Suspense down to the last minute.
The fifth race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took place in perfect weather in upstate New York: More than 50 vehicles competed against each other at Watkins Glen. After the setback at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Porsche Teams were all the more determined to put in a great performance.
There was no way to predict the outcome of the race based on the Qualifying of the endurance race in Watkins Glen International. While the GT categories could complete their rounds effortlessly, multiple slips throughout the LMP classes led to the cancellation of the Qualifying.
For the Porsche Penske Motorsport number six vehicle a lucky coincidence: The starting positions were then based on the points within the team championship – placing Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet in the Porsche 963 #6 on pole position for Sunday. The #7 would start from sixth position and the JDC-Miller MotorSports 963 #5 would start from ninth. Throughout the GT classes, the best positioned Porsche 911 GT3 R were on sixth spot in the GTD Pro class (Pfaff Motorsports #9) and eleven in the GTD class (Kelly-Moss with Riley #91).
At 10.41 a.m. local time, the green flag was swung and the GTP vehicles went full throttle. Directly in the first curce, Nick Tandy maintained his position, while Matt Campbell and Mike Rockenfeller were gearing up to drive through the grid.
Ahead of Matt Campbell, the BMW #24 broke out and whirled around in the first curve of the track, but the Porsche Penske Motorsport #7 managed to pass by without issues. The BMW was however in the path of the just starting GTD Pro vehicle, but they too moved by without issues. Still, a full course yellow was announced within the first two minutes as the BMW #24 could not move from the track.
Over ten minutes after the start, the track was reopened. In the #6, Nick Tandy's goal was to increase his own advantage on the Whelen #31 behind him, while Matt Campbell in the #7 and Mike Rockenfeller in the #5 wanted to work their way forward through the midfield. In the GTD Pro class, Pfaff Motorsport was on the sixth spot in a tightly packed grid.
Roughly 30 minutes after the start, the green AO Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R #80 slipped into track boundaries with its right rearside. Though it managed to continue, a piece of its rear cover was fluttering in the wind. The Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R #9 headed to the pit early and exchanged all tires. Its driver Patrick Pilet was on eighth spot of the GTD Pro class and held the best position amongst the Porsche GT vehicles.
Strategy and luck.
As a LMP vehicle drove into the tire wall to avoid another accident in the final curve, Matt Campbell coincidentally headed into pitlane before full course yellow could be announced and was one of the first LMDh vehicles in the pit. All others had to wait due to the yellow flag, as that forbids a pit stop without permission from race control or an emergency situation. After a few minutes, it was the GTP class that could enter the pit. Due to his early stop, Matt Campbell moved to the top in the #7, closely followed by his team colleague Nick Tandy in the number 6. Mike Rockenfeller remained on seventh spot with the Porsche 963 #5 belonging to JDC-Miller MotorSports.
Shortly before the first hour was due to end, the track was cleared again. Matt Campbell immediately floored the gas to get ahead of the other vehicles, while Nick Tandy in the #6 was forced to defend his position against the following #60 Acura. Meanwhile, in the GTD Pro class, the pit stops had helped Pfaff Motorsports, placing Patrick Pilet in the #9 on the second spot of his class.
In the second round after track clearing, Nick Tandy had managed to get further ahead of the Acura. Patrick Pilet was in a similar dilemma with the Lamborghini #63 behind him, but his situation resolved to his detriment: After a few more round, the Porsche 911 GT3 R #9 lost its battle for the second spot and fell behind on third.
Another incident around fourth and fifth spot placed the course once more on full course yellow. At this point, the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team was on first and second spot with the #7 and #6 each. The JDC-Miller MotorSports Team had moved up to fifth spot due to the accident of the vehicles ahead of them.
One hour and 15 minutes after race start, the track was cleared once again and a battle for second spot threatened to break out: Nick Tandy in the Porsche 963 #6 against the Cadillac #31, which in turn was being tracked by the Acura #10. Matt Campbell in the number seven of Porsche Penske Motorsport meanwhile attempted to rebuild his advantage. After a few rounds, Nick Tandy managed to escape the duel and gained ground on his team colleague in the lead.
Shortly before the third hour was due, Nick Tandy moved into the pit to refuel and to switch places with Mathieu Jaminet. He returned to the track on fifth spot. Just a round after that, the Porsche 963 #7 also went in to the pit for a tire change, refueling and a driver switch from Campbell to Felipe Nasr. Due to the following pit stops of the opposing teams, Felipe Nasr in the Porsche 963 #7 returned to second and Mathieu Jaminet in the #6 on third spot of the GTP class. The Porsche 963 #5 of JDC-Miller MotorSports also went into the pit and Tijmen van der Helm jumped into the driver's seat to return on seventh spot.
The drama unfolds.
