The clock has continued running during the red flag conditions, and with race organizers obliged to wait at least 30mins until the final lightning strike within a given radius of the course, the likelihood is that the clock will run out.
The race stoppage coincided with a yellow-flag period after side-to-side impact between two LMP2 cars sent an entirely innocent GTD spearing off the road, suffering a heavy front-end impact.
The story of the race so far
Tom Blomqvist led the field to the green flag and the Meyer Shank Racing Acura remained there for a few corners but Filipe Albuquerque’s similar Wayne Taylor Racing ARX-05 carried more momentum through the uphill Esses and was ahead by the time they braked for the Bus Stop chicane. Behind them, the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs remained in third and fourth, Sebastien Bourdais’ #01 car ahead of Earl Bamber in the #02. Behind them, Kamui Kobayashi in the part-time #48 Ally Racing Cadillac of Action Express Racing wasted little time in passing its full-time stablemate #31 Whelen Engineering car (Olivier Pla) and Tristan Vautier in the JDC Miller MotorSports Cadillac, and moving into fifth.
The restart at 5hr32min remainng, following the first full-course caution, saw the Acuras break away swiftly, while Pla got around Vautier to claim sixth.
On Lap 20, as they negotiated traffic into Turn 1, Bamber passed teammate Bourdais for third, and then the IndyCar veteran had his mirrors full of an F1 veteran, Kobayashi. In response, Bourdais delivered the fastest lap of the race, but it wasn’t enough – Kobayashi got back on his tail and usurped him for fourth.
On that same lap, Pla pitted the #31 AXR Cadillac but remained onboard. Two laps later, the other DPi cars pitted in anticipation of a second full-course yellow, and Meyer Shank Racing got Blomqvist out ahead of Albuquerque. Ally Racing lost three spots, Jimmie Johnson – the only DPi driver-change – emerging in seventh after a brief refueling issue, and Ganassi resuming in third and fourth ahead of Pla and Vautier. Vautier and Johnson, with nothing to lose, would pit again for a fuel top-off under the long second caution.
The very short third caution saw Blomqvist break away, and pull out a one-second lead after carrying far more speed through the Bus Stop chicane than any of his pursuers.
Following an LMP3 engine blow-up, there was a fourth caution, and all DPi cars stopped, with the exception of Albuquerque who thus moved into the lead. For the restart he would be chased by Blomqvist, Bamber, Johnson (up to fourth due to a short refuel), Bourdais, Vautier and Pipo Derani who had replaced Pla. Following the restart, however, Johnson had lost what the pitstop sequence gained him and was down to seventh, although he went back up to sixth when the AXR #31 was penalized with a stop and hold 60sec for service in a closed pit. Derani emerged ahead of Albuquerque and just about remained on the lead lap.
Following the restart both Bourdais and then Vautier pushed Bamber’s #02 Ganassi Caddy down to fifth, but there followed another caution (LMP3 car crashing at Turn 1 again). At the drop of the green with 3h53m to go Albuquerque got away from Blomqvist, Bourdais retained third but Bamber displaced Vautier at Turn 8 to snatch fourth. Derani, for whom this latest caution had been an absolute blessing, as he cycled back to the back of the DPi cluster, immediately displaced Johnson to claim sixth.
The off-strategy WTR Acura finally pitted with 3h46m to go and dropped to the back of the class, leaving Blomqvist in charge. At the same time, Lap 59, the charging Derani moved past Vautier to take fourth.
On Lap 61, GT and LMP3 backed Blomqvist into Bourdais but the Ganassi driver couldn’t quite make it past the MSR Acura.
Three laps later, Vautier pitted the JDC Miller car to hand off to Richard Westbrook and that triggered all the stops. Renger van der Zande replaced Bourdais, Alex Lynn replaced Bamber, Derani stayed onboard the #31 AXR Caddy, and Mike Rockenfeller took over the #48 Caddy from Johnson. Blomqvist was the last to pit, to hand off to Oliver Jarvis, but his 57sec margin wasn’t enough to prevent Taylor getting into the lead with a 2.5sec margin on Lap 70.
Taylor pitted on Lap 83, leaving Jarvis out front by only 1.5sec ahead of van der Zande. The ‘regular’ strategy cars started pitting on Lap 90, with Derani handing over the AXR #31 to Mike Conway, Westbrook remaining onboard the JDC Miller car. Jarvis’s Lap 95 stop allowed Taylor back in front by 2.5sec. Van der Zande was a further 5sec back, with Lynn a further 20sec behind that, but 5sec ahead of Conway.
On Lap 109, 2h24m to go, Taylor got held up by traffic, allowing Jarvis right onto his tail, and so Ricky pitted the Konica Minolta Acura to hand back to Albuquerque.
