Jan Heylen won his first IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge title by taking victory alongside Ryan Hardwick in an incident-fraught season finale marked by a dramatic clash that removed the former points-leading Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 from contention.
Heylen and Hardwick won Friday’s two-hour race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta sharing the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport, after Heylen narrowly held off Riley Motorsports Toyota driver Scott Andrews at the line.
The championship swung in Heylen’s favor when Turner BMW driver Bill Auberlen and Murillo Racing’s Eric Foss came together whilst battling for the lead with 27 minutes of the two-hour race remaining.
Auberlen braked down the outside of Foss into the Turn 10 left-hander and hung around the outside of the No. 56 Mercedes-AMG GT4 in the hope of taking the position when the track switched back to the right for Turn 10B.
The battling pair clattered each other side-on before ultimately helping each other into the gravel, which enabled Heylen to take the lead and the points advantage.
Foss pitted with significant suspension damage, while a furious Auberlen also returned to the pits – via the Murillo stall – with his Turner BMW unable to continue.
Heylen maintained his inherited lead at the restart from the last of five safety car interventions and kept ahead of Andrews, who charged past Spencer Pigot and Matt Plumb before launching an attack for the lead in the final minutes.
Wright driver Heylen arrived at Road Atlanta with a 30-point deficit to Auberlen and Dillon Machavern and needed to beat the Turner pair to clinch the title.
His victory alongside Hardwick, who handled the Porsche in a safety car-affected opening half, sealed the GS crown by 2680 points to 2480 for Auberlen and Machavern.
The No. 56 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG led the opening hour at Road Atlanta, with Kenny Murillo granted pole after KohR Motorsports elected not to start the race.
Murillo led the first few laps from Nolan Siegel, whose Audi R8 LMS GT4 retired early on due to a mechanical problem.
Three caution periods prevented the opening half of the race from settling into a rhythm.
The interruptions were caused by Frank de Pew’s Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R going off into the Turn 5 gravel, TCR competitor Chris Miller being turned around by de Pew at Turn 6 and Turner BMW driver Vin Barletta having a huge accident on the main straight.
Barletta struck the left-side tire barriers after going through the final corner side-by-side with Alan Brynjolfsson in the VOLT Racing/Archangel Porsche.
The cleanup after the accident, from which Barletta walked away unaided, took approximately half an hour and meant that there were 49 minutes left on the clock when the race returned to green flag conditions.
Turner had moved its remaining BMW ahead of the Murillo Mercedes-AMG in the pits, but Auberlen was immediately overtaken by Foss down the inside at Turn 1.
A fourth safety car swiftly followed after an off for the No. 88 Honda Civic TCR, keeping Auberlen on Foss’ tail with Heylen running third until the top-two came to blows.
Matt and Hugh Plumb completed the podium in their Team TGM Camaro, ahead of Kuno Wittmer and Orey Fidani who shared the AWA McLaren 570S GT4.
Wittmer profited from Spencer Pigot dropping out of fourth place with a damaged left-front tire on his MiA-run McLaren.
Andrew Davis and Michael McCann completed the top five in the No. 8 McCann Racing Audi, one place ahead of Trent Hindman in the VOLT/Archangel Porsche which bounced back from a drive-through following Brynjolffson’s role in the Barletta accident.
TCR race honors went to Tim Lewis and Roy Block in the No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR, while Taylor Hagler and Mark Lewis sealed the championship simply by taking the start of the race.
The race lead went in Lewis and Block’s favor shortly before the final caution period occurred, when Lewis in the Alfa Romeo found a way past his namesake aboard the title-winning Hyundai Veloster N TCR.
Ryan Eversley captured second on the line for Atlanta Speedwerks in a dramatic conclusion to the podium battle that saw Tyler Maxson and Tyler Gonzalez take third.
RESULTS: Fox Factory 120