The TUDOR United Sportscar Championship finally made its long awaited debut at historic Lime Rock Park with two of the four classes, Prototype Challenge (PC) and GT Daytona (GTD), in action at the 2015 Northeast Grand Prix. Fans were treated to beautiful sunny weather and great on-track action throughout the weekend.
Drivers Mike Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith, driving the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Cuttwood ORECA FLM09, took both class and overall honors. Snatching the lead with 35 minutes remaining in the race Kimber-Smith was able to get passed Bruno Junqueira for the lead and he never looked back. Junqueira and Chris Cumming finished second in the #11 RSR Racing AutoMaxUSA ORECA FLM09.
“This is my home race, since moving to America two years ago” said Kimber-Smith “I think I had more fans here today than I used to have at Silverstone. It’s great to have another victory. We’ve had a lot of bad luck this year. Coming into this race we knew we needed to win to keep in the championship bout. Now we’re back in the championship hunt. The team did a fantastic job, and Mike’s opening stint was fantastic. Today everything seemed to go our way.”
TOTAL Pole Award winner, Stephen Simpson, dominated the early part of the race in the #84 JDC/Miller Motorsports UndergroundCeller.com ORECA FLM09. In the first 15 minutes Simpson pulled out a sizeable lead over the rest of the field. However, just past the one hour mark the car stopped in turn 3 with an electrical problem. The team took the car behind the wall for repairs, which lost them the lead, as well as several laps; however, they were able to get the car back out on track and eventually finished sixth.
That gave the lead to Conor Daly in the #38 Ric-Man Construction/GO-PUCK/Braille Batteries ORECA FLM09. The lead was short lived, however, when Daly attempted to pass the #48 Paul Miller Motorsports Castrol EDGE Audi R8 LMS of Christopher Haase in the downhill corner. The maneuver proved to be a little too ambitious and the cars came together hard, unfortunately the damage turned out to be too extensive for either car to continue.
“I had fully cleared him – almost – and the next thing I knew I was pointing straight.” said Daly “I can accept some bit of ambitiousness, but heck – it was my left rear.”
“First of all,” Said Haase who was leading GTD at the time of the incident, “the race went pretty good for us. We had a nice, balanced car. The team did a fantastic job on that, we had a great start and everything was going well right up until the point of the incident. There were three PC cars around me and I don’t think the one saw me because when I turned into the corner he just hit me very hard. It was not like a touch or something and then you go off. Right when he hit me the car was broken and then we just went straight into the barrier. It is always difficult to judge as a driver, but from my point of view, the guy was a little optimistic.”
This gave the lead to Junqueira who led for 41 laps before Kimber-Smith got by him in traffic. Kimber –Smith retained the lead when both pitted two laps later and led the rest of the way, winning by 8.304 seconds.
“[Kimber-Smith] was a little bit faster than me, and his car handled better on older tires.” said Junqueira “I was driving 100 percent on the limit to keep ahead of Tom. When I got stuck in traffic he had a run. I couldn’t do anything and he passed me. Great job for them, but also great job for the RSR team, because we had a clean race, and the podium is good for the championship and the morale of the team.”
In GTD, the New England based, Turner Motorsport, racing at their “home track,” had a roller-coaster weekend culminating in a well-earned victory for drivers Michael Marsal and Dane Cameron in the #97 Alvarez & Marsal/IHG Rewards Club BMW Z4 GT3.
Turner Motorsport relied on strategy to get to victory lane requiring just one pit stop en-route to the victory.
“We were running (fuel) mappings that we had never really run to see what it could save.” said Cameron “I was also trying to try and lift the pedal as much as I could. It was completely different than Mosport (in the No. 31 Prototype), where I was flat out and as fast as I needed to go. We just focused on the pace I needed to run and the laps I needed to run. We got a bit of a gap, so I could focus on the numbers that I needed, and save fuel to where the guys in the stand were happy. It was making me pretty uncomfortable, but luckily, we had saved enough during the first part of the stint to go as long as we did here at Lime Rock.”
The win was no sure thing going into the race. Marsal crashed the car in Friday morning practice and the #97 BMW was too extensively damaged to participate in qualifying forcing them to start the race from last on the grid.
“What a weekend.” said Marsal “This is my home track, the first time I ever drove a race car, (was) here. First time I ever won a race, (was) here. Yesterday, I wound up in the wall for the first time here. It was tough. I think the back right side of the car was an inch shorter. We didn’t think it would get fixed. It was busted up pretty bad. When you have everyone, your mom and dad, everyone you love, and this is Turner’s home track, it’s tough. They worked all night on the car, literally. Hat’s off to Dane. Dane is the man. He took it from there.”
During the last hour of the race, while Cameron was conserving what fuel he had left, Jeroen Bleekemolen was getting everything he could out of the #33 ViperExchange.com Dodge Viper GT3-R. Spectators on the hillside watched as Cameron’s lead was whittled down from a commanding 20+ seconds to 3.5 seconds at the checkered flag. However in the end, second was the best they could muster. The second place finish was the best showing for Bleekemolen and co-driver Ben Keating so far in 2015.
“The Viper has done well, but it’s always been the sister car.” Said Keating. “Our best finish so far has been sixth, so it was really important for us to get a good finish here. This track is so much different than every other track we go to. They call it the ‘Bullring of sports car racing.’ Our normal issue has been that we’ve got slow top speed, but here, I think we’re the only car that didn’t have to brake for Turn 7. We had really good top speed, as well, coming through that last turn. It’s a good result.”
Finishing a somewhat distant third was the #007 Royal Purple/Orion Energy/LaSalle Solutions/PassTime USA Aston Martin V12 Vantage with Christina Nielsen and Kuno Wittmer. “We definitely needed a weekend like this.” said Nielsen “Overall, we struggled from the start. We were down on track time due to mechanical failures that no one could have predicted in the team. It was just bad luck. To finish where we finished today was a superb performance by us, the team, the mechanics and the engineers. The car was good. It was a team effort, and I honestly believe that we’re going to be strong from now on.”
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