Lime Rock Park, which hosts Saturday’s two-hour and 40-minute Northeast Grand Prix for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, occupies a special place in the lore of Porsche’s mid-engined 911 RSR race car.
This race car – which made its competition debut in the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona – represented a substantial departure from Porsche’s decades-long approach with the 911, which historically placed the engine behind the rear axle. As evidenced most recently by the 911 RSR’s dominating victory in last month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the new approach worked.
But fans of the WeatherTech Championship and Porsche already knew that. They knew it last year at Lime Rock, when Gimmi Bruni put the No. 912 Porsche on the overall and GT Le Mans (GTLM) class pole position for the GT-only race in Friday’s qualifying session.
And they REALLY knew it when Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner led a 1-2 sweep for the Porsche GT Team in the Northeast Grand Prix, taking the victory in the No. 911 entry, finishing 14.5 seconds ahead of Bruni and Laurens Vanthoor – who was part of the 2018 Le Mans-winning driver lineup for Porsche – in the No. 912.
In what would be a 181-lap race on the 1.474-mile “bullring” located in Lakeville, Connecticut, the No. 911 led a race-high total of 78 laps. The No. 912 had the second-highest laps led total, pacing the field for the first 56 laps of the race.
“Our double victory last year underlined that the racetrack suits us,” says Vanthoor. “However, Lime Rock is no easy race. The laps are very short and you have to be extremely careful to maneuver through the heavy traffic unscathed.
“Lime Rock marks the start of the critical phase of the championship. That makes it all the more important to earn decent points.”
Vanthoor and his 2018 co-driver in the No. 912 Porsche, Earl Bamber, are currently fifth in the GTLM point standings with 167 points. That puts them 14 points behind GTLM leaders Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 Ford GT from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, and one point ahead of their Porsche GT Team colleagues, Pilet and his No. 911 co-driver, Nick Tandy.
“I’m expecting a gripping race at Lime Rock,” Pilet says. “The course is narrow and twisty and it sometimes reminds me of a go-kart track. The cars are often bunched close together, which makes it interesting for the fans. We did very well last year with our 911 RSR, and I have no reason to think we can’t do it again this year.”
Tandy agrees. After all, Porsche has won a total of 33 IMSA races at Lime Rock since 1972 and owns 18 victories there since 1999.
“Lime Rock is great turf for Porsche,” Tandy says. “We have always performed very well on this racetrack. We look forward to this unique race all year. Because the track is so short, the traffic is always heavy. Our team has to implement the right race strategy so that we get as many free runs as possible.”
Porsche seemed to have plenty of “free runs” in last year’s race. In addition to sweeping the top-two positions in GTLM, Porsche also won the GT Daytona (GTD) class with drivers Patrick Lindsey and Joerg Bergmeister in the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R and finished third in GTD with Patrick Long and Daniel Morad in the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports entry.
This year, Porsche’s GTD efforts will be spearheaded by Wright Motorsports’ two-car entry. Wolf Henzler – who owns two career Lime Rock victories – is sharing the No. 16 Porsche 911 GT3 R with Michael Schein. In the team’s No. 58 entry is two-time and defending WeatherTech Championship GTD champion Christina Nielsen, and Long – a four-time class winner at Lime Rock.
“Lime Rock is constant cornering, there’s very little chance to relax,” Long says. “The racetrack offers everything that makes racing fun – it has very fast corners and some slow bends, where we can use the good traction of our 911 GT3 R.”
Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix begins at 3 p.m.
Source. IMSA/Photo. Porsche