After locking out the second row of the grid in Qualifying, the Mazda RT24-Ps had the race in hand as it entered the final hour, but a deluge of rain ended the podium battle for the team.
Round 4 of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship offered up enough drama for a full season of sportscar racing. The cars set off at a furious pace with Harry Tincknell in hot pursuit of the Penske cars, with Tristan Nunez right behind him in the sister Mazda. Ultimately the #6 Acura succumbed to the pressure and it became a three car race at the front with the two Mazdas taking turns at the #7 Penske entry, never more than a second covering the lead battle for over an hour. The contingent of Cadillacs were never a factor as they couldn’t quite match the pace of the front three.
“The race started really well,” said Tincknell. “I got up into second place, then (Dane) Cameron got past me again a few corners later, which started off a great wheel-to-wheel battle. It was so intense in the traffic. You have to be super committed around Road America so when you add traffic into the mix it’s easy to lose a chunk of time so you have to make bold moves to stay on the pace. After the first stop I was right on the tail of Cameron’s Penske again. I had a good run on the exit of turn five but had the door slammed on me but luckily he came off worse and had to pit with a puncture and then again for a blocking penalty.”
With the driver changes complete Oliver Jarvis made what should have been the definitive move of the race when he went around the outside of Helio Castroneves at Canada Corner with 58 minutes left in the race and immediately started pulling away from the #7 Penske machine. Jonathan Bomarito was comfortably in third with no threat from behind, things looking locked for a major points haul for the Mazdas. But just as they settled into a rhythm the skies opened with the biggest deluge Elkhart Lake has ever experienced, totally without warning, as the weather radar showed no such activity until it happened.
Carnage ensued with cars crashing at various points around the track, the only benefactor being the #10 Cadillac that had extended its stint and received the benefit of being able to go to wet tyres during its regular stop. The rest of the field either dashed to the pits to swap to rains or got caught out when the pits closed as the track went yellow. The #55 Mazda, #7 Acura and the balance of the Cadillacs made the change while Jarvis in the #77 was forced to remain on slicks at the front of the field. The race was then red flagged with 42 minutes to go as race control waited out the storm.
The clock was reset to 30 minutes when the field, led by Jarvis on slicks, returned to the still flooded track behind the safety car and the normal protocols were invoked with the pits opening for the various classes and the wave by and class splits were initiated. Based on the timing of those activities and the safety car pace it was evident that the event would end under yellow and so the decision was taken to leave the #77 on slicks so as to maintain the lead and then win the race under caution. But ultimately race control skipped the final aspects of the normal procedure to try and achieve two laps of actual racing before the chequered flag and so the #77 came in for rains as the green flag flew, but then more crashes led to the event ending under yellow anyway and the Mazdas finished a disappointing fifth and sixth despite the dominant run for the first two hours.
“It’s disappointing to finish fifth after the pace and performance we had,” said Tincknell. “We fought so hard today and although I was physically good I was mentally tired by the end of that. I don’t think I ever got a clear lap as I was either up someone’s gearbox or defending from dive bombs all the time. It was intense but it was a lot of fun and I can’t wait for the battle to resume at Road Atlanta.”
“That was one of those races where the result doesn’t reflect the performance of the whole team,” added Jarvis. “Tristan (Nunez) drove a great opening few stints and put us in a position to fight for the win. I took over the car and after passing Helio (Castroneves) in the #7 Penske for the lead was pushing hard to pull a gap before the rain arrived. Unfortunately just as we were about to pit for wets the Safety Car came out which results in the pits being closed. This meant that despite leading the race at the time we were one of a few cars who weren’t able to change to wets. P6 is definitely disappointing but there were plenty of positives so we will use the break to regroup and come back stronger in Atlanta.”
Multimatic Team Boss, Larry Holt, said: “That was an unbelievably disappointing run of bad luck at the end. First we got caught by the storm two laps after we had just stopped and put on fresh slicks, while the Cadillacs were able to run two laps further on fuel and could go straight to wets. Then the #77 got caught out by the yellow and the pits closed before we could get it in for rains. But the kicker was that the timing showed that the race would end under yellow and so we left Jarvis out on slicks to take the checker behind the pace car and win the race. But then then they changed the standard procedure and restarted early and forced us to bring the #77 in for wets and he dropped from P1 to P6. Considering our dominant pace before the rain and the fact that it appeared that we had control of the race at that point the outcome is deeply disappointing. However, we will carry the momentum of the first two hours of the race into Atlanta and endeavour to retake the points lead.”
The next round of the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has changed from Watkins Glen to Road Atlanta and will take place on September 6th.
MUSTANGS LOOKING FOR A BREAK
The #22 Multimatic Mustang had another difficult IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Road America, still in need of a Balance of Performance break and not aided by an early race spin.
Scott Maxwell did a great job to qualify the Mustang in fifth place and although he lost a position at the start, he soon gained two places and was up to fourth. A downshift issue a couple of laps later locked up the rears and spun Maxwell around, dropping him right back to 16th but by the 30 minute mark he was already knocking at the door of the top 10.
When Seb Priaulx jumped in he joined the race in 11th position and soon set about gaining places. By the chequered flag he had hauled himself up to eighth place.
The next round of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge takes place at Virginia International Raceway on August 23rd.