Nick Tandy felt that his No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R “couldn’t match” WeatherTech Racing’s No. 97 Porsche 911 RSR-19 in the closing stints at Motul Petit Le Mans, in what was the main battle at the sharp end of GT Le Mans until two episodes of late drama.
Tandy and Estre went up against each other in the final two hours of Saturday’s ten-hour enduro at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, which marked the last-ever race for IMSA’s GTLM class.
Corvette Racing and the Proton Competition-run WeatherTech Racing outfit took different approaches to the last three stints after both pitted their running cars on lap 287 during the final caution period of the race with 2 hours and 17 minutes to go.
Tandy emerged in the lead, with Estre running third behind Mathieu Jaminet, however the French Porsche factory drivers switched positions on lap 303.
Estre then pitted after only half a normal stint at the wheel following contact with Tandy at Turn 10, opening a strategic contest that looked set to determine the winner.
The Porsche came out on top, but victory ultimately went to the other WeatherTech car driven by Jaminet, Matt Campbell and Cooper MacNeil courtesy of an orchestrated late-race positional switch from the team.
Tandy, meanwhile, saw a potential second place with Alexander Sims and Tommy Milner end in retirement after contact with Harry Tincknell’s overall winning Mazda RT24-P.
“We decided to pit to offset on strategy and try something else,” Estre told Sportscar365.
“It’s always tough to overtake them on track, so we thought we’d pit to go off-sequence to try to get a bit of clean air, and it worked. That’s how we got up to the front.
“I didn’t see the car, but apparently there was some damage. But the steering was straight and the car was still perfect.
“I was not sure, but I called the team and they called me in the next lap and I said, ‘no the car is good!’ But they said that we were doing a different strategy.”
Estre’s early stop required only half a tank of fuel to be added to the Porsche, whereas Tandy continued for a full-length stint.
That guaranteed Corvette Racing a shorter fuel fill compared to WeatherTech Racing when it chose to pit for the final time.
“In the end we always had the same [fuel] hose time with the Corvette and the Porsche, but we did it differently,” said Estre.
“They did a full stint, but we did a half stint with half fuel. Then I went out and was in clear air and not fighting. I think we had the pace; I had more pace than them and I gained a few seconds.
“When the last pit stop came, we had to put in almost full fuel and they had to put whatever in. They came out later with less fuel, but I could pass him.
“He was coming out of the pits in front of me, and I had already two or three laps on the tires. So I passed Nick at the exit of Turn 5. Then I had the five-second gap and we increased it.”
Estre gained the upper hand when he passed Tandy on the Corvette’s out-lap from its final stop, in a move that involved “some rubbing” according to the Frenchman.
Corvette’s plan was to make its last pit visit slightly later than WeatherTech Racing and benefit from quick Tandy in-laps, but the British driver explained that he was unable to match the Porsche in the cold conditions and also encountered heavy traffic.
“We cued ourselves off the No. 97,” Tandy told Sportscar365.
“So we knew they would have a longer fill time [at the final stop] because they stopped earlier. And it was tight on time between the gap they had, and our fuel delta fill time.
“So we went a couple of laps later to try and get the overcut on warm tires, but of course we hit 43 cars’ worth of traffic, so it didn’t work out.
“For the last couple of stints, around the pit stops it was all traffic-defined. We didn’t have the pace to beat the Porsche, at the end of the day. The crew did a good job.”
Tandy said that he was unable to hold Estre back when he emerged from his final pit stop. Cold temperatures on the November night at Road Atlanta made for treacherous out-laps for drivers taking new Michelin tires.
“I was on a cold tire out-lap, where you’re defenseless,” Tandy explained.
“Our out-laps are about five to eight seconds slower [than on double-stinted tires]. So you need to come out of the pits with an eight-second buffer to be able to overcome it.
“And we only had about three, so it was never going to work. The two laps that we tried to overcut on hot tires, we had a lot of traffic and basically lost two seconds on both laps. But it still wouldn’t have been enough.
“When it got really cold, we struggled. We couldn’t keep tire temperature, and the colder it got, the worse we got. In the second half of the last stint we were really struggling.
“We couldn’t match the Porsche. It wasn’t unexpected to us, but we put ourselves in a good position.”
Porsche Pace Improved as Temps Dropped
Estre suggested that the Porsche 911 RSR-19 was a more competitive car in the second half, once the sun had set and track temperatures had plunged to below 50 degrees F.
“During the day we didn’t have the upper hand really, but I think during the night our tires and the car… we set up the car for these conditions,” he said.
“I think it worked better, so we were very good, but [only] on our own.
“Behind the others, overtaking for us was difficult. The Corvette was still punching better than us out of the corners and it was very difficult to pass.
“But as soon as we were ahead I think we were a bit quicker and that’s how we basically won the race.”