Shank Ligier leads Petit Le Mans at 3-hour mark

Despite an ongoing pitstop problem, Olivier Pla got Michael Shank Racing back into the lead at Road Atlanta as Corvette Racing appeared to gain a strong grip on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar GTLM championship honors.

Shank Ligier leads Petit Le Mans at 3-hour mark

The second round of pitstops, caused by a spun PC car around the 90-minute mark, saw Action Express Racing do its traditionally fine job in not only getting championship leader Dane Cameron back in the lead, but also sending Christian Fittipaldi out ahead of the two Mazdas and into second place.

At the restart, Fittipaldi couldn’t so much focus on his title rival and teammate, so much as ensure that Tristan Nunez in the #55 Mazda remained behind him.

Ricky Taylor found a new lease of life to grab fourth and split the Mazdas with his Corvette DP, with Scott Sharp running sixth in the ESM Ligier ahead of Ryan Dalziel in the VisitFlorida.com Corvette.

The Mazda challenge took a major knock at the third round of pitstops. The #55 car suddenly slowed on track and by the time it limped to pitlane and had its engine cover peeled back to change the ECU, it had fallen 11 laps down. One car unable to take advantage of this was the #90 VisitFlorida team which also had an elongated stop, and ultimately went behind the wall for more extensive servicing, where it would remain.

Up front, with Pla at the wheel once more, the Michael Shank Racing Ligier started to fly and passed the Joao Barbosa-piloted #5 Action Express car for second and homed in on the leading #31 Action Express Corvette DP of Eric Curran. The inevitable lead change came on lap 131, approaching the three-hour mark.

However, Pla was doing this in the full knowledge that the unspecified problem at the left-rear of the Ligier-Honda would cost the team in the pitlane at every stop. It was vital to build a huge lead.

At the same time, the battle for third had evolved into an entertaining scrap between Barbosa and Jordan Taylor who looked every bit as fast and aggressive as his brother as they sliced between backmarkers.

Ferrari tops GTLM

GT Le Mans saw Risi’s Ferrari continue in front with Fisichella at the wheel, chased hard by the #66 Ford GT of Joey Hand, with Tommy Milner in third in the championship-leading Corvette #4, with Daniel Serra fourth in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, chased by Dirk Werner’s BMW M6, Earl Bamber in the #912 Porsche and the recovering Richard Westbrook in the #67 Ford.

The other significant movement in the class came just past the two-hour mark, when the quicker of the Corvettes, the #3 of Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen/Mike Rockenfeller, was taken behind the wall. It had made an extra stop for tires, but now it fell several laps down.

Following their third stops, Risi continued leading, now with James Calado at the wheel, chased by the Dirk Muller-piloted #66 Ford GT and the #4 Corvette (Oliver Gavin), the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, and the two Porsches.

Corvette Racing personnel aren’t arrogant enough to start celebrating early, but their championship hopes took a major boost after 2hr45mins. Soon after Briscoe had had to serve a drive-through penalty in the #67 Ford (incurred by Westbrook when he pushed Kuno Wittmer’s #100 BMW M6 into a gravel trap), the GT started belching smoke and Briscoe drove it slowly in and straight behind the wall to the transporters.

GT Daytona became highly entertaining in the third hour, as a charging Marco Seefried took the Magnus Racing Audi R8 around the leading Viper, now driven by Ben Keating, and into the lead. Ben held on well ahead of Ian James who now led the Porsche brigade in the #23 Alex Job Racing 911, ahead of Matt Bell in the first of the Stevenson Motorsports Audis, Matt McMurry in the Park Place Motorsports 911, Bryce Miller in the Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan, and Christina Nielsen in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3.

Following the next round of stops, Andy Lally kept the Magnus Audi at the front, now chased by Alex Riberas who’d replaced Ian James, and the Stevenson Audi pair of Andrew Davis and Bell. Then came the PMR Lambo with Bryan Sellers at the wheel, and Marc Miller as third man in the Viper.

In Prototype Challenge, Jose Gutierrez proved well able to keep up Robert Alon’s good work in the PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca, running almost half a minute ahead of Kenton Koch in the Performance Tech machine and Alex Popow in third, striving for the championship. 

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