BRASELTON, Ga. – Throughout most of Saturday’s 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, the pair of Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi cars were the class of the field.
The team’s No. 22 machine shared by Pipo Derani, Johannes van Overbeek and Bruno Senna, and the No. 2 Nissan DPi of Ryan Dalziel, Scott Sharp and Brendon Hartley were fixtures inside the top five for most of the race and ran either first or second for several hours. There were other challengers, to be sure, but it was readily apparent throughout the race that the Patrón cars would figure in the outcome of the race.
In the end, it all came down to the race’s final restart with 28 minutes remaining. Derani held the lead, with Filipe Albuquerque second in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R, Hartley third in the No. 22 and Dane Cameron fourth in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi.
By the end of the first lap following the restart, Derani was leading Albuquerque, while Cameron relegated Hartley to fourth in the running order. But incidents and costly penalties wreaked havoc on the top three.
Teammates Albuquerque and Cameron tangled, resulting in an unjustifiable risk penalty for Albuquerque. Derani had a dustup with the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, bringing the No. 22 Nissan onto pit road to serve a penalty for incident responsibility.
In the end, Hartley had the cleanest closing stint. He and co-drivers Sharp and Dalziel were rewarded with a victory in one of the crown jewels of sports car racing, by 7.633 seconds over Cameron. It was Hartley’s first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory and second IMSA win, taking a Grand-Am Rolex Series victory at Road America in 2013.
“We had a really strong middle of the race,” Hartley said. “We had a comfortable lead, actually. We had a little problem halfway through, which put us P4 or P5, so we had to fight back. I got past Filipe Albuquerque just before the last safety car. He got me back in the pits.
“Then, with the last restart, that was nuts. I mean, the three or four race contenders were at the back of the GTs and it was mayhem. In the end, I kept it clean, and the other two didn’t and that’s how I ended up in the lead. I was looking forward to a good scrap at the end with Filipe. It was a shame he got a penalty. It would have been a nice finish of the race, but I’m so proud of everyone involved, Ryan, Scott, the whole team. Not a scratch on the car after 10 hours of hard racing, and around here that says a lot. Awesome race.”
For Sharp, Dalziel and the Patrón ESM team, it was the third major North American endurance race victory in the past two years, after taking both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida last year. It was the Patrón ESM team’s second win this season, as Derani and van Overbeek won in the No. 22 Nissan DPi at Road America in August. It was Sharp’s 15th IMSA win and Dalziel’s 10th IMSA.
“We came back fighting, a great effort from Patrón ESM, both cars,” said Dalziel. “I think either car could have won it. Its a shame we had the penalty. Super, super stoked for Scott and for the 2-car guys, they did an amazing job as always.”
Despite the late-race incident, 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champions Cameron and Curran – who were joined for this race by Conway – came home second in Cameron’s final race with the team before going to the new Team Penske Acura DPi program next year. That was one spot better than his future teammates, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, who finished third in the No. 6 Team Penske ORECA LM P2 car.
Brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor brought home the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship title for their father’s Wayne Taylor Racing team, ending a dominant campaign in their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R.
The brothers swept the first five races of the season, opening with their first Rolex 24 At Daytona victory in January alongside co-drivers Max Angelelli, in his final start as a driver, and four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon. In the next race, they teamed with British racer Alex Lynn to win the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, accomplishing the 36 Hours of Florida sweep 21 years after their father accomplished the same feat.
Then it was the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, which they won for the third consecutive year, followed by a dominating performance in the Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown at Circuit of The Americas. Their fifth and final victory in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park was somewhat surprising, as Ricky Taylor crashed in qualifying and started at the rear of the field.
The five victories proved to be insurmountable for the rest of the competition, and two more podium results over the final five races was more than enough to bring home the title. For Ricky Taylor, the championship was his first.