BRASELTON, Ga. – BMW Team RLL capped off an impressive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season Saturday with a victory in the Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Alexander Sims held off Antonio Garcia over a final 28-minute sprint to the checkered flag to give the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM co-driven by Bill Auberlen and Kuno Wittmer its third GT Le Mans (GTLM) win of the season. The team’s other two wins came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and the six-hour Patrón Endurance Cup race at Watkins Glen.
It was a milestone victory for Auberlen, who was making his 400th career start with BMW. It was his 58th career IMSA win, putting him two behind Scott Pruett who leads all-time with 60 wins.
“I’m the most fortunate person in the world,” said Auberlen. “It’s been a privilege driving for BMW for 21 years, and on my 400th race to win … I’m amongst a lot of great guys here, a lot of great teammates. A lot of the smartest people in the world here working for BMW. I’m very thankful and so happy.”
“Co-driving with such a legend, I mean this guy is amazing to drive with,” added Wittmer. “He teaches every young kid out there a trick or two. And Alex (Sims) at the end, a ball of talent. It’s just really, really pleasant to be with these two guys.”
The No. 25 BMW team finished the season second in the GTLM standings.
Three different manufacturers made up the top three spots with the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Alessandro Pier Guidi.
Garcia finished second in the race, but along with co-driver Jan Magnussen and the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R team, went onto win the GT Le Mans driver and team class championships. Chevrolet also won the manufacturer championship. The duo was joined by Mike Rockenfeller in the runner-up effort at Road Atlanta.
“It’s been a hard-fought year for Corvette Racing,” said Magnussen. “We haven’t always had the fastest car, but I think we got the most out of it. We overachieved on the bad weekends and got a little more out of it than we should have. To be in a category that is this competitive where the cars are so close and you are fighting every lap, to have a points margin this big at the end of the year means we did a lot of stuff right.”
The Montaplast by Land-Motorsport team may not campaign a full-season entry in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but when they show up at a track they have to be considered one of the favorites.
That was certainly the case this weekend with Connor De Phillippi, Sheldon van der Linde and Christopher Mies co-driving to an impressive victory in the GT Daytona class. It was the team’s third start of the season in the No. 29 Audi R8 LMS GT3 after finishing second at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and fourth at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida.
It was the first WeatherTech Championship win for the team and each of its three drivers.
“We almost got our first win at Daytona,” said De Phillippi. “We left there with a very sour taste in our mouth because we knew it was right in front of us. We recovered, we did some homework. We improved in some areas we knew we needed to after the first two rounds and we came here and gave it all we had.”
Despite a lengthy lead in the final hour, a late-race caution set up a 28-minute dash to the checkered flag with De Phillippi suddenly just ahead of the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Michael Christensen. It didn’t take long, however, for De Phillippi to pull away, eventually winning by 15.518 seconds.
Christensen held on to second for he and co-drivers Daniel Morad and Michael de Quesada. The No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Lindsey, Joerg Bergmeister and Matt McMurry rounded out the podium.
Scuderia Corsa co-drivers Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan won their second consecutive class championship despite a ninth-place finish in the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3. While it wasn’t the finish the team was hoping for, the champions rode remarkable consistency to the title with seven podium finishes and one win on the season.
“We did a thing that not a lot of people have done,” Nielsen said. “One is fine, but twice is even greater. This one is even tougher than last year. The mentality of never resting on previous results, and always pushing and working harder than we ever have before has been our advantage. And that’s why we’re standing here today.”
Despite running in the top-five for much of the day, a broken axle in the race’s fifth hour sent the team behind the wall for lengthy repairs. The team was looking to sweep both the season championship and the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup, but the mechanical issue eliminated the team from Patrón Endurance Cup contention.
“At the very end, we were also able to win the manufacturer championship for Ferrari on its 70th anniversary so it’s great honestly,” said Balzan. “The race was not easy, but I’m focused on what we won. And I really want to thank everybody because it’s a great season.”