A promising early run for Acura Motorsports and Michael Shank Racing at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday came to naught for MSR's pair of Acura NSX GT3s. An ill-timed caution flag, penalty and a strategy gamble all combined to hamper the team's efforts in the fourth round of the 2017 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The caution flag, which came out just as starting driver Katherine Legge was about to pit the class-leading No.93 Acura, cost the team valuable track position during the ensuing stop. That was followed by a pit exit violation and resulting penalty that combined to cost co-driver Andy Lally and Legge a chance at a top-five finish.
The same caution negated the off-sequence pit strategy employed for the No.86 NSX GT3 of Jeff Segal and Ozz Negri, preventing them from gaining positions as planned in the final half of the two hour, 40-minute event.
After starting seventh, less than five-tenths of a second off the class pole, Legge battled eventual 1-2 GTD finishers Ben Keating and Christina Nielsen through the first third of the contest. She then remained on track as her competitors pitted for their first scheduled stops, cycling into the class lead for four laps. But the full-course caution, called just as Legge was scheduled to pit and hand over driving duties to Lally, cost the pair dearly. The field closed up under the caution flag before pit lane was opened, dropping them down the order during their stop.
Then leaving pit lane, Lally's view of the lights controlling the pit exit was blocked by two other cars, and all three drivers failed to see the red light at the exit. All three then received 60-second "stop-and-wait" penalties for running the red light, dropping the No.93 Acura almost a full lap behind the GTD class leaders. Although able to stay on the lead lap, Lally was unable to gain ground, taking the checkers in 15th.
"I understand the [penalty] call but the situation was tough." said Lally "We had a good [pit] stop, then the [GTLM class] BMW came out and chopped our nose off, so I gave a little up because it's a class above us. So I was right on his bumper and the thing is huge, so there's no seeing through it. Then the Porsche came out and it blended right to our door, when it's supposed to blend behind us, so I'm watching both of them and the red light was low. It's a tough one. The Acura ran fast. We got the lead. That's our silver lining, because the car was pretty good. This was one of our best qualifying sessions, Katherine [Legge] did a good job. If the yellow had come just two minutes later we would have been in good shape. The car was handling well and it was racing better."
Starting 11th with Negri at the controls, MSR elected to pit the No.86 Acura just 27 minutes into the contest for tires and fuel only, a strategy that paid dividends last month at Long Beach. However, the same caution flag that impacted the No.93 Acura's run also hampered the efforts of the No.86 NSX GT3. When the green flag waved to resume the race, Negri was forced to defend his seventh-place position on tires that were past their best, while his competitors were able to pit for fresh rubber and fuel.
Negri and the No.86 Acura made their second and final pit stop with just over an hour remaining, with Segal taking over the driving duties.
Despite having to save fuel during his long green flag run, Segal delivered a flawless performance to finish 11th in GTD.
"It was a tough day." said Segal "I hate to keep saying this, but the result doesn't fit the effort. The Michael Shank Racing team did an incredible job. We started off okay - not great - this weekend. We were in a little bit of a hole [during practice], but we pulled ourselves right out [for the race]. We had a good racecar, the Acura NSX GT3 was a match for anybody out there, and we had great pit stops. It was just a hot, greasy day, and we never had the track position. We were hanging in there trying to save a little bit of fuel. We made a pretty aggressive fuel number, so thanks to the HPD guys for digging deep and finding us that. Unfortunately, this finish just doesn't feel right today."
The 2017 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship continues on Saturday, June 3, with the Sports Car Classic, as part of the Detroit Grand Prix race weekend on Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Michigan.
*From team media release
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