Atlanta Speedwerks has taken its first win of the season in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season in an incident-packed four-hour event at Watkins Glen that also saw the fight for 2nd place go down to the wire between five cars.
The Georgian team’s #94 Honda Civic Type-R had qualified on the front row alongside the sister #84 entry, but had already fallen to 4th by the end of the first lap when the Honda’s four-cylinder engine was almost immediately struck with boost issues. The problem compounded Todd Lamb’s opening stint and was only rectified during the car’s first pit stop, a delay that ended up dropped the #94 out of the TCR top 10 altogether.
A sensational charge by Lamb and teammate Ryan Eversley thereafter though, plus a surprisingly high attrition rate at Watkin Glen, meant the #94 was already back up to 3rd at the 90-minute mark, Eversley making short work of teammate (and pole-setter) Robert Noaker in the #84 Civic and Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian’s Ryan Norman in the #98 Hyundai Elantra N TCR to retake the lead for Atlanta Speedwerks.
Heading into the final 20 minutes however, and following the fourth full course caution of the event, the #94 Honda had once again slipped back to 2nd, Atlanta Speedwerks having opted to pit whilst CB Motorsports gambled on a longer safety car period to give Trenton Estep, who had been running outside the top five, track position in the #81 Hyundai Veloster N. A fully-fuelled Eversley made short work of Estep, who spent much of the final 20 minutes preserving fuel, and disappeared into the distance to take a hard-fought win for Atlanta Speedwerks 6.5 seconds ahead of the rest of the TCR field.
The result means Ryan Eversley and Todd Lamb has now moved to within touching distance of championship leaders Michael Lewis and Taylor Hagler.
Behind the TCR winner, and having opted not to pit during the final full course caution, CB Motorsports (#81) looked set to take a combative podium finish, Estep doing a stunning job to hold off a five-car train of TCR machines in the closing moments. Sadly, with just six minutes left to go, the left front suspension on the #81 Veloster N failed, plummeting the heart-broken Estep to 8th at the flag.
CB Motorsport’s demise meant the #19 VAN DER STEUR RACING Hyundai, one of almost half a dozen different leaders in the early going, looked set to be the lucky beneficiary. Brutally, as the race entered the final lap, the Veloster, at the head of an unbelievably tight fight for 2nd place, was first deprived of 2nd place, the loss of momentum eventually shuffling the #19 Hyunudai off the podium altogether and back to 5th place at the flag.
The misfortune ahead thus allowed the #98 and #77 Hyundai Elantra Ns of Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian to secure the final two spots on the podium after a difficult day at Watkins Glen.
Mid-Ohio race winners Norman and Parker Chase failed to complete a single lap during qualifying owing to a front splitter issue, though the #98 Bryan Herta Hyundai systematically worked its way into the TCR top five during the opening hour. Half an hour later, following a superb run from Chase during his first stint, the #98 Hyundai was up into the lead.
Ironically, while battling to hold off the two Atlanta Speedwerk Hondas during his time at the front, Chase was also attempting to put a lap on the sister #77, the latter having been pushed into the gravel trap at turn six just 35 minutes into the race following a clumsy overtake attempt by Michael Johnson in his eponymously-entered Veloster N (#54). Now almost a full lap down on the leader, Michael Lewis in the #77 Hyundai, incredibly, went wheel wheel-to-wheel with teammate Parker Chase to prevent the sister #98 Elantra in his efforts to stay on the lead lap. The battle through Watkin Glen’s Inner and Outer Loops ultimately proved crucial to Bryan Herta’s race as a full course caution shortly after their dual allowed the #77 Hyundai to catch the tail of the TCR field, and systematically work its way onto the podium in the closing stages.
The third Bryan Herta entry meanwhile (#33) fared less well at Watkins Glen, Harry Gottsacker suffering a front right puncture at the 90-minute mark whilst battling for 5th place. Time lost repairing steering issues meant the #33 Elantra eventually finished 10th, 40 laps behind the leader.
Ironically, the lead contender for victory in the early stages seemed to be Atlanta Speedwerks’ pole-sitting #84 Honda, Noaker having retained, and even increased, his lead at the start. While two extensive full course cautions and their resultant pit stops meant the lead swapped hands repeatedly during the opening two hours, the #84 remained well in the fight for victory. Noaker, back in front, eventually started to pull away as the race entered its third hour.
Sadly, a slow pit stop cost the #84 Honda more than 15 seconds, pushing Noaker’s teammate Brian Henderson back down to 3rd in the closing stages. Thereafter the #84 Civic was swallowed up by three of the pursuing Hyundais, and Atlanta Speedwerks would have to settle for 4th ahead of the similarly slighted VAN DER STEUR RACING (#19) and Michael Johnson Racing (#54), which managed to secure 6th despite losing time to fuel feed problems.
In a day to forget for KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering, the #5 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR was eventually classified 7th. Tim Lewis ran comfortably in the top five in the early going, and even took the lead during one of the opening pit stop flurries, but the Alfa Romeo was denied a shot at a top five finish with a left front puncture just 15 minutes from home.
Similar poor fortune also struck VGMC Racing, LLC (#88). Having made an electric start at the beginning of the race to slot into 2nd, the Honda Civic Type-R was needlessly eliminated from contention when the right front wheel was improperly mounted during the second round of pit stops.
The day also looked to be done early for Daytona winner, Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports (#17) when William Tally brought the Audi to a stop on the start-finish with gearbox failure. In an impressive turnaround, the JDC crew had the RS3 LMS back out on track after losing just 20 laps. Aided by high attrition in the TCR field, Tally and teammate Chris Miller were surprised to finish the four-hour event in 9th place.
Few fared worse at Watkins Glen than Copeland Motorsports however, with both of its entries meeting an inauspicious end after making contact shortly before half distance. On the run down to turn one on lap 29, Tyler Gonzalez, attempting to slingshot the #19 Hyundai around the outside of turn one, inadvertently put two wheels on the grass, sending the #27 Hyundai into the run off. As Gonzalez rejoined, teammate AJ Muss in the #51 Veloster made brief contact with the TeamTGM Chevrolet Camaro in his own attempt to take the wide line through turn one. Unsettled, the #51 darted sharply to the left, unfortunately, at the same time that Gonzalez was rejoining the track. Contact between the pair was inevitable, and the #27 Hyundai hit the barriers hard. Significant damage to the left front suspension on the #51 Veloster meant both of Copeland Motorsports’ entries were out within moments of each other.
Ironically, this would not be the only TCR incident in which TeamTGM was involved. On lap five, the #64 Camaro also made contact with Road Shagger Racing (#61) as Gavin Ernstone attempted to overtake the GS car around the outside of turn seven, an impact that sent the Audi RS3 LMS heavily into the tyre barriers. Following extensive repairs, the Sebring race winner rejoined and was eventually classified 11th.