Russell Ward and Mercedes-AMG factory driver Dominik Baumann took a surprise victory in Saturday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport pair benefited from their car staying out later than the other front-runners to jump into the lead at the final round of pit stops.
Baumann – who had originally been running in the top five – emerged from the car’s final stop with an advantage over Jeff Westphal in the No. 39 CarBahn with Peregrine Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4 which had dominated since the start of the two-hour contest.
Westphal made up some of the ground between his car, which was started by Tyler McQuarrie, and the Mercedes, but couldn’t overturn the on-track positions.
Westphal crossed the line 2.7 seconds behind Baumann, and six seconds up the road from Trent Hindman in the third-placed No. 7 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport.
The result handed Ward his first Pilot Challenge win of the season, while 2016 Blancpain GT Series champion Baumann scored his first series victory on his debut.
Ward had been sharing the Winward/HTP drive with Indy Dontje in all other previous rounds, but the Dutch driver’s clashing commitments in ADAC GT Masters ruled him out of the Laguna Seca 120 this weekend.
The result was a surprise considering the No. 33 Mercedes’ previous best result this year had been a sixth-place finish in the Daytona season-opener back in January.
After two Full Course Yellow periods during the mid-portion of the race – one for a clash between two TCR cars and the other for an accident that sent the No. 40 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 airborne into the Corkscrew – the fight for the win became a test of which team could master the timing of its final pit stop.
The first car to come in was the No. 46 Team TGM Mercedes which had been running in second behind Westphal after Hugh Plumb found a way past the KohR Motorsports Ford of Kyle Marcelli.
This pit call took place with 51 minutes to go, while it took another 20 minutes for the eventual winning car to come in for what ended up being a shorter fuel stop.
Plumb emerged in net third position but dropped to seventh in time for the checkered flag, while Hindman made up several positions to reach the podium with his co-driver Alan Brynjolfsson.
The Park Place pairing finished ahead of Spencer Pumpelly – who at one stage went door-to-door with Baumann in an entertaining scrap for sixth – and Rob Ferriol’s Moorespeed Audi.
Dylan Murry and Jim Cox came through in fifth with their Riley Motorsports-prepared Mercedes, one place in front of Plumb and Owen Trinkler.
Ernstone/Morley Overcome Hyundais for TCR Win
Gavin Ernstone and John Morley earned their first victory of the season after dismantling the early 1-2 advantage held by the Bryan Herta Autosports Hyundai Veloster N TCRs.
The Roadshagger Racing pair, who until recently were a part of the now-defunct eEuroparts Racing operation, started outside the top 10 but emerged as contenders during the first FCY period of the race.
A quick pit stop thrust Morley and the No. 61 Audi RS3 LMS TCR into third position, behind the two BHA cars of Harry Gottsacker and Mark Wilkins.
At the restart for the first FCY, with just over an hour to go, Morley overtook championship co-leader Wilkins for second before drafting past Gottsacker for the lead into Turn 1 a few minuted later.
Morley then managed the pace for the majority of the final hour to take the win, ahead of Wilkins who brought the No. 98 Hyundai home in second with Michael Lewis.
The final podium spot went to Tom O’Gorman and Shelby Blackstock’s LA Honda World Racing Civic TCR, while the No. 21 BHA Hyundai slipped to 10th in the closing stages.
RESULTS: Laguna Seca 120