DETROIT — The GM Renaissance Center serves as one backdrop of the Detroit street course, while the Canadian flag serves as another, due to nearby Windsor, Ontario.
It was the latter backdrop that held true in Saturday’s Chevrolet Detroit Sports Car Classic, as Canadian Daniel Morad won in the shadow of his home country in the fourth round of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season.
Morad and Bryce Ward shared the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4, using a bit of strategy, Morad’s relentless attack on a restart and eventual overtake to secure the victory in the Grand Sport (GS) class-only, 100-minute race.
It is both drivers’ first victory in Michelin Pilot Challenge competition.
Ward started 11th and pitted shortly after the 33-minute mark, three minutes after the minimum drive time window of 30 minutes opened. The Winward Racing team swapped in Morad, took rear Michelin tires and resumed on course shortly behind the No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 (G82) and No. 28 RS1 Porsche Cayman 718 GT4 RS CS, which had been the dominant cars in the opening stanza of the race.
The No. 28 car, started by Eric Filgueiras, went for a fuel-only stop and swapped the car to Stevan McAleer. Meanwhile, the No. 95 car, started on pole by Cameron Lawrence, matched the strategy and flipped over to Robert Megennis after leading the opening 28 laps.
It was there the complexion — and visuals — of the race changed.
Megennis sought to lap Rory van der Steur in the No. 19 van der Steur Aston Martin Vantage GT4 heading into the primary passing opportunity on the bumpy, 1.645-mile, nine-turn new downtown street course.
It all went awry when Megennis drove into van der Steur, with the momentum carrying his BMW up and over the Aston Martin in a spectacular incident. Megennis’ car hit the top of the tire barriers before he continued onto the pit lane, while van der Steur’s car was significantly impacted on the driver’s side and roof of the car. Both drivers made it back to pit lane.
The resulting full-course caution shuffled the order as a handful of cars, including the points-leading No. 72 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4 of Kenny Murillo and Christian Szymczak, had not yet pitted and subsequently lost track position when it did stop.
The race resumed with McAleer cycled to the front ahead of Marc Miller in the debuting No. 78 Thaze Competition by MC Squared Mercedes-AMG GT GT4 and Morad third in the No. 57 Winward Mercedes.
Morad took off behind the leaders, as McAleer had a gap of a couple lapped cars between himself and Miller. After charging past two lapped cars on the first restart lap, Lap 40, Morad had the gap down to just a second behind McAleer by lap 43.
Morad made the winning move on lap 46, sizing up McAleer into turn one and going past him on the inside on the run to turn two.
“I knew the best opportunity would be right at the beginning when track was unknown with oil and coolants,” Morad said. “I had a good idea of where the grip was and went full attack and didn’t hesitate. The moment you hesitate on a street circuit, you run into trouble, so I went for it, full send.”
While Morad began to stretch his gap in front, McAleer put on a defensive driving clinic behind him to keep a bevy of cars in his rearview mirror, in the form of Miller, Jeff Westphal, Elliott Skeer and the recovering Szymczak.
Despite multiple attempts, Miller was never able to get past McAleer. The two were former teammates with another program back in the day and know each other’s racing styles well, so a healthy level of respect was present.
McAleer and Filgueiras finished second with Miller and Michael Di Meo completing a dream debut for Birmingham, Michigan-based Thaze Competition, finishing on the podium in both the team’s and Miller’s home race.
Westphal and Sean McAlister were fourth, ahead of Jeff Mosing and Eric Foss in the No. 56 Murillo Racing Mercedes. Mosing and Foss capped off an eventful weekend where Mosing needed to reverse down the backstraight in a Friday session after a spin. For Foss, the opportunity to race in Detroit was special as he caught the racing bug going to the Formula 1 race with his dad here in the 1980s.
Points leaders Murillo and Szymczak finished seventh, behind Skeer and Adam Adelson in sixth.
For Morad and Ward the win was sweet, particularly for Ward whose Winward team has been a Michelin Pilot Challenge stalwart for several years.
“It’s awesome,” Morad said. “Driving with Bryce is such a good opportunity for me this year. He’s been the best team owner and teammate. There’s no pressure except for what I put on myself. And I want to win. Winning is fun.”
Ward added, “It’s an amazing day, and I can’t say enough for the team. The pit stop was perfect. The call from engineering was perfect. It was key to be clean and get it over to Daniel.”