BRASELTON, Georgia (October 3, 2016)- Closing out a season that included victories at The Rolex 24 at Daytona as well as Lime Rock Park, four podiums, and strong performances at nearly every race, Magnus Racing beat the rest of the field to the finish line during Saturday’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, with the team having clinched the 2016 Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Championship (TPNAEC) in the process. This would serve as the team’s second championship, having clinched the inaugural title in 2012.
“To win as a team puts an excellent stamp on a tremendous year,” stated Magnus Racing team owner and co-driver John Potter. “We took a very specific approach to this race, with all of our attention firmly on maximizing the points at various stages of the TPNAEC. What’s especially satisfying is that endurance racing emphasizes teamwork above all else, so everyone in this organization shares in this. To think that we completed every lap of the endurance season, were first to the checkered flag twice, and all in a car that we’d never had any experience with until December, is incredible. I couldn’t be more proud of everyone on the team, and it’s a great way to close out.”
Taking starting duties, John Potter would begin the 10-hour classic in much the same form as previous years. Driving the No. 44 Audi Tire Center Audi R8 LMS, the Salt Lake City resident would continue his Petit Le Mans tradition of running one of his best stints of the year, constantly chasing after the field in front of him and making two excellent passes on the BMW’s in front of him.
Handing the car off to endurance teammate Marco Seefried just under the one-hour mark, the German would continue where Potter left off, working hard on the field in front of him with the team keeping a firm eye on the first of three milestone marks in the event.
Unique to the Endurance Championship, teams are not only awarded points for their finishing position, but also at dedicated points throughout the event. In the case of Petit Le Mans, the four-hour and eight-hour marks would play equally critical roles to the finishing position, meaning the team would consider their race strategy in three segments, as opposed to building the entire thought process around the finish.
With Seefried performing an incredible double-stint, the team would find itself in contention for the lead by time they would put season-long co-driver Andy Lally in to close the first segment. With the former Petit Le Mans winner behind the wheel, the team found itself comfortably in first by time the four-hour mark elapsed, giving the team maximum points at the close of the first milestone.
Entering the second segment of the race, hours four-through-eight, the team would focus on a series of double stints between Lally and Seefried to carry them through, with the team consistently leading throughout a see-saw series of pit strategies that would see a variety of leaders cycle through.
Nearing the halfway point, however, the team would face one of its largest obstacles of the day as Lally came out of the pits for his second stint. Following another strong stop by the team, Andy would merge on to the track in to the tricky Turn Two and Three, with cold tires forcing him to slow down more than usual in to the series of corners. Unfortunately, an aggressive GTLM field would be in close pursuit behind him, with the No. 912 Porsche failing to anticipate the Audi’s slower pace and making strong contact with the rear of the car. While the No. 44 would suffer rear damage, the car did not suffer from any significant performance decline, and the team continued on in pursuit of victory.
As the race continued, a surface breakup in the same area would lead to an extended yellow for track repairs, and the team would elect to swap out Lally back for Seefried to complete the middle portion of the race.
Following an extended yellow, the race action would resume with just over over five hours remaining, and all focus turned to maximizing the team’s position for the second milestone of the race, Hour Eight.
With the GTD field on two separate strategies, it became clear as the race went on that the team would not have enough fuel to make it to Hour Eight on only one additional stop, meanwhile those on an alternative strategy would. Since the team was focused on Hour Eight rather than thinking about the ultimate finish, the team had to consider a splash of fuel somewhere deep in the seventh hour, rather than a full-service pit stop, in the hopes of exiting the pits in the top-three. It had the potential to have a negative effect on the team’s ultimate finish due to forcing a pit stop later in the race, however in the interest of maximizing “Hour Eight” points it seemed to be a sensible call.
Proving true, Seefried would pit for fuel and tires with just minutes to go before the Hour Eight mark, and he would re-join the race with enough to points to clinch the team’s championship position for the TPNAEC.
With the championship over, and under two hours remaining, all attention would turn to the race finish with Andy Lally owning final driving duties in pursuit of the No. 33 Viper GT3.R.
For the next 110 minutes, both Andy and Viper driver Jeroen Bleekemolen would engage in one of the most incredible races of the season, with the two pushing each other hard, but clean, all the way to the end. While Lally’s Audi would catch the Viper under braking and in the turns, the immense straight-line speed of the Viper would prove nearly impossible to catch, with Andy spending much of the final laps giving chase and trying to consider his options to finish in first.
Following the final series of pit stops, the two would resume in to the closing stages of the race, with Bleekemolen seemingly having the upper hand as the race came in to its final laps.
Suddenly, with three laps remaining, a rare mistake from Bleekemolen would send him wide exiting the notorious Turn Five, forcing the Viper in to the dirt and giving Lally just enough of an opportunity to run alongside him and make a diving move for the lead. Andy would just barely manage the pass, crossing the finish line in first with two laps to go and spending his remaining laps in defense of the position, ultimately seeing the checkered flag in front of the Viper.
“This was a great race that I’ll remember for a long time,” stated Lally. “Jeroen is one of those guys that you enjoy racing because he’s respectful and clean, and for both of us it felt like qualifying laps for two hours straight. We all really wanted this championship bad, so to walk away with our second one in team history is a great ending. This might have been the strongest year we’ve ever had with the team. Obviously we had a few very specific challenges this year that ultimately hurt our championship, but we should be proud of what we accomplished. It’s an excellent group that gave me a great car in every race.”
For Marco Seefried, a similar sentiment is shared.
“As always, this was a great weekend with everyone at Magnus,” stated Seefried. “I’m honored to have been a part of another season with them, and glad I was able to do my part towards their championship. Who knows what the future may hold, but it was a true joy.”
With the season at a close, the team will issue further updates on their future in due time.
Oh yeah, the team was actually not given credit for the race win due to a minimum drive-time failure. Unfortunately, a miscommunication with the team and series officials led to a strategic error, resulting in the team being put to the back of the running order. They were still given credit for winning the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Champion