CONCORD, N.C. – Antonio Garcia laid in wait, patiently awaiting his opportunity to pounce during Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship MOTUL 100% Synthetic Grand Prix on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
He eventually did just that, taking the lead and surviving a late-race restart to give the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R of Corvette Racing that he shares with Jordan Taylor their fifth victory of the year during a soggy evening in North Carolina.
Garcia stalked overall and GT Le Mans class leader John Edwards, co-driver of the No. 24 BMW M8 GTE fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with Jesse Krohn, throughout the second half of the 100-minute race for the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona divisions.
With 30 minutes left Garcia was hanging roughly one second behind Edwards, not losing ground but also not gaining anything on Edwards.
Then, suddenly, Garcia’s Corvette came to life. He ran right to the back bumper of Edwards and coming out of the turn eight into oval turn two, Garcia was able to get to the inside and pass Edwards to take the race lead.
He quickly stretched the gap, pulling away from Edwards as the minutes clicked away. Garcia soon had nearly a five second lead, but with 10 minutes left Edwards got a second chance when the caution waved for the second Corvette driven by Tommy Milner crashed in turn 14 and came to rest at the entrance to pit road.
After a quick cleanup by the track safety crew, the race resumed with six minutes left. Garcia was able to inch away from Edwards in second to win the race by 1.474 seconds.
“It was super, super stressful. I almost crashed, like everybody I believe, four or five times,” Garcia said. “As soon as I felt like the BMW was kind of stabilized on lap times I started pressuring them.
“As soon as I saw the opportunity, I went for it. I don’t know if it was a risky move or not,” Garcia continued. “I wanted to win the race and as soon as I saw the opportunity I went for it.”
Saturday’s race was run under wet conditions, with the start of the race taking place amidst a deluge of rain. Taylor, who handed over the car to Garcia early in the race, said the early laps in the rain were treacherous around the 2.28-mile circuit.
“At the beginning of the race there was obviously a lot of water on the track and with the lighting it was hard to see where the standing water was, so I think considering our championship position, it was all kind of damage control for me and just trying to stay on the track and hand over the car in one piece,” Taylor said.
Edwards and Krohn were second overall in GT Le Mans, with the second Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMW shared by Connor De Phillippi and Bruno Spengler finishing third overall and in class.
Only three of the six starters in the GT Le Mans field finished Saturday’s race, with both factory Porsche entries retiring within the first 30 minutes after being involved in separate incidents.
In GT Daytona, Bill Auberlen showed again why he is the winningest driver in IMSA history with a brilliant pass that earned him his 62nd series victory.
Auberlen, who co-drove the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 with Robby Foley, had to run down the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, driven at the time by Mario Farnbacher, after taking over the car during pit stops with a little more than an hour left.
With a little more than 47 minutes left Auberlen had tracked down Farnbacher and was able to get to the inside of him coming out of turn eight. Auberlen and Farnbacher stayed side-by-side through turns nine and 10, with Auberlen inching ahead down the backstretch of the oval portion of the course.
Entering the backstretch chicane Auberlen completed the pass as Farnbacher missed the chicane, forcing him to perform a stop-and-go on the frontstretch. Auberlen quickly built a massive gap, which at time ballooned to nearly 20 seconds.
However, much like Garcia in GT Le Mans, Auberlen had to survive the late-race restart caused by Milner’s crash in turn four of the oval.
“That was so horrifying. I had this nice lead. That BMW was running like a missile the whole race,” Auberlen said. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s like your heart falls. We knew we had a good car. I knew the guy behind me was Pat Long, I’ve raced against him for many, many years and he is not afraid to put a tire on your car to get to the front. I’ve had him do it many times.”
Long didn’t get the chance to do that as Auberlen beat him into the opening corners on the restart and pulled away, beating the No. 16 Porsche shared by Long and Ryan Hardwick by 1.497 seconds. It was Auberlen and Foley’s second win of the season.
Foley actually spun the BMW early in the race, but was able to recover and hand the car over to Auberlen for the final stint.
“At the beginning it was sort of about keeping it out of the wall, which was easier said than done,” Foley said. “I came through NASCAR turn four – a couple cars did it before me – I managed to hit a puddle and just lost control immediately.
“After that I just sort of settled in and tried to pick off one or two cars when I could.”
The late-race restart dramatically changed the podium in GT Le Mans, with Farnbacher spinning through the frontstretch chicane after contact with the No. 14 Lexus of Jack Hawksworth.
Hawksworth was assessed a drive-thru penalty as a result of the contact, which gifted the final podium position to Roman De Angelis and Ian James in the No. 23 Aston Martin Vantage GT3.