With the first pitstops out of the way, Tom Blomqvist’s Meyer Shank Racing Acura ARX-06 led the similar car of Wayne Taylor Racing, driven by Ricky Taylor, by 10sec. Taylor had a similar margin over the quintet of #02 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac (Alex Lynn), #6 Porsche Penske Motorsports 963 (Nick Tandy), #01 CGR Caddy (Sebastien Bourdais), #7 PPM 963 (Felipe Nasr), #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac (Pipo Derani) covered by six seconds.
A further 40sec behind was Philipp Eng in the sole healthy BMW M Hybrid. IMSA Radio reported that it was a hybrid unit issue which had crippled the #25 car and sent it to the garage.
Ten minutes later the picture changed again, as Nasr’s car suddenly halted on its 40th lap, but the #7 Porsche got going again. The expected full-course caution therefore didn’t fall, but the #02 Cadillac of Lynn appeared to have responded so made a brief pitstop for fuel only, resuming 10sec ahead of Nasr.
Nearer the sharp end, Bourdais was on a charge, and he was into second ahead of Taylor by Lap 50, 90mins into the race, and cut the gap down to under nine seconds.
Tandy pitted the #6 Porsche on Lap 58 and handed off to Mathieu Jaminet, the first of the GTP driver exchanges, and emerged eighth behind the still recovering Nasr, and temporarily a lap behind the leader.
Bourdais and Taylor and Derani pitted from second and third and fourth: Bourdais handed over his car to Renger van der Zande, Louis Deletraz replaced Taylor in the #10 Acura, and Jack Aitken took the wheel of the AXR Caddy. Behind them, Nasr ceded his seat to Matt Campbell.
Next time by, Blomqvist pitted the leading Acura to be replaced by Colin Braun, while Eng was out of the BMW and Augusto Farfus was installed. However, there were too many people over the wall and so he suffered a drive-through penalty. Three laps later, Lynn pitted to hand off to Richard Westbrook.
Braun soon found himself under threat from the #01 Cadillac of van der Zande, the gap down to 2.5sec temporarily. A dozen seconds further behind was the #6 Porsche of Jaminet, 2.5sec ahead of Deletraz.
Even before the Full Course Yellow flew after 2hr07mins for a shunted GTD car, Meyer Shank pulled in the leading Acura and Colin Braun was serviced.
However, when the pits opened Braun did pit along with the other GTP cars, the #31 getting a nose change following its early-race skirmish with the #6 Porsche. The #02 Cadillac of Westbrook and Farfus in the #24 BMW pitted a lap later to get back on the lead lap, while Braun stopped yet again to pick up new rear bodywork.
Thus for the restart, van der Zande in the #01 Cadillac would lead the #10 WTR Acura of Deletraz to the green, ahead of Jaminet, Aitken, Campbell, Braun, Westbrook and Farfus.
Braun scrambled through to fourth on that first lap following the restart, while Westbrook deposed Campbell. Five minutes later, Braun was ahead of Jaminet and pursuing Deletraz, who wasn’t letting van der Zande escape, while Westbrook had fallen back behind Campbell who was up into sixth and pressuring Aitken’s AXR Caddy.
With 2hr40m down, on the 87th lap, Braun pulled off a superb opportunist maneuver to dive past Deletraz as they hit GT traffic and would have also passed van der Zande but the Cadillac driver blocked him and retained the lead.
After the first stops, Ben Keating’s PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ran 12sec ahead of Francois Heriau in the TDS Racing entry, which had a 20sec margin over the AF Corse entry of Francois Perrodo. Approaching the 90min mark, the cars descended on pitlane en masse, and Alex Quinn took over from Keating and the lead was now out to 24sec.
Heriau remained second, and had 16sec on Julien Canal who was now in the AF Corse machine, five seconds ahead of Steven Thomas (TDS) and Matt McMurry (Crowdstrike by APR).
Canal reeled in Heriau to slot the AF Corse car into second but he was 50sec behind Quinn, while McMurry also deposed Heriau just before the two-hour mark.
Following their third pitstops and the second restart, the PR1/Mathiasen car stayed out front in Quinn’s hands but was being chased by the Proton Competition entry of Francesco Pizzi, with McMurry third chased by the TDS cars of Scott Huffaker and Josh Pierson.
In fact, Huffaker was on a charge and on his 85th lap he was past McMurry into third and started trying to close down a six second gap on Pizzi, and Pierson too eventually deposed the Crowdstrike car. Then the TDS cars were moved up to second and third when Pizzi pitted the Proton car.
The first driver changes for the class saw Jarett Andretti’s Andretti Autosport Ligier emerge in front of Lance Willsey’s Sean Creech Motorsport entry, which was coming under major pressure from Gar Robinson’s Riley Motorsport machine.
Once clear of Willsey, Robinson was eight seconds behind Andretti, while Willsey fell back into the clutches of MRS GT-Racing, FastMD Racing and JDC-Miller MotorSports.
Some time before the second full course yellow, Robinson passed Andretti but of course the yellow kept the Andretti Autosport car within range for the restart. In fact, the pair were both jumped by Matthew Bell in the AWA entry. Andretti then stopped the Andretti Autosport car’s fourth stop, allowing Tijmen van der Helm into third for JDC-Miller.
Bell pulled a 16sec margin on Robinson, and sadly just before the three-hour mark, Robinson pitted the Riley car, and it came down pitlane in silence, with the defending Rolex 24 winners deciding the car would go no further.
GTD Pro & GTD
David Pittard in the GTD Pro Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage was separated from its nearest pursuer, Antonio Garcia’s Corvette C8.R by eight seconds and the lead GTD car of Mike Skeen in the Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT3. Behind Garcia ran Jack Hawksworth’s GTD Pro Lexus RC F after he passed Cooper MacNeil in the WeatherTech Racing Mercedes.
Kyle Marcelli’s Racers Edge Acura NSX ran second in GTD ahead of Kenny Habul’s SunEnergy1 Mercedes and Brendan Iribe’s Inception Racing McLaren 720S.
GTD leader Skeen’s joy lasted only until 1hr50min, when he suffered a spin, leaving three GTD Pro cars up front of the GT3 machinery – Pittard leading Garcia and Hawksworth – and Marcelli’s Racers Edge Acura took the lead of the GTD class. Skeen then pitted.
The second round of stops saw Pittard and Hawksworth stay onboard the HoR Aston and Vasser Sullivan Lexus, but Garcia handed off to Jordan Taylor, so the Corvette emerged third.
It ran ahead of Ashton Harrison who had taken over the Racers Edge Acura from Marcelli, who was able to stay 3sec clear of Kenton Koch who replaced Skeen and pulled away from Axcil Jefferies in the SunEnergy1 Mercedes and Frankie Montecalvo in the GTD-class VS Lexus.
The field was bunched by Robert Megennis skidding straight on into the Turn 1 tire wall in the NTE Lamborghini, but Hawksworth and Taylor stayed out in the Lexus and Corvette respectively, as did Harrison’s NSX, MacNeil’s WeatherTech Mercedes and Montecalvo.
Following the restart, Taylor passed Hawksworth for GTD Pro lead, while Montecalvo passed both Koch and Harrison for GTD lead, before Koch also deposed Harrison. Ahead of Montecalvo, Pittard was pushing Taylor and Hawksworth but with far more fuel onboard the Aston Martin.
Iribe’s Inception McLaren and Daniel Morad – the injured Lucas Auer’s replacement in the Winward Racing Mercedes – also passed Harrison to take up third and fourth respectively.