Connor De Phillippi wins IMSA race at Laguna Seca
Connor De Phillippi propelled BMW Team RLL to its second consecutive GTLM victory as the WeatherTech Championship visited Laguna Seca in September 2018. | Photo: Jake Galstad / IMSA

Three GT Le Mans cars were on the same strategy at the end of the two-hour, 40-minute race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca but only two made it to the checkered flag with Connor De Phillippi outpacing Laurens Vanthoor to take the victory for BMW Team RLL and co-driver Alexander Sims.

A wild start to the penultimate race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season saw the first yellow flag fly almost immediately after the green flag when a Prototype competitor spun out and ensnared championship hopeful Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford GT as well as Nick Tandy at the wheel of the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR.

The melee left pole sitter Oliver Gavin in the lead with his Corvette C7.R and both BMW M8 GTEs unscathed, setting up a fuel-saving run on their final stint that put both De Phillippi and teammate John Edwards in contention for the class victory.

In the final stages of the race, the BMWs as well as the No. 912 Porsche were all on the same strategy, attempting to stretch their fuel for an astounding 77 minutes.

The No. 24 BMW piloted by Edwards bailed on the strategy nine minutes before the checkered flag while both De Phillippi and Vanthoor, behind the wheel of the Porsche, stayed out.

With tires that hadn’t been changed in over an hour, De Phillippi coasted to the checkered flag 2.488 seconds ahead of Vanthoor for his second consecutive victory after the same car won for the first time at Virginia International Raceway on Aug. 19.

Jan Magnussen swings around Laguna Seca turn
Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen retain the GTLM points lead by nine points over the top Ford. | Photo: Jake Galstad / IMSA

Vanthoor’s second-place finish was a significant 10.640 seconds ahead of Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette. With his podium, Garcia retains the GTLM championship lead with co-driver Jan Magnussen by nine points.

Finishing fourth was Edwards, who gave up the lead for his final pit stop while the pole-sitting No. 4 Corvette completed the top five.

All five cars were separated by just 21.5 seconds after four yellow flags in the first 40 minutes and a lengthy one hour and 54 minutes of green-flag racing to the checkers.

The No. 67 Ford of Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe finished in the sixth position, 29 laps out of the class lead after its steering rack was damaged during an on-track incident. Both cars involved in the first-lap crash did not finish the race.

Legge Narrows GTD Championship Gap

An up-and-down race for Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 86 Acura that started with Katherine Legge on pole ended in victory lane thanks to a spirited drive from Alvaro Parente who carved through the GT Daytona field in his final stint.

Two consecutive caution periods at the start of the race jumbled the order in the all-GT3 class. While Legge held the lead through the first caution, she was shuffled back on the restart with the lead going to Paul Miller Racing’s Madison Snow.

As the championship leader by 13 points entering Laguna Seca, Snow’s rise to the top of the class might have spelled trouble for Legge but aggressive driving — including some contact — allowed Patrick Long to slice to the front in the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R he shares with Christina Nielsen.

The long period of green-flag racing in the second half saw Joerg Bergmeister in Park Place Motorsports’ Porsche attempt a similar strategy to those in GTLM by stretching his fuel and tires in a 75-minute final stint.

With 12 minutes left on the race clock, just 1.4 seconds separated the top four in the class with Bergmeister leading the Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Jeroen Bleekemolen and the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Bryan Sellers and Parente.

Meyer Shank Racing Acura wins Laguna Seca IMSA race
The underdog story surrounding Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 86 Acura will continue into Motul Petit Le Mans. | Photo: Jake Galstad / IMSA

By the checkered flag, Parente had passed all three to take the class lead and ultimately finished 5.513 seconds ahead of Bergmeister. The effort closed the gap between Legge and the championship leaders Sellers and Snow to six points, setting up a championship battle at the season’s final race.

Bergmeister’s second-place finish was just 0.381 seconds ahead of Bleekemolen in third while Sellers held on to finish fourth, a further 0.475 seconds back, totaling just 0.856 seconds between the second and fourth positions.

Andy Lally brought Magnus Racing’s Audi R8 LMS GT3 to the finish line in fifth but was a lap down to the class victor. Ozz Negri finished sixth in Squadra Corse Garage Italia’s Ferrari 488 GT3 while Jack Hawksworth brought the No. 15 Lexus RC F GT3 of 3GT Racing home in seventh, creating a top seven with seven different manufacturers.

The series heads to Road Atlanta Oct. 13 for the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans where the GTLM and GTD championships will be decided.