Jarvis held a 65sec lead when he pitted the MSR Acura on Lap 121, 2h06m to go, and that allowed him to retain the lead ahead of Albuquerque by 2.7sec when he emerged. Van der Zande was only 6sec further back, while Bamber had replaced Lynn in the #02 but had over half a minute deficit to overcome if he wanted to appear on the podium. Conway was over a minute from the lead, while Rockenfeller’s Ally Cadillac was a lap down. The JDC Miller car was two laps down, as a long stop was required after an LMP3 car damaged the Caddy’s rear-end bodywork as Westbrook swept through the uphill Esses. Salt was rubbed in JDC’s wounds when the repair work saw more team members than permitted over the pitwall, so they had to serve a drive-through penalty.
Albuquerque pitted on Lap 134, having got within 1.5sec of the lead. He came out 63sec behind Jarvis, so again it appeared the margin would be enough for MSR to retain the lead again were it to pit the #60 car in response. This prompted Meyer Shank to do precisely that and Jarvis just got out in time – in front of the field – before the yellow and then red flew.
Steven Thomas had been outqualified by PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports teammate Ben Keating by 0.001sec but moved into the lead on the opening lap and after 15mins they ran three seconds apart. By this time, they were 20sec up the road from Dennis Andersen in the High Class Racing machine, which meant that when Keating stopped for fuel only, he lost only one place, just as the yellow flew for the first time due to an LMP3 incident. Having emerged behind Andersen, Keating re-took second place at the drop of the green to try and start chasing Thomas once more. Just before the second restart, the two PR1 Mathiasen cars pitted together, and left their pitbox side-by-side. So anxious was Thomas to beat his teammate out of the pitlane, he failed to obey the red light. He would serve a stop and hold penalty, while Keating was assessed a drive-through penalty for passing under yellow.
That allowed Dylan Murray to lead the class for Racing Team Nederland, ahead of Fabio Scherer of High Class Racing, and Ryan Dalziel now in the Era Motorsport car. The PR1 Mathiasen cars, now driven by Mikkel Jensen and Josh Pierson in the #52 and #11 respectively, ran fourth and seventh, split by Juan Pablo Montoya in the DragonSpeed car which had earlier shed a wheel, and Rui Pinto de Andrade in the Tower Motorsports entry.
However, the restart saw Scherer snatch the class lead, and Jensen displaced Dalziel for third, but then Murray passed the Dutch car to reclaim the lead.
Team Nederland lost out through the pitstop cycles, however, allowing High Class Racing back in front, pursued by DragonSpeed, and Montoya did indeed opportunistically jump to the front through traffic, but a slightly slower pitstop as JPM handed off to his son Sebastian allowed Anders Fjordbach in the High Class car back in front with 2h50m to go. During that pitstop sequence, Jensen handed off to Scott Huffakwer, who had to work hard to hold off Louis Deletraz in the Tower Motorsports car and Giedo van der Garde in the Nederland car. Sure enough, on Lap 99, Huffaker lost out to this pair.
Fjordbach pitted on Lap 109 (2h22m) leaving S.Montoya defending vigorously from Deletraz and van der Garde, but Fjordbach got back in front as the others pitted, leaving Montoya trying to stave off Murry who’d replaced van der Garde in the Nederland machine. Fjordbach pitted with 1h44m to go, and handed over to Scherer, and his rivals soon followed suit, with Juan Pablo Montoya replacing Sebastian in the #81 DragonSpeed machine, and Murry remained in the Nederland car.
This trio came up to lap the GTD-class Carbahn with Peregrine Racing Lamborghini, with Jeff Westphal at the wheel, on their 142nd lap, with 90 minutes left on the clock. Montoya had cleared the Lambo, but Scherer was boxed in by the Italian machine as Murry drew alongside him. Scherer and Murry elbowed into each other, and the entirely innocent Westphal was fired into the inside barrier at Turn 7, losing the front of his car.
Three minutes into clear-up process, the red flag came out for lightning strikes in the area.
Nick Varrone of Fast MD Racing led the early stages, ahead of Dan Goldburg of Performance Tech Motorsports, Josh Sarchet of MLT Motorsports, and Jon Bennett of CORE autosport.
Twenty minutes in, Gar Robinson spun the Riley Motorsports car at Turn 1, and the Forty7 Motorsport car Anthony Mantella spun in sympathy, striking the inside barrier at Turn 1 and bringing out the first caution period. It was a collision between the LMP3 cars of Jarett Andretti and Lance Willsey that brought out the second caution. And the third, as well, as Orey Fidani’s AWA car got nudged onto the grass at the Bus Stop chicane by Andretti. And the fourth when Dillon Machavern’s Muehlner Motorsports car appeared to blow its engine coming up through the Esses. And the fifth when Lars Kern crashed the AWA car at Turn 1.
