Liddell’s last lap charge highlights MICHELIN Pilot Challenge thriller

August 4, 2019

Liddell’s last lap charge highlights MICHELIN Pilot Challenge thriller

August 4, 2019

Saturday’s IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge weather-shortened race at Road America brought more drama and an incredible finish.

Lightning in the area, then heavy rain and hail delayed the start before IMSA determined a reduced race length of 75 minutes, with a mandated 25-minute minimum drive time.

Michelin North America motorsports marketing manager Sarah Robinson waves the green flag to start Saturday’s weather-delayed IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge race. Photo: Michelin North America

Teams had the option to switch to the MICHELIN® Pilot® Sport GT Rain tires before the race start, but not all opted to. As a result, some of the teams that started on the MICHELIN® Pilot® Sport GT S9M commercial slick tires were running anywhere from five to six seconds quicker per lap before most of the field came in for stops for slicks after the drive time window opened.

The skies opened up again inside the final half hour, prompting most of the field to return back to the pits for wet weather tires, and two cautions ultimately set-up a one-lap dash to the finish.

Robin Liddell’s late-race charge ensured a dramatic win for No. 71 Camaro GT4.R. Photo: Michelin North America

Robin Liddell made the most of it in a charge from fourth-to-first on the final lap, after rising from outside the top 20 only seven laps earlier. He passed two cars on the outside of Canada Corner, Turn 12, and then darted to the outside of Kuno Wittmer’s McLaren heading up the hill to the start/finish line.

Ultimately, Liddell scored the GS win by just 0.070 of a second in the No. 71 Rebel Rock Racing Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R he shared with Frank DePew. This is the first team to win twice in GS this season.

“That was dodgy! I didn’t know where the straight was, I was just trying not to hit him!” Liddell said of his pass near the grass. “Obviously I didn’t want to crash the car in the wall. At that point, I’m not lifting. I’m not sure why he slowed. But there was no way I’d lift. I didn’t know we got it – or see the flag!

“It was tough, and we probably pitted one lap too late to take the rains, but we pushed through. The change of strategy threw a curveball but we got it at the end there.”

Wittmer and Paul Holton finished second, capping off a roller coaster weekend for their No. 75 Compass Racing McLaren 570S GT4 team. After an engine change and needing to start from the back of the 22-car field, the team nearly completed a last-to-first run. Wittmer had passed Corey Fergus for the lead earlier on the last lap.

Fergus, in the No. 69 MIA Racing McLaren he shared with Jesse Lazare, fell to seventh on the final lap after a couple changes. Wittmer’d got by before Turn 5. Then after Liddell passed Fergus and Eric Foss, in the No. 56 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 around the outside at Canada Corner, Fergus had to corral his car to keep it on the road once Foss darted to the inside at Turn 14 to make the pass for position. After an otherwise dominant drive where Lazare ran several seconds a lap faster on slicks, seventh place proved a difficult result to take.

The GS podium with Michelin dealers in victory lane. Photo: Michelin North America

Murillo played the strategic game well all race. First, Jeff Mosing rose up the order in the car on wets and then handed off to Foss on slicks. Then the team was one of the early callers back into the pits for wets again for the finish. It ensured this team had its second straight podium.

“The Michelin wet tires were really, really good,” Foss said. “Jeff drove for a long time in drying conditions. He had a stellar stint and went from 18th to fifth at one point. The fact that he brings me in here and lets me be a part of this team and this program is really a blessing for me. The guys at Murillo Racing never quit. They always persevere and gave us such a great car to race. It was flawless.”

TCR DRAMATIC TOO, AFTER THE FLAG

The TCR win changed hands after the checkered flag when the winning car on the road (Ryan Eversley and Chad Gilsinger in the No. 89 HART Honda Civic Type R) was dropped to the back of the class for failing to meet the minimum drive time by only a few seconds.

Podium celebrations for No. 21 Hyundai pairing. Photo: Michelin North America

Mason Filippi and Harry Gottsacker inherited their maiden MICHELIN Pilot Challenge victory in their No. 21 Hyundai Veloster N TCR, for Bryan Herta Autosport’s third win of the season. These two started on slicks, then switched to wets.

Behind them, the No. 37 L.A. Honda World Racing pair of Shelby Blackstock and Tom O’Gorman returned to the podium in second place. The Roadshagger by eEuroparts pair of Jon Morley and Gavin Ernstone continued their run of podiums in their No. 61 Audi RS3 LMS TCR, in third.

With fourth place finishes in their classes, both Tyler McQuarrie and Jeff Westphal (No. 39 CarBahn Audi R8 LMS GT4, GS) and Mark Wilkins and Michael Lewis (No. 98 Herta Hyundai, TCR) have provisionally consolidated their points leads. 

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