Acura Doubles Down With GTD Score

BRASELTON, Ga. — Gradient Racing put an exclamation point on a huge day for Acura by winning the GTD class of the 25th annual Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, the season finale of the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Kyffin Simpson, Till Bechtolsheimer, and Mario Farnbacher teamed up to vanquish the 15-car GTD field in the No. 66 Acura NSX GT3, holding off the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren 720S GT3 driven by Brendan Iribe, Jordan Pepper, and Sebastian Priaulx during a tense 30-minute battle until the 10-hour race ended under caution.

Acura also claimed the overall and Daytona Prototype international victory in the race, with Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian and drivers Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis earning the DPi season championship.

The Gradient drivers started from the back of the GTD field after a problem with a turbocharger wastegate prevented them from competing a qualifying lap. They steadily worked toward the front before dramatically seizing the lead during an exchange of green flag pit stops with a little under an hour remaining. The eighth of the race’s nine safety car periods soon followed.

Over the next 22 green-flag laps, GTD leaders Farnbacher and Pepper were rarely separated by more than a second. They posted lap times within a thousandth of a second with 24 minutes to go. But Pepper was never able to get close enough to try a move, and he was denied a final opportunity when the race ended under yellow.

“After the problem we had in qualifying, the guys tore the whole car apart, made it absolutely perfect for today, and here we are,” said Farnbacher. “I’m so proud of the guys…it’s absolutely great. “It means a lot,” he noted. “Ten years ago was my first race in the U.S., at this track. I won back then, and now, exactly 10 years later, I won again. So, there’s a really special connection to this track.”

The tension was almost unbearable for Farnbacher’s co-drivers and team.

“It was all a blur, and I was just trying not to throw up,” Bechtolsheimer remarked. “An incredible day. Kyffin was just clinical all day, and the last couple stints from Mario were out of this world. It’s huge for Gradient to get their first win in IMSA.”

After controlling the race from the middle of the sixth hour to the final 30 minutes, the Inception team was frustrated and disappointed to come home second. Pepper was mystified why the red light was lit at the pit exit following his crucial final pit stop, trapping him behind a slower Lamborghini and ultimately allowing Farnbacher past.

“Unfortunately, there were just a couple tenths between us, and the fight was on,” Pepper said. “It was quite fun, and the two of us were having our own battle. Maybe a bit of smashing between the two cars would have led to an overtake, but I don’t think that’s a fair way to race. Mario did an incredible job.”

The second-place finish did clinch the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup for the No. 70 McLaren.

“That’s the cherry on the cake, that was the goal coming into this weekend,” said Pepper. “The guys are super happy this evening, and I think we’ll be celebrating that and our podium tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Roman De Angelis, Maxime Martin, and Ian James overcame a series of challenges throughout the race in the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 to claim a seventh-place class finish. That was enough to secure the GTD championship for De Angelis, a 21-year-old from Belle River, Ontario, Canada.

The hurdles included an electrical issue that required a mid-race steering wheel change, and an off-course excursion at the very end when Martin was bumped by the team’s closest title competition, the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R shared by Jan Heylen, Ryan Hardwick, and Zacharie Robichon. De Angelis ended the season with a slim 23-point edge over Heylen and Hardwick.

“A messy day, and we really fought to get back on the lead lap all day,” related De Angelis. “When the checkered flag dropped, I didn’t even know if we won it or not. Then everyone started screaming, so that was my indication that it went pretty well. “The team did an awesome job through all the chaos and those points where we were very far from the championship,” he added. “They stayed motivated and kept fighting, and it definitely all paid off in the end.”

The Vasser Sullivan crew thought the GTD PRO win was well in hand late in Saturday’s race. Until it wasn’t. And then it was. After leading much of the 10-hour race, No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 driver Jack Hawksworth was caught in a late-race scuffle and surrendered first place to the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3.

The Ferrari crossed the finish line first but was moved to the back of the class results for driver Daniel Serra exceeding the limit of driving four hours within a six-hour period. The penalty put Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood atop the GTD PRO podium, securing the first WeatherTech Championship endurance race win for the team and Lexus as well as clinching second place in the GTD PRO standings for Barnicoat and the No. 14.

Acura Doubles Down With GTD Score

The Vasser Sullivan Lexus handled by Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood. (IMSA photo)

“It was just wild. I’m just so happy, this has been a long time coming for this team,” said Hawksworth, a pillar of the Lexus program who collected his ninth career win.

“The guys have worked so hard for it.” The No. 14 Lexus was leading at the final restart from caution with just more than a half-hour remaining but was pushed hard by Mathieu Jaminet in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R that clinched the season championship by starting the race.

Jaminet bumped into the back of Hawksworth entering turn 10 with 21 minutes to go, causing the Lexus to wiggle and allowing the No. 62 Ferrari and the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M4 GT3 a chance to pounce. Hawksworth somehow retained the lead while the Ferrari overtook the Porsche for second place. Soon after, Serra pushed the Risi Ferrari past the Vasser Sullivan for the class lead to the finish. But the Ferrari’s joy was short-lived as Serra was cited for maximum driving infringement. Hawksworth was still shaking his head over what transpired in the closing minutes.

“I had more contact in the last 30 minutes of that race than I think I had the whole season, probably my whole IMSA career,” he said. “(Jaminet) tried to pass me in (Turn) 10, we had contact there, and then he hit me three or four more times. God knows how the car is still in one piece.” Barnicoat joined the team this year and was elated to help deliver the first endurance win and take second in the GTD PRO championship.

“You can see how much this means to everyone here, the whole Lexus family,” he said. “I joined them a year ago and to be able to do this at my first Petit Le Mans with them is incredible.” With the Risi Ferrari’s demotion, the No. 25 BMW with drivers Connor De Phillippi, John Edwards and Jesse Krohn finished second and the No. 9 Pfaff Porsche shared by Jaminet, Matt Campbell and Felipe Nasr took third place.

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