With the return of the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Series to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Roger Penske’s success at the track he owns, it should have been an obvious choice that one of his cars would end up in victory lane after the two-hour, forty-minute Battle on the Bricks Sunday.
The Penske Porsche 963 driven by Matt Campbell and Felipe Nasr took the pole in Saturday’s qualifying after being the fastest in practice earlier in the day, but as the checkers flew on Sunday, it was their sister car driven by Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet that excelled when it mattered most.
The win was not only special for the Penske drivers in the fact they added a historic moment for the team, but it placed them in a championship hunt for the ages. Just five points separate the top three cars in GTP. Prior to the weekend, Tandy said that this race was key for them and a win would propel them right back into the Championship fight. He confirmed that following the victory.
“It’s given us a chance at the end of the day.,” Tandy said. “The teamwork that’s gone into giving the people that work in this team a chance to win in Atlanta is amazing.”
As the race got underway on Lap 1, Turn 1, it gave both of the front-row Porsches a little skip of the heart.
“Turn 1 got a little sketchy as it always can,” Campbell said. “We were three wide, and I was sandwiched in between the Cadillac on my left and our teammate on the right.”
Campbell, smartly, bailed out and saved his car for the rest of the race. The decision likely saved his chance to win as other cars went spinning in front of the field, including the No. 5 Porsche.
“I took the safest option, which worked out as I decided to brake earlier,” he explained.
The race didn’t come without its challenges, and it wasn’t because of traffic, strategy or other contenders at the front. For the Penske Porsche Motorsport team, it came under yellow.
Penalty For Penske Leaders
Tandy and Nasr overcame a decision by race control for not following instructions in a timely manner while the prototype cars split from the GT cars just under halfway into the event.
The decision allowed Derani to keep the lead after he passed Tandy and Nasr when race control called for the class split. Nasr eventually regained the lead from Derani but got passed later by Tandy.
“The 31 already started accelerating and did pass us before we made the class split,” Tandy said. “I maintain my position that we’d done the procedure correctly. They obviously thought they had done the procedure correctly. It was ruled by race control that they were to be upfront.”
Derani held the lead for next 33 minutes after the restart before he locked the brakes heading into Turn 1. Nasr, and then Tandy, got by.
Following the race, Nick Tandy was asked about taking the checkered flag in the return to Indianapolis.
“It’s huge, Indianapolis is a world-renowned track, IMSA is a world-renowned race series and to come here with Porsche Penske Motorsport and all the ties that Penske has with this place is massive,” he said.
Felipe Nasr echoed those sentiments talking about having success in Indy before.
“It’s really our home race track, and to come home and dominate the way we did, give Penske and the entire organization a win here is something special,” Nasr said. “You just can say what it means.”
Overall for the Porsche Penske teams, they go to Atlanta and the Motul Petit Le Mans next month with a realistic shot at a championship with Tandy and Jaminet only five points out of the lead. They trail Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims in the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac and Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Konica/Minolta Accura, who sit just three points back.
The No. 7 Porsche of Nasr and Campbell sit 79 points back, which is still mathematically attainable. With qualifying paying 35 points to the pole sitter, “anything can, and usually does happen in Atlanta” was a sentiment echoed by both Nasr and Tandy.