Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor, Porsche are 2019 IMSA GTLM champions; Ferrari takes class win at Road Atlanta
Risi Competizione Ferrari steals the show in GT Le Mans class
In the weeks leading up to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, all eyes were on the four full-season manufacturers in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.
There was the last IMSA race for the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, in anticipation of the 2020 competition unveil of the C8.R; the swan song for Ford’s GT factory program; and Porsche’s Coca Cola-themed throwback livery ahead of its championship-winning efforts.
But throughout the weekend, the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 stole much of the attention.
Starting on Friday, James Calado qualified the car on the pole position for the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans. Then on Saturday, Calado and co-drivers Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra combined to lead over one-third of the laps, 157 of 434, to secure Risi Competizione’s first victory in exactly three years, as the team’s last WeatherTech Championship win came at Michelin Raceway in 2016.
“It’s one of the hardest races in all the series,” said Calado. “The track is very much a driver’s track. You can easily go over the limit and going over the limit is a gravel barrier. Concentration levels are seriously high. We’ve won together before, and we’ve won together today. Thanks to Ferrari. It will be nice to go to (the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January) and try to win again.”
“This is my first time at Petit Le Mans,” added Pier Guidi. “I was happy to be here and have the opportunity to fight for this amazing race. Every time I come to the U.S., I see a lot of fun and a lot of people loving motorsports. It’s fun to be in front of these people. It’s something special. It’s something that will stay in my heart for a long time.”
Second place, 7.8 seconds behind the No. 62, went to the No. 67 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and co-drivers Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon in the program’s final race of its four-year tenure in the GTLM class. They capped it off by taking driver, team and manufacturer honors in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup as well.
In third place were Connor De Phillippi, Tom Blomqvist and Colton Herta in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE.
It wasn’t a smooth race for the season champions – the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR pair of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor. With endurance driver Mathieu Jaminet, the car ran mid-pack for the majority of the race and in the closing minutes was involved in a spin following contact with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi that wound up the overall winner.
However, with the checkered flag, Bamber and Vanthoor finished with three victories and four additional podium results in 2019.
“We fought our hardest at the end of the race there for a podium and it didn’t quite come off,” Bamber said. “So that was a tough day. We managed to do what we did all season and be right there and be in the points, make no mistakes all day long and score points.
“Tomorrow it’ll definitely sink in. I think it is definitely one of the toughest championships to win here. Everyone’s at the highest level and I’m super thrilled to take the championship home for Porsche.”
“I joined Porsche three years ago,” added Vanthoor. “I wanted to go to America. It was kind of a dream to race here at one point and race for Porsche. When I came here, I basically didn’t know anything. I didn’t know the teams, the tracks, the rules, not the car, nothing. For me to come away now with the championship in the books is something I’ll be really proud of.”