Kay van Berlo led the class for Riley Motorsports on the fifth restart, pulling away from Nolan Siegel in the JR III Racing team., and Josh Sarchet’s MLT Motorsports car, the latter of which was taken over and driven strongly by Dakota Dickerson, before Tyler Maxson took over. Despite multiple issues and penalties, Josh Burdon had moved the Andretti Autosport car up into third with 2hr45m to go, a position co-driver Gabby Chaves was able to maintain.
Garett Grist’s JR III car caught fire in pitlane during refueling, leaving Felipe Fraga of Riley Motorsports leading, ahead of Chaves, and Colin Braun in the CORE autosport car, although the CORE car got into second just before the red flag.
Connor De Phillippi’s polesitting BMW M4 retained its advantage in the early stages ahead of Ross Gunnin the Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage, Ben Barnicoat of Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC F, Mathieu Jaminet in the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R and Davide Rigon’s Ferrari 488 of Risi Competizione.
De Phillippi and Barnicoat pitted under the second yellow but Gunn did not and therefore moved the #23 HoR Aston into the lead. Behind him, Barnicoat slotted his Lexus ahead of De Phillippi on a restart, while Corvette Racing’s pit work vaulted Jordan Taylor up into fourth in class ahead of Matt Campbell’s Pfaff Porsche and Rigon’s Ferrari.
During the fourth caution, finally Heart of Racing pitted Gunn, leaving De Phillippi out front once more, with four GTD cars between himself and Barnicoat, and now Taylor’s C8.R was up to third immediately ahead of Campbell and Rigon. The fifth restart saw Rigon take fifth from the Porsche driver.
Just past the halfway mark, Augusto Farfus was maintaining De Phillippi’s earlier strong work in the RLL BMW M4, ahead of Kyle Kirkwood in the #14 Lexus RC F, the Risi car with Daniel Serra at the wheel and Mathieu Jaminet in the Pfaff car. The Corvette had been penalized with a drive-through for multiple warnings for exceeding track limits.
Kirkwood took over the lead when Farfus made his stop, but his Lexus was running barely one second ahead of Serra’s Ferrari, with Jaminet only 2.5sec further back. Mikael Grenier was up to fourth.
Kirkwood pitted from the lead on Lap 109, and resumed in second, just ahead of Jaminet and Maro Engel in the WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3, but on Lap 125 he was passed by both these pursuers who now sat 24sec behind Serra’s Risi Ferrari. However, Kirkwood would retaliate and re-pass Engel three laps later.
Stevan McAleer’s Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT3 controlled the early stages ahead of Robby Foley’s Turner Motorsports BMW M4, Richard Heistand’s VSR Lexus, Madison Snow in the Paul Miller Racing BMW, and Zach Robichon in the Wright Motorsports Porsche. However, following the first restart, Foley drove around the outside of McAleer to claim the class lead.
Snow pitted the PMR BMW to hand off to Erik Johansson with 5h17m still remaining, going off strategy.
Following their round of pitstops, Heistand’s Lexus was into the GTD lead, ahead of Michael Dinan who had taken over the Turner BMW from Foley, and McAleer, still at the wheel of the Team Korthoff Mercedes.
However, during the second round of stops, Team Hardpoint’s Porsche with Stefan Wilson at the wheel was up into third ahead of Robert Megennis in the Carbahn with Peregrine Racing’s Lamborghini Huracan.
Team Korthoff’s Mercedes sustained right-front suspension damage when Dirk Muller appeared to turn in unsighted on Lynn’s Ganassi Cadillac as it zoomed through into the Bus Stop.
The AF Corse Ferrari 488 of Toni Vilander shoved Robichon’s Wright Porsche into a spin at Turn 9, and the collision damaged the Italian car enough to get it dragged back to the paddock, and then Cetilar Racing’s Ferrari, driven by Antonio Fuoco, knocked Joel Miller’s Crucial Motorsport McLaren into a spin, and like Vilander, Fuoco was assessed a drive-through penalty.
The final third of the race saw Philip Ellis in the Winward Racing Mercedes up front, ahead of Roman De Angelis in the #27 HoR Aston Martin and Spencer Pumpelly’s Magnus Racing’s Aston Martin Vantage, but this trio ‘owed’ a pitstop, and it was the Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 that had completed six stops ahead of Inception Racing’s McLaren. Both Cetilar Racing and Turner Motorsport had been down pitlane six times, too, but the former was a result of the penalty for the collision with the Wright Porsche, and the latter was a penalty for exceeding track limits one too many times.