BRASELTON, Ga. (AP) — The IMSA championship was decided in the final 15 minutes of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, where Wayne Taylor Racing lost the title in the season-ender for a third consecutive year.
Meyer Shank Racing bookended the year with victories to win its first sports car championship in IMSA’s top Daytona prototype class. The 10-hour Saturday race was the last for the current prototype; new hybrids debut next season.
The race was a showdown between Shank and Taylor as the two teams have gone head-to-head all year in a battle of Acuras. The manufacturer was guaranteed the championship as soon as Saturday’s race began, but it was unclear which of the rival teams would represent Acura on the championship stage.
The Shank team opened the year with a win at the Rolex 24 of Daytona and used five runner-up finishes to arrive in Georgia trailing Taylor, winners of four races this season, by 19 points. But team owner Michael Shank told his organization to win the title or wreck trying and seemed under tremendous pressure to end the DPi era with a championship.
Tom Blomqvist answered Shank’s demands with a pole-winning run that sliced the Shank deficit to 14 points before the start of the race. All the Shank trio of Blomqvist, Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves had to do was finish ahead of the Taylor team.
But Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley controlled the race for nearly nine hours. Wayne Taylor, the winning driver of the first Petit Le Mans and the grand marshal on Saturday, brought the points-leading team to Road Atlanta the last three years but was beaten by 1 point in 2020 and lost in the final turn last year.
So the No. 10 Acura was well prepared and in control until Chip Ganassi’s two Cadillacs crashed into each other to bring out a caution in the final hour and give Shank a sudden shot. The No. 60 with Blomqvist behind the wheel beat Albuquerque off pit road and then held the lead on the restart with just over 32 minutes remaining.
“I’ve never dug so deep in my life,” Blomqvist said. “The adrenaline, I mean, I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing.”
Albuquerque hounded Blomqvist, though, and lapped traffic in the dark on the road course made for nail-biting racing. Blomqvist at one point weaved his way past a slower car but Albuquerque couldn’t get through cleanly: Albuquerque hit the Mercedes in contact the Taylor team could hear over their team radio.
Ricky Taylor buried his head in his hands, and his father — the team owner — slumped on the pit stand as Albuquerque was forced to pit road with a punctured tire and other issues.
“I’m so sorry guys. I’m so sorry,” Albuquerque said as he sat inside the disabled Acura.
Shank has now won three championships for Acura in the last four years. MSR won the GTD championship in 2019 and 2020 before moving to IMSA’s top class in 2021, the year Shank began expanding his IndyCar program and won the Indianapolis 500 with Castroneves.
The team won its second Rolex in January on the 10-year anniversary of its first Daytona victory and now has a prototype title for Shank’s trophy case.
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