Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley, and Dillon Machevern in the #96 Turner Motorsport M6 GT3 won the GTD class in the ten-hour Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta, the season finale in the IMSA WeatherTech series. Tom Blomqvist, Connor De Phillippi, and Colton Herta in the #25 BMW Team RLL M8 GTE finished third in the GTLM class.
The GTD win, coming on Auberlen’s 51st birthday, was his 60th, tying him with Scott Pruett for the most wins ever in IMSA. Foley started #96 from the back after a brake problem kept the car from completing a qualifying lap. He moved up quickly; the car ran in or near the class lead all the way. A yellow flag during the final hour set up a dramatic 25-minute shootout for the GTD win; Auberlen was second behind the #33 Mercedes-AMG driven by Felipe Fraga, and Chris Mies in the #29 Audi was third just behind Auberlen. The Turner team had been forced to alter its strategy two hours before the end when a hit from #33 when it exited the pits on cold tires forced #96 in for a radiator cleaning and full service. It pitted once more to get Auberlen back in for the final stint, but without the yellow flag in the last hour the team most likely would have had to pit again. As it turned out, it was the #33 Mercedes that had a fuel issue; it ran out of fuel and went off course on the final lap, enabling Auberlen, who had been on the Merc’s tale for the entire 25 minutes, to take over and go on to win. The Audi that Mies shared with Ricky Feller and Daniel Morad finished second, and the #9 Porsche driven by Scott Hargrove, Zach Robichon, and Lars Kern finished third.
The #25 M8 GTE ran a strong and steady race, moving up from eighth on the GTLM grid to run near the front of the class most of the way, leading at one point. The #24 car driven by John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, and Philipp Eng, was set back by an oil leak that took it behind the wall in the first hour of the race. It ran well after returning to the track, but the time in the garage took it out of contention, and it finished ninth. The class win in GTLM went to the pole sitting #62 Ferrari driven by James Calado, Allesandro Pier Guidi, and Daniel Serra. The GTLM drivers’ championship went to Porsche racers Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor. Porsche had clinched the GTLM drivers’ title by starting the race.
In GTD, the drivers’ title went to Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher, and the team championship went to their #86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 team. Auberlen and Foley ended the season second in drivers’ points, and the #96 Turner team was second in the team championship.
The Michelin Pilot Series ran its two-hour finale on the Friday before the Petit Le Mans race. James Clay and Devin Jones in the #82 BimmerWorld M4 GT4 finished the season third in drivers’ points, and the BimmerWorld team finished third in team points. Their points finish came despite a difficult race at Road Atlanta.
Both drivers were quick, running near the front of the pack, but the car was set back by a penalty for a two-car contact incident; both cars involved were penalized. The #82 car finished twelfth. The race was difficult for the other three M4 GT4s on hand as well. Tom Dyer in the #19 Cameron Racing car that he shared with Ari Balogh was running fifth overall going into the last lap when he was set back by a puncture. He completed the lap to finish sixteenth. The second Cameron M4 GT4, #88 driven by Henry Schmitt and Greg Liefooghe, was also set back by a puncture when it was running eighth. It finished twentieth. The fourth M4 GT4, the #96 Turner car shared by Robby Foley and Vin Barletta, ran as high as third. Foley pitted the car late; the team believed that it had made it into the pits just before a yellow flag came out, but IMSA thought otherwise. The car was given a drive through-plus-sixty-second penalty, and was classified 22nd at the end.
The win went to Seb Priaulx and Austin Cindric in the #15 Mustang GT4, the drivers’ title went to Audi R8 racers Tyler McQuarrie and Jeff Westphal, the manufacturers’ championship went to Mercedes-AMG, and the team championship went to the #39 Carbahn with Peregrine Racing Audi R8, the car driven by McQuarrie and Westphal. The titles for McQuarrie, Westphal, and their team were clinched when they took the start; while they had a difficult race, they won the titles based on their performance before the finale.—Brian Morgan
[Photo of Turner team members Robby Foley, Will Turner, Don Salama, Bill Auberlen, and Dillon Machevern courtesy BMW Motorsport, all other photos courtesy Brian Morgan.]