IMSA Race Director Beaux Barfield noted multiple factors contributed to the decision to end Saturday’s waterlogged Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda after just over seven hours and 51 minutes of racing.
A mix of darkness, visibility, hydroplaning and driver feedback all contributed to the decision – which was called quickly and seemingly by surprise.
Barfield referenced the Watkins Glen race, the six-hour event which was similarly affected, as a comparison point.
“Going into this event, with the weather being similarly predictably bad, we reestablished that protocol,” Barfield told assembled reporters. “How we communicated, we went about it the same way.
“Fast forward to the very end of the race, the last restart, I felt in my gut that the visibility issues … produce two problems.
“One is the grip, hydroplaning – or whatever part of the world you’re from – there’s issues where drivers have less control. An often forgotten major issue is the visibility. Cars with downforce shoot up such a spray, it’s hard to see around.
“The grip issue was one and dealt with but we had some daylight. The visibility was a problem, but not as it great as it became in the last hour when we lost sunlight.
“The light with the track conditions gave me no comfort level to go back green that is.
“What I saw on track, with the visibility issues I had with a Porsche on track, you had the speed they had, you’d have to drop into night with a sunset, I felt like I’d be putting drivers out there completely blind.
“The decision was made to pull the plug and throw the checkered flag.”
Barfield also said IMSA was preparing its internal communications for the podium and championship ceremonies, and also opted to leave the pits closed, to ensure no team pitted off guard.
Drivers reacted to both the decision to end the race early, and the ever-evolving track conditions as the rain was either heavy or light throughout the on-track time.
Joao Barbosa, who captured his second straight Prototype class championship and the class win with third overall, said he was glad to see the checkered flag when it came.
“I was surprised when they announced the checkered, but surprised how late it came,” Barbosa told Sportscar365. “It was deteriorating quickly. The visibility was about none with the darkness.
“Luckily we had the right strategy and we didn’t need to pit like some of the other cars. We got lucky there as well because we’d pitted at the previous yellow.
“I think the race needed to end because there was so much standing water and the water couldn’t deteriorate quick enough.”
IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, who shared the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford, maligned the conditions throughout the race.
“These were the poorest conditions I’ve ever raced in,” Dixon said. “I’ve been in conditions like this before, but under yellow. It was really tough conditions… you weren’t racing, you were surviving.”
GT Daytona class co-champion Townsend Bell said watching was nearly as hectic as driving.
“Poor Jeff (Segal) had to go through two or three restarts which were so hectic,” Bell told Sportscar365. “I’m not sure the officials appreciated how difficult the visibility was.
“But I was prepared to get to back in the car. I thought, ‘I gotta keep it together.’ When they announced the checkered flag, I thought I was dreaming.”
CORE autosport team principal and co-driver Jon Bennett survived his opening stint in the open-top No. 54 Oreca FLM09, although the car didn’t late in the race following an accident for co-driver Anthony Lazzaro at the esses.
“It’s a bit down on technology … and our mission today was for me to complete two and a half hours to secure the championship,” Bennett told Sportscar365.
“Once the championship was sealed, we went for it… and we lost a bit. It became about risk management. This is a difficult car to drive in the rain. I’m glad we survived the first part of the race.”