Tom Blomqvist has emerged victorious in his final race as a full-time IMSA driver in Sunday’s Petit Le Mans, partnering Colin Braun and IndyCar great Helio Castroneves for Meyer Shank Racing in a dramatic race at Road Atlanta.
The win is also a perfect sendoff for the team from the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship as they take an extended hiatus to focus on their IndyCar commitments. Blomqvist will race a full-time campaign for the outfit in 2024’s championship.
Scott Dixon ensured there were Kiwis on the top two steps of the podium, with the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-Series.R finishing second in the hands of Dixon, Renger van der Zande and Sebastien Bourdais.
Three teams entered the season-finale separated by just 11 points, and the first of those was eliminated in the 74th minute when the #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 of Nick Tandy, Mathieu Jaminet and Laurens Vanthoor was caught up in an incident caused by a pair of GTD cars ahead.
That left just the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac V-Series.R, of Pipo Derani, Alexander Sims and Jack Aitken, and the #10 Konica Minolta Racing Acura ARX-06, of Filipe Albuquerque, Ricky Taylor and Louis Delatraz, to battle it out for the overall title.
The latter jumped to the top of the table in qualifying, with Deltraz taking points and putting the Acura on pole.
Bourdais took the lead off Deltraz at the start before a Safety Car was called for three minutes when Tower Motorsports’ LMP2 car ran into trouble at Turn 3.
The car was, unfortunately, shared with Kiwi Scott McLaughlin, whose teammate Ari Balogh ran into trouble on the formation lap while warming his tyres, hitting the wall. He would crash again on Lap 1 at Turn 3 as he attempted to catch the field, resulting in an early caution and the team losing 23 laps on the leaders while in for repairs.
Blomqvist was another to suffer early damage and was forced to the lane for repairs after being hit by the #1 BMW GTD entry at the chicane’s exit while fighting Louis Delatraz in a battle pack for the outright lead.
The team dropped two laps down at this point but recovered over the race through a strong charge from all three drivers.
Whelen Engineering Racing and Konica Minolta Racing would continue to exchange the provisional championship lead on the road throughout the race, with Derani holding second on the road entering the final hour.
At this point, however, the title would be decided when Albuquerque attempted to make a pass for second at Turn 1, the two cars making side-to-side contact that sent the Acura across the grass and into the tyre barrier at speed.
Albuquerque was in visible pain following the incident and required assistance from the car before being taken to the hospital. Race control deemed no one was at fault for the incident despite the Acura having entered the corner a nose ahead.
That left van der Zande in the lead over Braun during a lengthy Safety Car, with the latter hitting the front off the restart with just 30 minutes to go, where it would remain until the chequered flag.
However, the drama wasn’t finished there, with two further cautions in the final stages ultimately seeing the race finish under yellow. The last of those came when a GTD class Porsche burst into flames following a multi-car collision.
Derani, Sims and Aitken came home sixth overall to claim the title, despite making late contact with the title-contending #25 BMW of Connor De Phillippi, Nick Yelloly and Sheldon van der Linde, the second time the two cars came together.