Twenty minutes after the third hour began, the #10 in third place managed to close in dangerously on Felipe Nasr in the Porsche 963 #7. It was clear, what the Acura was planning. But before it could go in for the attack, Felipe Nasr was forced to enter the pit and drove straight through in direction of the paddocks. The reason: the hybrid system was causing issues. The #7 did not even manage to cross the full distance to the paddocks. The vehicle stopped in the middle of the road and did not discharge – as long as a GTP vehicle does not discharge, touching it was highly dangerous. It would take another twenty minutes, until the #7 could be jacked up in the paddock.
As the number seven had dropped out of the race, all hopes of the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team were on the #6. Fifteen minutes ahead of half time, Mathieu Jaminet want into the pit with the remaining Porsche 963 after almost having the chance to pass the last vehicle of the GTP class. He returned to the track ahead of the #5 JDC-Miller MotorSports sister car on fifth spot, only to move back up the grid after the pit stops of the opposing teams. From this spot, he had great chances to gain first position.
But another full course yellow caused by an accident between multiple vehicles would make the suspense of the race unbearable. Due to a mandated pit stop per class during the yellow phase, Nick Tandy would return onto fourth spot with the Porsche 963 #6 – with just two hours remaining on the race and a decisive lead for the vehicle on first spot.
After the remaining two hours began, Nick Tandy returned for an early pit stop compared to the remainder of the class. This kept him on fourth position and as the others headed into the pit at a later point, he moved up the grid: It was the pit stop of the leading vehicle that moved Nick Tandy up to third spot. The vehicle with the number 31 also lost its advantage and the Porsche 963 #6 managed to close in. Nick Tandy pushed his advantage: He took the second spot. A similar switch occured in the GTD class: from a spot further in the back, the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R #16 moved up onto second spot.
The early pit stops of the leading vehicles moved Nick Tandy back up the grid, but he himself had to return to the pit at least one more time. But before he did that, the Brit gave everything. He gained as much distance as possible to his pursuers, despite the crowded grid. This provided him an impressive advantage of roughly 55 seconds until he finally headed into the pit and cleared the cockpit for Mathieu Jaminet.
Mathieu Jaminet received a full set of new tires for the remaining 40 minutes. Ahead of Jaminet, a LMP vehicle exited the pit and blocked his way out – this did not stop Jaminet from returning on first place way ahead of his pursuers. Still, the cold tires and the early pit stop of the BMW stopped his advance: The BMW #25 passed him and Mathieu Jaminet fell behind on second spot. But he refused to give in and reduced the distance to the leading vehicle by roughly a second with each round. Everything was depending on his driving skills and the remaining traffic on the track.
In the GTD Pro class, a battle for the first position broke out – far behind, the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R was pushing forwards. But the battle turned into a natural obstacle for the leading BMW #25 and it needed more time to pass. Mathieu Jaminet had less issues, as the battle had eased up as he closed in from behind. With just 18 minutes of remaining race time, the Franchman had less than five seconds to catch up to the leading vehicle.
With less than 15 minutes remaining, Jaminet caught up to the BMW and had it within eyeshot. The last minutes of the race became a breathtaking chase. The BMW #25 regularly tried to utilize other vehicle classes to block its pursuer, but Mathieu Jaminet practically glided past them. With less than eight minutes remaining race time, Mathieu Jaminet had reduced the distance to less than a second to the BMW #25. As the BMW and Porsche came up on the same height as the leading GTD Pro classes, Jaminet had his first chance to score the first spot. But it would take one more round until both cars were in the Toe and Mathieu Jaminet first closed in on the rear of the BMW. The moment both vehicles passed the apex of the curve, the Frenchman attacked from the inside: first spot for the Porsche 963 #6!
The BMW #25 attempted to catch up again, but overshot a curve in the heat of the moment. This gave Jaminet the chance to gain distance. Three minutes before the end of the race, the Watkins Glen course was closed for another full course yellow. A GT vehicle had overturned in the 11th curve – the race ended under a safety car. The Porsche 963 #6 crossed the finish line in first position. The JDC-Miller MotorSports #5 vehicle with Mike Rockenfeller finished on fifth place. In the GTD class, the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R #16 finished third and the next Porsche vehicle belonged to Kelly-Moss with Riley, the #92 finishing on ten, followed by the #77. In the Pro class, Patrick Pilet finished with #9 on fifth spot.
The battle rages on.
Though there was time for celebrations in the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team, but the post-race analysis showed that the front skid pad of the Porsche 963 #6 was below minimum thickness. This deviation occurred due to damage throughout the race and did not offer the vehicle a performance advantage. The vehicle was penalized and the team has accepted the decision of the IMSA. Therefore, the Porsche 963 #6 was relegated onto the last position of the GTP class. However one thing is sure: Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet had shown an incredible performance in Watkins Glen. They aim to repeat this performance in Canada and achieve a spot on the podium.