DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Antonio Garcia was a quarter mile from a second consecutive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory and a share of the GT Le Mans class points lead in Saturday’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.
Instead, he and his No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R co-driver, Jan Magnussen, wound up fifth and now trail No. 66 Ford GT co-drivers Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand – who had their own disastrous race in Long Beach – by two points, 91-89, with three of 11 races in the books.
Coming to the checkered flag, Garcia encountered a completely blocked race track at the exit of the Turn 11 hairpin. Jens Klingmann in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW, Jeff Segal’s No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura and the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus driven by Robert Alon were stopped near the outside wall at the exit of the turn following an incident.
Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier LM P2 car stopped on course when he encountered the incident, blocking the inside lane, with Joao Barbosa in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi and Jeroen Mul in the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini stacked up behind him.
Garcia paused momentarily when he arrived on the scene before choosing an outside lane that was blocked by the Nos. 96, 86 and 15 cars, while teammate Tommy Milner hung to the inside in the No. 4 Corvette with Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 Ford GT right behind him.
Moments later, Kimber-Smith pulled away from the scene, followed closely by Barbosa and Mul, and very shortly thereafter, Milner, Westbrook, the No. 912 Porsche of Kevin Estre and the No. 25 BMW of Alexander Sims, who went on to finish the GTLM race in positions 1-4, ahead of Garcia, who wound up fifth.
“I’ve never been part of a finish like that,” Garcia said after the race. “It’s for sure very difficult to go through; I’m very confused with how the officials judged both incidents in the last corner. Our No. 3 Corvette team did everything we needed to do in order to have the best chance at another victory. I don’t understand the ending and unfortunately for us the results are what they are. All we can do is put ourselves in position to go for a win the next race in Austin.”
IMSA race control determined that what Garcia encountered was an incident in progress, and he became part of the incident. Those cars that made it through the incident scene did not get involved so the results as the cars crossed the finish line stood.
Milner – whose only stint in the lead was from the exit of the hairpin to the finish line – was sympathetic to his teammate after the race. However, he noted a similar experience in the hairpin earlier on cost him a few positions as well.
“In the last corner at the end, my first reaction was that the race was over,” Milner said. “Antonio had a gap over me and also over the (No.) 67. I figured it would end up like that but I heard on the radio that there was another crash at the hairpin.
“At first the track was clear and then it wasn’t. I was in that exact situation earlier in the race and went to the outside; it didn’t work and I lost a spot there. I went to the inside this time, and it opened up. When I got out of the hairpin, I saw green but thought the race was over until they told me on the radio that we had won. It was definitely an unusual way to take a victory.”
The No. 66 team, meanwhile, wound up eighth in GTLM after an opening-lap incident with the No. 62 Ferrari and the No. 22 Nissan DPi. Hand and Mueller opened the year with a Rolex 24 At Daytona victory and a second-place run in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida.