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IMSA Watkins Glen

Westbrook rues ‘killer’ IMSA penalty after hitting tire reader in pitlane

JDC-Miller Porsche IMSA SportsCar Championship GTP squad hit by “quite harsh” five-minute penalty for bizarre RFID collision

#85 JDC/Miller MotorSports Porsche 963: Tijmen van der Helm, Richard Westbrook, Phil Hanson

#85 JDC/Miller MotorSports Porsche 963: Tijmen van der Helm, Richard Westbrook, Phil Hanson

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Richard Westbrook says that the penalty handed to his customer Porsche 963 team JDC-Miller MotorSports at Watkins Glen on Sunday was a “bitter pill” after the car had led the race in the early going.

Team-mate Phil Hanson, who qualified the car fourth for the six-hour race, charged to the front in the opening stages, passing Cadillac’s Renger van der Zande after the first restart to lead.

But the team’s hopes of a good result were dashed when Westbrook “nudged” a piece of equipment at the gate at the end of the pitlane, and IMSA decided to hand down one of its strongest in-race penalties of a five-minute stop and hold.

Michelin uses a radio frequency identification system, which has tags embedded in tires to ensure it has reliable tire data every time a car leaves the pits. It has an RFID reader at the end of the pitlane, in the form of a metal box, and it was this that Westbrook struck at the gate at pit out and knocked over.

Westbrook explained that it happened as he was making an adjustment on his steering wheel, as track conditions had changed and the 963 has various settings to cope with the changing grip level that the rain tires and water on track produce.  

“I’m incredibly disappointed,” he said. “After we switched to wet tires, I had to adjust the steering wheel on the way out. That’s when I made the mistake and nudged Michelin’s tire RFID system.

“I had expected to get a drive-through penalty, but the five-minute penalty was a killer for us. There was nothing we could do.

“I feel so sorry for the team, especially since our car was so strong this weekend. It’s a super bitter pill to swallow.”

#85 JDC/Miller MotorSports Porsche 963: Tijmen van der Helm, Richard Westbrook, Phil Hanson

#85 JDC/Miller MotorSports Porsche 963: Tijmen van der Helm, Richard Westbrook, Phil Hanson

Photo by: Richard Dole / Motorsport Images

His team boss John Church, whose team was the first to run a customer 963 in IMSA last year, was gutted by the outcome, which demoted his car to an 18th-place overall finish.

“We unloaded with the most competitive car since Sebring of this year,” he said. “The team took everything we learned at a test a few weeks ago and gave the drivers a very strong car.

“Phil was awesome in qualifying and then made some great passes to lead the race. It was great to see the car at the front of the field.

“It is unfortunate that there was an issue with the RFID gate. Things get crazy going into that gate as there isn’t much distance from the last pit boxes to the gate for everyone to get sorted single-file.  The penalty was quite harsh.”

Hanson wrote on Instagram: “Shame not to come away from Watkins with a result. Torrential rain threw a spanner in the works but we still managed to make moves and put banana boat into the lead at the beginning.”

His charge to the front prompted his watching Jota Porsche WEC team-mate Jenson Button to reply to his post with: “Well done mate, mega first stint.”

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