(8 September 2020) – Braselton, GA: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar six-hour enduro at Road Atlanta provided enough excitement and drama to last an entire season. The Balance of Performance hit the bullseye with nothing to choose between any manufacturer, in any class across the field. The exceptional parity ultimately resulted in a flat-out, six-hour sprint race where flawless execution by both drivers and crew offered the only possible chance of success. Ultimately the #55 Mazda of Harry Tincknell, Jonathan Bomarito and Ryan Hunter-Reay stayed in the mix and finished a scant 0.9 seconds behind the winner. Critically the #55 crew finished ahead of all their championship rivals and now sit fourth just six points behind the leader with four races to go.
“That was a tough day in the office,” said Tincknell. “We were at the front, we were at the back, we were at the front again, we were at the back again, and luckily when the chequered flag dropped we were running at the front again!”
“I actually hurt my neck a few days ago,” he continued. “It was just one of those things when you kink it and it really locks up. Quite a few people got involved to help me – Tristan (Nunez) even gave me a little massage during the race to loosen it up – but it was a struggle in the car and I think it was adrenaline that got me through it, especially once I got Castroneves in my sights in the closing laps.”
With positions constantly changing, the penultimate pit stop was crucial for the #55. Hunter-Reay was running fifth and the team called it early to give him a clear in-lap and Tincknell a traffic-free out-lap. The time gained by the strategy allowed the Mazda to jump two cars in the pit sequence and be up to speed to easily pass Montoya on track. Tincknell then began to rapidly run down the leading Penske of Helio Castroneves but a full course yellow, with just 13 minutes to go, put paid to the attack leaving only two green laps, not quite enough to finish the job. The #55 Mazda crossed the line less than a second behind #7 Penske after six hours of flat-out racing.
For the #77 of Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez and Olivier Pla, a brake fluid leak ended what had the potential of being the car’s first win of the season. Some cars just look fast and at Road Atlanta the #77 Mazda was one of those, setting a blistering pace from the green flag. Starting from the back of the DPi field, due to a penalty invoked by an overnight engine change, didn’t stop Nunez from getting in amongst the leading pack from the start. Like the sister car, the #55 yo-yoed up and down the leader board, but storming drives from all three pilots proved that the #77 was fully in contention for the race win, Pla ultimately setting the fastest lap of the race in his first event since the Rolex 24. With two hours remaining, Nunez took the lead and built a significant gap to P2 after 30 minutes of consistently being the fastest car on-track. But he was forced to pit when braking performance became erratic and the telemetry indicated that the bias was unstable and that fluid had been lost. The team quickly diagnosed that a line had failed but there was no margin for any such issue and it ended the chase for the Mazda. They re-joined and finished seventh in class.
“Of course we are disappointed that we couldn’t fight for the win but what a race!” said Pla. “Thank you to the crew for giving us such a fast car today. It was a lot of fun out there. Hopefully our time will come soon.”
Despite this setback, the #77 Mazda crew sits fifth in the championship, just nine points adrift from the lead so the 2020 title is still there for the taking.
BEST RESULT SO FAR THIS SEASON FOR #22 MUSTANG
Seb Priaulx and Scott Maxwell had a clear goal this weekend and that was to get the #22 Ford Mustang on the podium. Priaulx got proceedings off to a strong start by taking the duo’s best qualifying position of the year, grabbing third place on the grid. The young racer loves the Road Atlanta track and won there on his US racing debut in 2019.
When the four-hour race got underway on Sunday, Priaulx quickly settled into a comfortable second place, pitting after 40 minutes as a full course yellow flew within a lap of the team’s schedule. Maxwell left with fresh tyres and a full tank of fuel, dropping a few spots to the cars that had come in just before the caution period. The #22 ran a trouble-free stint amongst the front five, the fast pack breaking away from the balance of the field, before pitting a second time for fuel and left side tyres only, so as to leave two fresh sets for Priaulx at the end. A strong first half of the stint saw Maxwell run in third until another safety car period occurred, during which half the field followed the unwritten rule to come for fuel whenever the opportunity is offered. Team Engineer for the event, Larry Holt, chose to leave the Mustang on track with a gamble that the race would go green and still allow the #22 it to make the penultimate fuel window. The calculated risk played perfectly and despite Maxwell dropping back to ninth, due to the competition who took the yellow stop having fresher rubber, the team got the car in with a litre left in the tank exactly when needed to make the end in two equal stints.
Priaulx was reinstalled, given a fresh set of Michelins and a full tank of fuel with instruction to “drive it forward”, which he proceed to do. The split strategies made the positional situation difficult to follow but those that had used the yellow would still need a stop and a splash so it was a race for only half the field. Another yellow didn’t rectify the problem and although it would allow the #22 to run past the final window the team decided to dive into the pits as the window opened so as to facilitate a faster fill with only left side tyres being installed. This allowed the #22 to jump the cars that hadn’t made the final stop putting Priaulx in P4 with 12 laps to go. A spectacular pass on Trent Hindman’s Porsche in the Turn 10 chicane achieved the driver pairing’s podium target, but then the #56 Mercedes AMG GT ran out of fuel on the final lap allowing Multimatic’s strategy to take second place for the Mustang team.
“The car was strong today and it was a lot of fun to race it at Road Atlanta,” said Priaulx. “It’s a fast track, where a lot seems to happen on every lap, which just makes it more fun. I could have happily carried on for another couple of hours. It feels good to finally get that podium finish as we have been after it for a while now. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.”