TUDOR United SportsCar

TUSCC: Ganassi Saves Enough Fuel To Take CoTA Race Win

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AUSTIN, Texas — The tank ran dry halfway through the cool down lap, but that was the least of the worries in terms of veteran sports car racer Scott Pruett on Saturday afternoon as he managed to extend a near empty fuel tank, plus hold off two hungry competitors close behind him to claim the victory in the Lone Star Le Mans Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas. Starting third, Pruett’s co-driver Memo Rojas claimed the early lead after contact forced front row starters Gustavo Yacaman and Ricky Taylor wide on the opening lap. However, the Mexican native would succumb to the speed of the OAK Racing Ligier-Honda coupe as Yacaman, despite the contact zoomed back around to reclaim the top spot and would build a ten second cushion on the field. The new Ligier showed a much greater pace than OAK Racing’s old Morgan LMP2 open top car had been able to produce in any TUDOR United SportsCar Championship to date as Yacaman and co-driver Alex Brundle were the only drivers to post laps in the two hour, 45 minute event in under two minutes.

Pit stop strategy shuffled the lead between OAK Racing and the two challenging Chevrolet Corvette DPs belonging to Action Express Racing and Visitflorida.com Racing in the event’s opening half. Taking over for teammate Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa eventually claimed the top spot, after contact between Visitflorida.com’s Michael Valiante and Yacaman sent the OAK Racing Ligier for a spin and resulted in a drive through penalty for the Canadian driver, knocking the No. 90 Corvette out of the mix. From that point, Barbosa held a close yet comfortable edge on his pursuers until the final hour when Alex Brundle took over the Ligier from Yacaman and began to fire off multiple laps in the 1:59 range allowing the second-generation British driver to vault to the top spot following another round of pit stops from all the leaders.

The final pit stop, however, would see the pivotal cards placed onto the table as both Action Express and OAK took on tires and a full fuel load. Ganassi, however, with Pruett taking over for Rojas gambled on their last stop, taking on less fuel hoping they could get to the front and then stay there. The move put the American into the lead by eight seconds over Barbosa and Brundle, a lead that slowly started to lessen as Pruett was forced to conserve fuel. Eventually, with 15 minutes remaining, the top three were literally nose to tail for the top spot, but as the run continued the Continental Tires started to wear out on both of the chasers and their focus shifted from challenging the Ganassi Riley-Ford EcoBoost DP to each other, a fight that eventually ended in favor of Brundle and OAK Racing. The battle would allow a fuel saving Pruett to build a large enough gap to prevent Brundle from reeling him back in over the last five minutes.

The win is the third this season for Chip Ganassi Racing, but the team’s first since going back-to-back at Sebring and Long Beach in rounds two and three of the championship. The runner-up effort for Brundle and Yacaman is the second this season for OAK Racing, coupling with five other top four finishes, including a victory in Canada.

While Action Express Racing faded to third at the finish, the result was pivotal in Fittipaldi and Barbosa’s quest for a championship. The contact suffered by Wayne Taylor Racing’s Ricky Taylor at the start was devastating for his and brother Jordan Taylor’s chances for a title as they were forced to pit at the end of lap one to replace flat tires and body damage. The stop put them a lap down, a lap they were able to make up under the event’s only full course caution, but the car was never the same from that point to the finish. The resulting seventh place finish means the Taylors are now 22 points behind Action Express Racing in the fight for the Prototype division championship with only the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta event left on the schedule. Visitflorida.com Racing was also unable to gain ground on Action Express due to the penalty suffered on the restart and finished the race in sixth place.

