The No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG driven by Daniel Juncadella, Jules Gounon and Maro Engel held off the Pfaff Porsche in the closing stages to take the GTD PRO victory at Motul Petit Le Mans and bookend the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season with victories. Having started the season with a win in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Juncadella and Gounon claimed the Michelin Endurance Cup championship and second in the overall points.
“It was a season with a lot of ups but also a lot of downs at some point,” said Juncadella. “During the mid season, we struggled. We seemed to not be able to find some of the issues, but we can be happy with the results. Sharing the car all of us together and also having Maro in the endurance races, we are all very close and everybody can rely on each other for any particular job on the racetrack, off the racetrack. We always enjoy it and that’s I think that’s a big key for our success.”
Several cars took their turns at the front, but many left the race with problems. The No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 was going for victory, Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat having secured the GTD PRO championship once the race had started. But Barnicoat got loose on the Turn 3 curb, went off track and hit the dirt and a trackside sign, ripping the front off the car off and ending their day.
The No. 3 Corvette Racing C8.R of Jordan Taylor, Antonio Garcia and Tommy Milner rolled to a stop after leading much of the race with an unspecified mechanical issue. Pfaff Motorsports’ No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Pilet, Klaus Bachler and Kevin Estre also led a bunch of laps late, but had nothing for the WeatherTech Mercedes at the end. And Mirko Bortolotti’s great run in the Iron Lynx Lamborghini Huracán that he shared with Jordan Pepper and Franck Perera ended with contact in the final minutes.
The Pfaff Porsche ended up second; the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 was third, trailing the top three in GTD.
Much of the GTD race was a battle between the Mercedes AMGs from Winward Racing and Korthoff/Preston Motorsports. Neither was in the fight at the end, but Mike Skeen, Mikael Grenier and Kenton Koch claimed the Michelin Endurance Cup title for Korthoff/Preston.
Instead, the Forte Racing Powered by US RaceTronics trio of Loris Spinelli, Misha Goikhberg and Patrick Liddy claimed the victory in the No. 78 Lamborghini Huracán. The team had to recover from three different drive-through penalties to take the win with a late charge.
“The feeling is amazing, especially because it’s my first time at this track,” said Spinelli. “The race started really well. We were fighting for the top five after a couple hours but unfortunately we got a couple of penalties. The team put on an amazing efforts for the last few hours the car was really drivable. I’m super happy. For sure, it’s a result that we deserved, really at the beginning of the season, because we showed always a good speed.”
The Forte Lamborghini had demonstrated solid pace in many races this season, but hadn’t quite been able to pull off a victory. A second in the last race at Indianapolis and the win at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta showed promise for next season.
“There’s been a lot of frustrating races where we were almost there and something always seemed to go wrong,” said Goikhberg. “So to finish the season on a strong note, to get Lamborghini a win and to really prove to ourselves that we’re capable of winning — and really go hard in preparation for 2024, which literally starts this week — I think it’s very important for the morale of the team.”
Robby Foley, Patrick Gallagher and Michael Dinan had the best finish of the season for the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 in second. Trent Hindman, Alan Brynjolfsson and Max Root were third in the No. 77 Wright Motorsports Porsche. The podium changed significantly on the final restart of the race, ruining solid runs for both the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche and the No. 80 AO Racing Porsche.
Jan Heylen was running second in the No. 16 when he got squeezed between two cars and the resulting contact caused an inferno to erupt at the back of the Porsche. Seb Priaulx in the No. 80 also went off, possibly in avoidance of the incident. Heylen pulled the Wright car to a stop, jumped out, grabbed a fire extinguisher from the marshals, and extinguished the fire.