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Winward “Still Holding Breath” in GTD Title Battle

Russell Ward believes Winward Racing has outside shot at GTD title after plugging streak of setbacks…

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

Russell Ward is ‘still holding his breath’ in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD title race, believing there is still a chance for Winward Racing after the team recently plugged a series of setbacks with its first win of the campaign.

The Houston-based team secured its first WeatherTech Championship victory since last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in the most recent round at Road America, where Ward and Philip Ellis broke a streak of bad luck for the No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo.

Notably, Winward crossed the line first at Watkins Glen before it became one of several teams caught up in a series of post-race penalties for drive time infractions.

Then at Lime Rock Park, a likely victory fell away after a late-race fuel pump failure for Ellis that resulted in fifth place instead.

The team now sits sixth in the teams’ standings, 224 points down on leader Team Korthoff Motorsports, with the Michelin GT Challenge at Virginia International Raceway and Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta still to run and a maximum of 770 points up for grabs.

With just two races left, team principal Ward hasn’t completely given up on a championship bid after claiming the long-awaited victory, but admitted the team is in a difficult position.

“You never know who is going to have problems and I think we are going to perform really well in the next two events,” Ward told Sportscar365.

“VIR suits our car really well and we were there at Road Atlanta last year and had a really good qualifying performance and the car was quick in the race.

“I’m still holding my breath; there’s still an opportunity to win it.

“I think it is pretty far out of the way though, and you have to have at least two guys in front of us have a DNF or major issues in the next two races and then I think it will bump us right back up.”

Ward admitted that Winward’s position heading into the final two events would have been a lot stronger had it not been for the setbacks suffered at Watkins Glen and Lime Rock.

“One thing that’s a little bit disheartening is that if you gave us the points that we should have had with the two wins at Watkins Glen and Lime Rock Park, we would be leading the championship right now,” he said.

“So one of those was an infraction which the other nine teams that got disqualified probably don’t agree with either, and then the other one is kind of a freak failure of the car, the fuel pump failing on the last turn.

“We had plenty of fuel in the car. [It’s] something I’ve personally never seen in my six years of racing.

“Obviously you have failures, but on the last lap and the last turn, it’s not normal.

“So if you add those up, it put us in the run for the championship, but those are bygones and we will focus more on the next two races.

“We want to go out and continue what we are doing, which is having a podium performance in the last four races and I think we can do it at VIR and I think we can definitely do it at Atlanta too.”

IMSA ‘Definitely The Place to Be’ for Winward

Winward made its WeatherTech Championship debut last year, notably winning the Rolex 24 in its maiden race.

Ward hinted that the team is likely to stay in the championship for the foreseeable future, confirming its presence for a second consecutive full season.

While Ward stopped short of revealing longer-term plans, he noted that the program is a key part of the team’s efforts.

“Definitely next year and I don’t want to commit to 2024 right now, but I can’t imagine what else we would be doing,” Ward said.

“They’re the premier series and that is where the competition is at and that’s what we train for. It is definitely the place to be in America right now.”

Winward has been running in the GTD category ever since its debut, but Ward suggested the team would potentially be interested in a run at GTD Pro as well.

“I think that is still kind of up in the air,” he said. “If we can get a little bit of support from AMG behind us, I think we’d love to run in the Pro category.

“But if we are putting our own money up there I think we’ll stick and wait until somebody else gets us up there.”

Davey Euwema is a Sportscar365 reporter based in The Netherlands, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, DTM, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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