Extreme Speed Motorsports’ Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown claimed fourth place overall on Saturday in what will be the team’s final appearence in the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The squad, which is also  entering a Honda ARX-03b in the accompanying FIA World Endurance Championship race at Circuit of the Americas this weekend, has decided to skip Petit Le Mans and instead will run in the Six Hours of China race coming up in November, entering two cars. The team is using the event as a test run for a potential run in both the TUSCC and the FIA WEC, which would also include an effort in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

In the Prototype Challenge division, 8Star Motorsports did not go completely wire to wire as they did last month at Virginia International Raceway, but the pole winners from Friday claimed the early lead, returned to the top spot, and held on over the final 45 minutes to claim their second victory in succession on Saturday. Luiz Diaz, who started the car held the lead but would relinquish it during the first round of pit stops in which the race’s only full course caution created a mixture of off sequence strategies. In the end Starworks Motorsport, PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports, RSR Racing, and CORE Autosport would each take turns at the front before 8Star with Sean Rayhall behind the wheel in the event’s second half would regain the lead and reign unopposed claiming the win by two seconds over Colin Braun, whose runner-up finish clinches the 2014 Prototype Challenge title for himself and CORE Autosport owner and co-driver Jon Bennett. The victory by 8Star also nearly locks up second place in the championship baring a major collapse in the finale at Road Atlanta.

Behind the two title clinchers, Starworks Motorsport’s Renger van der Zande and Mirco Schultis rounded out the CoTA PC podium, while PR1-Mathiasen’s Gunnar Jeannette and Frankie Montecalvo claimed fourth, and RSR Racing’s Chris Cumming and Jack Hawksworth rounded out the first five.

In the GT Le Mans class, SRT Motorsport’s second 1-2 finish of the 2014 campaign may prove to be the key moment in the 2014 championship hunt. With Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer claiming their second win of the season, coupled with a disappointing ninth place effort from championship rivals Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen of Corvette Racing, has resulted in the Dodge Viper pairing taking the points lead for the first time this season. Only Rahal-Letteman-Lanigan Racing and Corvette had held the points lead prior to this weekend. The event played out almost exactly like SRT’s first win of the season at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the victim was Porsche North America.

As they had done at Indy, Nick Tandy had built an almost insurmountable lead on the rest of the GTLM fleet and only needed to hold his and CoTA co-driver Jorg Bergmeister’s position to claim the victory. However, at Indianapolis an engine failure in the final hour ended their run and on Saturday at Circuit of the Americas another mechanical issue sidelined the No. 911 Porsche RSR inside the final 60 minutes. The DNF was a bitter pill for Porsche NA to swallow, as their three-car team had dominated the pre-race practice sessions on Thursday and Friday prior to race day. Despite the heartbreak, the team’s other two entries provided some consolation placing third and fourth in GTLM, with Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 458 which won the last two TUSCC events rounding out the top five.

Finally in the GT Daytona division, Dodge would yet again have the last laugh as a late charge by Riley Engineering’s Jeroen Bleekemolen netted the team’s second victory of 2014. Running among the top half of the GTD fleet throughout the race, Bleekemolen who had taken over the team’s Dodge Viper GT3-R from Ben Keating who started the car, began to make progress in the final 90 minutes, eventually catching and passing Dane Cameron’s Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 for the winning overtake in the final 40 minutes of the event. Although Cameron also lost out to Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally and John Potter for second place as well, he and co-driver Markus Palttala’s third place finish was more than enough to break a three-way tie that existed in the GTD points table entering the Lone Star Le Mans Grand Prix.

The podium finish vaults Turner ahead of both Alex Job Racing and AIM Autosport in the standings, however the fifth and eighth place results respectively on Saturday at CoTA does not eliminate either Leh Keen and Cooper MacNeil nor Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler from championship contention heading into the season finale at Road Atlanta. Paul Miller Racing’s Audi R8 team of Bryce Miller and Christopher Haase’s sixth place finish on Saturday also keeps slim hopes of a title alive for them as well.

After a wild end to Saturday’s action, one can only expect a similar ending to the script in two weeks time at Road Atlanta.

Stay tuned to Rubbings Racing for continued coverage of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

 

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About Matt Embury

Matt Embury is the Senior SportsCar Writer at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@MattEmbury) for the latest sports car news and opinions. A native of Mishawaka, Indiana, he has been following sports car racing for nearly 20 years.

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