BRASELTON, Ga. – Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor needed a miracle Saturday at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Somehow, they got more than one.
After falling more than a lap behind following two penalties early in the race, Taylor and Castroneves rallied to win the TireRack.com Grand Prix, the second consecutive win in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi ARX-05.
They key to success, as strange it may seem, was falling behind. At one point, the car was just 30 seconds away from being lapped a second time on the 12-turn, 2.45-mile circuit.
“What that did was put us in a situation where we just pushed the whole race,” Taylor said. “We were pushing probably harder than anybody else on the track, so all these little issues popped up. Throughout the race, we were developing a lot and chasing with all of our tools and a lot of communication.
“By the time we got our lap back, the guys in the pits and engineers and me and Helio and everybody had adapted and made changes to chase all the issues that had popped up due to our really high pace. I think that was actually a big tool to getting us in the window and giving us a great car at the end. If we had been in the pack all day, we would have been managing and controlling the race and maybe those issues wouldn’t have popped up that gave us such a fast car at the end.”
During his first pit stop, Castroneves exceeded the speed limit on pit entry, then went through a red light on pit exit. That brought about a drive-through penalty followed by a 60-second stop and hold penalty, which dropped him more than a lap behind the field.
“I made a mistake coming to the pits,” said Castroneves. “When I saw it, I was like, ‘Ugh, I got caught.’ I made two mistakes in one pit stop. It was totally my bad. They say I drive like I’m 20 years old. Now I make mistakes like a 20-year-old.”
Discouraged but not defeated, Castroneves, Taylor and the team methodically fought back, using the race’s six hours to their advantage to adjust the car and steadily get closer to the lead.
“Once we were back there, it was like, ‘OK, there’s no pressure,’” Taylor said. “Let’s just push as hard as we can and do everything we can do to try to put ourselves back in it. When it came time, everything was in line. Everybody executed.”
With an hour and five seconds left, Taylor had the car back in the lead after Ryan Briscoe pitted the No. 10 Konica Minolta / Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi V.R while leading.
After a driver change, Castroneves regained the lead before a collision between Toni Vilander and Juan Pablo Montoya forced a full-course caution with 13 minutes left. The debris was removed just in time for a two-lap sprint to the finish.
When the green flag waved, Castroneves jumped ahead of Harry Tincknell’s No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi and reached the checkered flag 0.983 seconds ahead. Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Filipe Albuquerque were third in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi V.R.
“I knew exactly what I needed to do to push it,” Castroneves said of the final two laps. “Trust me, if the 55 was going to go into a battle, it was going to be a big one, because there was no way I was giving that win up.”
The win was the 22nd in IMSA competition for Taylor, while Castroneves recorded his fourth victory and second in a row following his winning finish in the rain Aug. 2 at Road America.
In the LMP2 class, Patrick Kelly took advantage of a spin on the first lap by the other entry in the class to take the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 to victory. Dwight Merriman fell several laps behind after the spin and subsequent repairs for damage in the No. 18 Era Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 he shared with Kyle Tilley and Colin Braun.
Kelly was joined in victory by Simon Trummer and first-time WeatherTech Championship racer Scott Huffaker.
“It was unfortunate the other car crashed out in the first lap,” Huffaker said. “It was about managing traffic and keeping our nose clean. For my first race, I’m really happy to start out with a win. … (I was) a bit more anxious than nervous. When I saw the car pull up for the first stop, I was a bit nervous about that, trying to get a good pit stop. But once I got into the car, I felt a lot more comfortable.”