IMSA Wire: Detroit Belle Isle Post-Race Notebook

Detroit Belle Isle Post-Race Notebook

Notebook items include:

  • Pair Of Historic Firsts For Acura, Legge In Detroit
  • Scuderia Corsa Ferrari Edges Closer
  • Mazda Continues Street Streak
  • Corvette Racing Leads At Le Mans Test Day

June 6, 2017

Staff Report

IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Veteran sports car driver Andy Lally has won just about everything there is to win in North American endurance sports car racing with a résumé that includes 33 total victories, five Rolex 24 At Daytona class wins and a trio of championships. But Saturday, when Lally crossed the stripe to win the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan, he helped co-driver Katherine Legge and Acura score a pair of historic firsts.

Competing in just the fifth race of its debut season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Acura recorded its first victory in the GT Daytona (GTD) class and the first win in international sports car competition for the Acura NSX GT3.

It also marked the first career sports car win for Legge in her 39th career start.

“They always say the first win is the hardest, and this one was no exception,” said Honda Performance Development President, Art St. Cyr. “Thinking back to all the hard work of Honda Performance Development, Honda R&D Japan, Honda R&D in Ohio and the Performance Manufacturing Center [where the NSX is built], this is truly a group win.”

Starting second after a season-best qualifying performance, Legge had a strong opening stint before giving way to Lally during the race’s lone caution. The Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian team elected to change only two tires on the pitstop, enabling Lally’s No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 to resume in the lead, a lead he never gave up for the remainder of the race.

“Katherine did an amazing job,” said Lally. “She helped me get faster this weekend. I was junk [at the start of the weekend], but I found some things she was doing and applied it to what I was doing. Our engineers did a great job, we just put our heads down and drove the car. Hats off to Katherine for putting us in the right position to come out in front.”

“Today was the longest hour of my life, watching Andy drive,” added Legge. “I was telepathically talking to him. It was harder to watch than actually drive. ‘Thank you’ to everyone who has given us a chance to put together this car and this ride. In 2013, I drove with HPD in the Indy 500, and it started our relationship. I wanted to be part of their program, so it is really special everything working out.”

SCUDERIA CORSA FERRARI EDGES CLOSER: Don’t look now, but defending GTD class champions Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan have moved within striking distance of the points-leading No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG team of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen. A fourth consecutive podium and third runner-up finish in the last four races, coupled with an early exit from the class leaders at Detroit, puts the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 within nine points, 150-141, of the points leaders going into the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, July 2.

“I was so impressed once again today,” said Nielsen, who qualified seventh and started the race while Balzan took on closing duties. “The car was absolutely amazing to drive, I could have driven it lap after lap. It’s not often you hear drivers say they’re comfortable driving around street circuits, but this car made the whole experience so comfortable.”

‘Comfortable’ may be the ideal word to describe Nielsen and Balzan this season. Other than a retirement from the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, a race the team led with just two hours remaining, the duo has seemingly had no issues with the Ferrari 488 GT3 and has been a fixture at the top of the GTD class in each subsequent race since. This one year after the team rode seven podium results in 11 races to win the 2016 title.

“Detroit is always a circuit where things can change dramatically, and everyone performed flawlessly,” said team owner Giacomo Mattioli. “Our pit work really prevailed today and I cannot give these guys enough credit for their efforts. A strong stint by Christina and another solid drive by Alessandro put the final stamp on the race. We are now within striking distance for the championship.”

The No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow finished third in Detroit to move to third in the class standings, but sits 18 points behind Nielsen and Balzan.

MAZDA CONTINUES STREET STREAK: There’s something about street circuits that seems to suit the Mazda Motorsports Prototype program. Co-drivers Tom Long and Joel Miller earned their first podium of the season Saturday at Belle Isle in the No. 70 Mazda DPi, while Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez finished fifth in the team’s No. 55 Mazda DPi.

It was the third consecutive podium finish for Mazda on the streets, dating back to the Belle Isle event in 2016. Bomarito and Nunez finished third earlier this season on the streets of Long Beach, as well last year at Belle Isle.

“We’re excited to have our first podium,” said Long. “It feels like it was long overdue, but it feels and tastes good. It was a long-time coming and that’s what Mazda is all about: ‘Never Stop Challenging.’ You never know when one of these races are going to go your way. For today, we’re certainly excited about the podium result.”

Mazda ran as high as second on the day when Miller made a bold move on a restart with a little over an hour remaining in the race, moving up from fourth on an outside pass in Turn 1. One last stop for fuel meant Miller was third, where he remained to the finish.

“I saw a gap and got a good jump and the No. 10 car got held up,” said Miller. “Then the No. 5 defended under braking and I thought ‘OK I’m going to make the outside work.’ We were able to get both of them. Unfortunately, from that point on it became a fuel-mileage race.”

CORVETTE RACING LEADS AT LE MANS TEST DAY: The GT Le Mans (GTLM) class did not compete in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Belle Isle, and for good reason: preparations are already underway for a number of IMSA teams for the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 17-18.

One of those teams is Corvette Racing, who has a pair of cars entered in the endurance classic later this month. Oliver Gavin led the GTE-Pro class in Sunday’s Le Mans Test Day with a lap of three minutes, 54.701 seconds in the No. 64 Corvette C7.R, continuing a strong start to the season for the team.

Entering the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Corvette Racing’s two entries have won a combined three of four WeatherTech Championship races this season and the No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia leads the GTLM standings.

Corvette Racing is looking for its ninth class victory in the endurance classic in its 18th appearance.

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