the season. The No. 2 Tequila Patron Honda-Ligier, winner at Daytona and Sebring, had the lead coming into the Sahlen’s Six Hours.
In Prototype Challenge, polesitter Renger van der Zande and co-driver Alex Popow in the No. 8 Starworks Oreca-Chevrolet survived a very physical six hours in the PC class, finishing about 10 seconds ahead of the No 38 Performance Tech entry of Kyle Marcelli, James French and Kenton Koch. Third was the No. 88 Starworks car of Mark Kvamme, Maro Engel and Sean Johnston. The win for the No. 8, its second straight, extended the team’s lead in season points.
In GT Le Mans, the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team remained the dominant force in the class, with a one-two finish, following a win in the last GT Le Mans outing, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, then scoring a first and third at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“We’re really hitting our stride,” said Joey Hand, driver of the second-place No. 66 car. “Good mojo.” Hand co-drove with Dirk Mueller.
“Our confidence level is so high,” said Richard Westbrook, who co-drove the No. 67 car to the class win, with partner Ryan Briscoe. “It’s a pleasure going to work every day. It’s been an amazing 30 days — Laguna Seca, Le Mans and now this.”
The Ford GTs were the fastest cars in the field, lapping in the one minute, 41 second range, with only the No. 25 BMW Team RLL M6 GTLM of Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner, which finished third, able to run a lap quicker than 1:42.
The best laps of the other cars in the GTLM class, including the previously competitive Corvette Racing C7.Rs and Porsche North America 911 RSRs, were in the mid to high 1:42 range. Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette managed a fourth-place finish, but Milner’s best lap, 1:42.657, was more than a second and a half slower than Hand’s best lap of 1:41.141.
In GT Daytona, the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 of Scuderia Corsa took the victory for Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan, with guest driver Jeff Segal, who is fresh from a class win at Le Mans. The win also increased the season points lead for Nielsen and Balzan. There were several mechanical issues to overcome, especially during Nielsen’s stint, but she said team engineers solved them all.
A close second was the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 of John Potter, Andy Lally and guest driver Dion von Moltke, finishing 1.837 seconds behind the No. 63 Ferrari. Third was Mario Farnbacher, Alex Riberas and Ian James in the No. 23 Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.
There were a couple of scary moments in the race — in the first hour, Johnny Mowlem spun and hit the tire wall hard in the No. 20 Prototype Challenge BAR1 Motorsports entry. Mowlem was OK, but the team will have a tough job getting the car ready for the next race, just a week away in Canada.
The other incident happened on pit road, when guest driver Ben Devlin, stopped for tires and fuel in the No. 70 Mazda Prototype, took off when he thought he heard the word “go” over the radio from the crew chief. The fuel hose was still attached, and the fueler took a tumble, but he was uninjured.
The $11 million repaving of the track won unanimous praise from the drivers. “It made my favorite race track even better,” said Eric Curran, part of the second-place No. 31 Action Express team.
“The multiple concrete patches from last year are gone, and there’s grip across the entire track, allowing for three-wide racing, helpful when you have four classes on the track, all going different speeds. “Plus, the cars are going faster, and that makes for better racing,” Curran said. “I think we were three seconds faster per lap than last year.”
Watkins Glen IMSA Results