The 23rd Annual Motul Petit Le Mans delivered its usual excitement Saturday evening at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. The Wright Motorsports No. 16 1st Phorm Porsche 911 GT3R delivered a strong performance after starting tenth to finish fourth, earning their eighth top-five finish in nine races. The fourth-place finish brought solid points for drivers Ryan Hardwick and Patrick Long, who were joined over the weekend by endurance race addition Jan Heylen.
“Again, our guys executed a flawless race,” said Team Owner John Wright. “No one made a mistake all race, and we were able to fight up front for a while, but in the end, we were fighting for that third spot on the podium. We’re still very much in the hunt for the championship, and we’ll be strong at the final two races.”
Race morning brought Road Atlanta the coldest temperatures the competitors had all week, staying in the high 40s for the morning warm-up. Under clear blue skies, Ryan Hardwick started from tenth, avoiding any conflict during the car’s opening stint. He held off pressure from the No. 23 Aston Martin to charge after the No. 14 Lexus, and pitted from 12th under caution for his first stop for tires and fuel. The speed of the Wright Motorsports crew in pit lane put the No. 16 in the position to restart from 11th.
Jan Heylen took over with just under two hours complete, joining the race in 12th, 8.4 seconds behind the No. 14 Lexus of Jack Hawksworth. In the opening laps, Heylen shaved a second off that gap, and 15 minutes later gained two positions. After passing the 14 of Jack Hawksworth and the No. 44 Lamborghini of John Potter, The No. 16 Porsche had a 21-second gap to the No. 23 Aston Martin of Darren Turner. Within 15 minutes, Heylen cut that gap in half, gaining with every lap. He finished his stint in eighth and handed the No. 16 Porsche back over to Hardwick with fresh tires and a full tank of fuel.
With more hours of this year’s Petit Le Mans set to run in the cover of night than ever before, Wright Motorsports elected to set the car up to be its strongest for the final stints. However, that made Hardwick’s stints more challenging to drive in the heat of the afternoon. The hometown hero still delivered, rejoining the race in eighth and gaining a position during his brief stint.
Patrick Long took over the driving duties from Hardwick, rejoining 11th but made quick work to take tenth. A full-course caution brought the field back together, and a pass-around and pit strategy allowed all of the lapped cars to gain their lost lap back. After the pass-around, the No. 16 pitted, and again, stellar work by the Wright Motorsports crew gained the Porsche two more spots before going back to green. Long was ready to race, and as soon as his tires were up to temperature, he charged forward, gaining half of a second on the No. 14 Lexus ahead. The Lexus pitted for a full-service stop, moving Long up to sixth, and right behind the No. 23 of Ian James. Long made the pass on the Aston Martin for fifth just as another full-course caution paused the racing.
The GTD field poured into pit lane under caution, and due to one car short-fueling, the No. 16 Porsche exited pit lane to restart in sixth behind the No. 57 Acura. Heylen reclaimed fifth when contact between the No .57 Acura and the No.9 Porsche in turns 10 A/B dropped the 57 down the charts, and the No. 9 followed shortly after. The No. 16 1st Phorm Porsche claimed third place as dusk began to fall around the Braselton, Georgia road course. The No. 48 Lamborghini, still on their alternate fuel strategy, pitted early, moving Wright Motorsports, the fastest car in class, up to second.Patrick Long took over from second place just before the fourth full-course caution of the day at 7:00PM, after almost six and half hours running. He had rejoined the race in third and came in for a quick splash under caution. For the third time in 6.5 hours, the crew gained the No. 16 Porsche a position in pit lane, coming out ahead of the No. 63 Ferrari. The fourth green flag of the race immediately produced a three-way battle for the second position between the No. 14 Lexus, No. 16 Porsche, and the No. 63 Ferrari.
By 8:00PM, the track was in full darkness, and Patrick Long brought the Porsche to the tail of the leader, fighting with every lap to take the lead position. The No. 48 again pitted early, and Patrick Long led the GTD field to the end of his stint. Heylen resumed his duties, rejoining in eighth. The Porsche 911 GT3 R seemed to have a longer time getting up to speed on cold tires, but still made moves to climb back up to third place. With 52 minutes remaining, the team made their final pit stop, with Heylen rejoining in sixth.
Tensions reached an all-time high in the final half-hour, bringing out two full-course cautions, limiting the time competitors had left to fight for position. Heylen captured fourth place and started to reel in the car in third just as the final caution came out, running to the checkered flag. The strong run at Petit Le Mans keeps Wright Motorsports second in the team championship standings, two points behind AIM VASSER Sullivan. Provisionally, Hardwick and Long stand third in the driver, just four points behind Aaron Telitz.
The Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA had an incredibly successful weekend with Charlie Luck, driver of the No. 45 Porsche sweeping all three wins in the Road Atlanta tripleheader. Provisionally, he stands second in the Masters driver point standings. Joseph Lombardo, driver of the No. 92 Porsche earned two third-place finishes, joining luck on the Masters Podium.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA next head to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, October 30 to November 1.
Fourth place at my hometown race. I’ll take it. It’s a shame because I think we were very close to battling for another podium. Our podium streak has ended, but our championship hopes are more alive than ever. We’re four points out of the lead and looking forward to finishing the season at tracks that we’re strong at: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Sebring International Raceway. I’m looking forward to taking this championship fight to the final lap.
Fourth place finish. We had a good charge at the end. There was a ton of strategy and contact between all the classes. It was one of those finishes that you wanted a few more laps, but I’m proud of the effort. The guys were flawless in the pits all day. We had the pace and it was a good points day. We retained second place in the team points, and sit third in the driver standings. We just have to keep putting these solid positions on the board and let the year take its own shape.
It was a really cool race. I’m really happy that I could do it with the team. We were hoping for a podium, and it was definitely within our grasp, but we had a couple of things that didn’t come our way right at the end. The car had really good pace when the tires were hot, but we weren’t as good as some on cold tires out of the pit. I think that’s where we gave up a possible win or podium. We had the speed to win the race, but not on cold tires. It’s something we need to look into and see what we can do better for the next run. It was a crazy race. It was flawless for our team. We had good pit stops, and nobody made any mistakes. It’s tough to have everything go well and have the pace to compete for a win and not come away with a podium. It’s a little disappointing, but it was a really good points day for the team. In the end, that was the big picture. Now we have two races left and the team is in the best position to try to win the championship now. That’s exciting and we all did a good job.
Source. Wright Motorsports