Coming into Watkins Glen for the seventh round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, it had been over a month and a half since BMW Team RLL had competed in the GTD Pro class with their #25 M4 GT3. The series excluded the GTD Pro class from the races at Belle Isle and Mid-Ohio, as many of the drivers in that class were busy getting ready for and racing at Le Mans.
BMW Team RLL couldn’t have started the weekend at Watkins Glen any better, with Connor De Philippi getting the GTD Pro class pole in qualifying with a 1:44.755 lap. The driving trio of De Philippi, John Edwards, and Augusto Farfus kept the car clean through multiple caution periods in the first two hours of the six-hour race and managed to stay up front in the class. With 90 minutes left, the race was red-flagged due to extreme weather (including lightning), and the drivers took a break while most of the fans headed for the exits.
When the race restarted with 35 minutes to go, IMSA adjusted the minimum drive times from one hour and thirty minutes to one hour and seventeen minutes, with the clock stoppage for the weather not counting toward the drive time, even though the clock kept running on the six-hour time limit of the race. John Edwards was in the #25 BMW Team RLL M4 GT3 when the race restarted and took the lead as other cars ahead of him had to come in for fuel (teams are not allowed to refuel while under a red flag stoppage).
Edwards crossed the checkered flag as the winner in GTD Pro, but BMW Team RLL, along with several other teams, were disqualified for having a driver (Edwards) not meet the minimum drive time requirements. “The red flag and one-hour race stoppage came with one hour and thirty minutes remaining in the race, said BMW Team TLL Technical Director Brandon Fry. “John had entered the car some time before that, on lap 117, some four hours and seven minutes into the six-hour race. If not for the red flag, he was well within the one-hour-and-thirty-minute minimum drive time. The reduction of the minimum drive time to one hour and seventeen minutes meant John would not meet the requirement. Our race strategy was solid and a proven winner. The reduction of minimum drive time occurred after our strategy was in place with no ability to adapt or alter John’s time in the car.”
One team that benefited from the drive time infractions and the red flag stoppage was Turner Motorsport. After Robby Foley qualified the #96 M4 GT3 in third in the GTD class (he was teamed up with regular co-driver Bill Auberlen as well as Michael Dinan), the team kept the car at the sharp end of the GTD field for most of the race but fell back before the red flag period. “The car ran fantastic, and our strategy was spot on,” said Will Turner. “Unfortunately, Bill [Auberlen] got a drive-through penalty for exceeding track limits, which put us 30 seconds behind what would have been the leader on the last stop. When the red flag happened, that kind of evened everything out.”
The Turner car initially finished in fourth, but inherited a third-place podium finish when the winning Mercedes was also disqualified for not meeting the minimum drive time requirements. The Paul Miller Racing M4 GT3 entered for Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow was also disqualified for the same reason after running a competitive race. The wins in both the GTD Pro and GTD classes were inherited by the Heart of Racing Aston Martin team, which fields cars in both classes.
In all, there were nine cars that were disqualified for drive time infractions, which got really confusing when IMSA changed the minimum drive times to account for the red flag stoppage. The minimum drive time rule is to ensure that a pro driver can’t drive most of a race in the Pro/Am categories, but it shouldn’t apply to the GTD Pro class that uses all pro drivers. Hopefully IMSA will revise this rule.
The IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship heads to Canada this weekend for a race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. —David Haueter
[Photos by David Haueter]