Motorsport Week looks back on the eventful IMSA WeatherTech round at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for who ‘won’ or ‘lost’ out of the final sprint race on the 2023 schedule.

One observation many can draw from the Battle on the Bricks, is that there was nothing short of drama and action, especially during the opening stages of the race.

It had to be mentioned that driving standards were sub-par expectations, at least with the GTP and GTD cars engaging with a chaotic start, and LMP3 cars spinning out periodically.

Yet despite this underlying theme, there were thrills amongst the spills, and certain teams made the most out of this weekend.

As ever with a 48-car field across five categories, it is unsurprisingly difficult to narrow down who ‘won’ and ‘lost’ at the Brickyard, since so many cars could arguably fall into either label.

Nevertheless, we selected our ‘Winners and Losers’ from the penultimate round on the 2023 schedule.

Loser – #9 Pfaff Motorsports (GTD Pro): Klaus Bachler and Patrick Pilet

The Pfaff Motorsports’ #9 Porsche 911 GT3.R qualified on GTD Pro pole in the hands of Klaus Bachler, demonstrating promising one-lap pace even if Paul Miller Racing’s Madison Snow started ahead.

Unfortunately, things were not upbeat from the moment the green flag dropped, as Bachler changed lanes drastically and was not only out of position for the start, but defended his spot before passing the start line.

A professional Porsche GT factory driver should have demonstrated better professionalism, and was penalised for this shortly after the start with a drive-through penalty.

#9 Pfaff Motorsports – Porsche 911 GT3.R – Credit: Kevin Dejewski

This openly gave the #79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVO2 a guaranteed early lead, without the need to fight for it.

Pfaff Motorsports had thrown away their winning chances, and more importantly, a chance to see them fight eagerly with the #79 crew.

In IMSA fashion, two caution periods still kept the GTD Pro lead fight alive and the #9 Porsche found its way back into the lead owing to Pilet’s strong pace, supposedly reviving the lost lead fight.

Towards the end, it emerged that they were not able to save enough fuel to make it to the end and so they conducted an extra pit stop for fuel, losing their GTD Pro lead.

They finished fourth out of five GTD Pros, and 10th in the combined field of GTDs.

At the end of it all, it was clear they put themselves on the back foot before the race even began.

Winner – #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport (GTP): Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet

The overall race winners rightfully earned their second GTP race victory this season, made special on home territory with a 1-2 team finish.

From Friday to Saturday, #7 Porsche 963 driver Matt Campbell had been the fastest driver and kept his form most crucially for a pole position, though the sibling GTP qualified just behind.

The race start for GTP was tricky and challenging, although Campbell’s major brake lock-up into Turn 1 gave the perfect chance for Mathieu Jaminet to take the lead. It was almost a repeat of Laguna Seca earlier this year, although the 1-2 was not lost by Porsche Penske on this occasion.

#6 Porsche Penske Motorsport – Porsche 963 – Credit: Kevin Dejewski

Despite the first two caution periods, the pair of Porsche LMDh cars swapped back and forth on the fastest outright lap, and made calculated moves when they first dealt with traffic par a few close calls.

Both Penske Porsches had not obeyed an instruction from race control during the second caution, thus Pipo Derani in the #31 Action Express Cadillac V Series.R took the lead.

Fortunately, due to the confident, arguably unrivaled pace from both Porsches, it was not too long before they were opportunistic as Derani locked-up into T1, and was passed by Felipe Nasr followed by Tandy.

In a close and heated manner, the two Porsches fought for the lead though maintaining position.

The lead change occurred when they individually pitted with approximately 46 minutes remaining, and the #6 took over the lead as they exited the pit lane.

As the #7 locked-up on cold brakes, Tandy had the advantage of track position over the sibling Porsche from Lap 80, eventually taking the chequered flag on Lap 113.

Most importantly, this has boosted the #6’s title chances, as they jumped to third in the standings on 2455 points, as the leading #31 sits closely ahead on 2460.

Loser – #70 Inception Racing (GTD): Frederik Schandorff and Brendan Iribe

At the previous round, the GT Challenge at VIR, the #70 faced misfortune from a pit stop infringement; this time, misfortune came in the form of rear-right contact from the #12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 of Frankie Montecalvo, which triggered a puncture.

#70 Inception Racing – McLaren 720S GT3 EVO – Credit: Kevin Dejewski

As this took place from T13 into T14, Schandorff limped from that final corner which leads onto the start-finish straight, too far to enter the pit lane which was at T13.

He limped back round into the pits for their crew to repair, an unexpected turn in their race narrative after they were en route for a GTD podium finish.

With an hour remaining, the team persevered to make it to the end, though finishing 16th was not on the cards after their initial climb from eighth (grid) position.

Their McLaren 720S GT3 EVO has demonstrated solid pace throughout the past few races, even though it has not been able to appear through their finishing results.

Paul Miller Racing already wrapped up the GTD title, so the target for the #70 will be a podium finish at Petit Le Mans next month, without any drama.

Winner – #57 Winward Racing (GTD): Russell Ward and Philip Ellis

The team has encountered a challenging 2023 season, where they seem uncompetitive and unable to fight for the GTD championship.

This was their first IMSA GTD race win since the GT Challenge at VIR last year, which features GT cars only round.

#57 Winward Racing – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – Credit: Kevin Dejewski

Fifth at Long Beach marked their highest finishing position prior to the Battle on the Bricks, and so their win after a dramatic sprint race was a refreshing sight.

As team principal and driver at Winward, Ward qualified the Mercedes-AMG GT3 fifth on the grid after setting a 1:23.878, eight-hundredths away from Snow’s pole time.

He started the race 10th in the combined classification of the GTD Pro and GTD classes, thus making it a tall order to make up places during the opening laps.

After running a solid opening stint, Ellis jumped into the #57 and remained until the end. All was feisty in the midfield of GTD, including an unintentional knock into an LMP3 which was sent into a half spin.

Ellis’ main rival was Loris Spinelli in the #78 Forte Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2, who demonstrated strong form with an eager, if not aggressive determination to take back the lead when he momentarily lost it in their scrap.

The pair fought it out, until when they approached Turn 11 and Spinelli positioned himself with a defensive line, which compromised his trajectory around the sharp left-hander, and ran wide to the grass, which gave Ellis a perfect chance to slide by and hold the lead until the chequered flag.

Loser – #24 BMW M Team RLL (GTP): Philipp Eng and Augusto Farfus

It was a tale of two halves for BMW M Team RLL, and the #24 M Hybrid V8 continued its rough form of results at Indianapolis.

Whilst the sibling #25 is fighting for a championship title, such cannot be said about the #24.

At the first corner, Eng made contact with Sebastien Boardais, a spur of unfortunate luck once again for the yellow #01 Cadillac.

Onl#24 BMW M Team RLL – BMW M Hybrid V8 – Credit: Kevin Dejewski

Only minor damage was incurred given the low-speed circumstances, however starting in P6 meant that the opening laps were intended to make up places that limited them as the best qualifying BMW GTP.

After just nine racing laps, Eng pitted due to electrical reliability issues, and continued to nurse them until two later pit stops when it was resolved.

By this point, they were far behind their competition and the two drivers simply continued their way to the chequered flag, 10 laps down from the leader and in 40th position overall.

Given the test at Indianapolis earlier in the year in which a BMW LMDh topped the day, this race result was lesser than the team expected, and put them behind their competitors on the grounds of reliability issues which are still prevalent towards the end of this maiden GTP season.

Petit Le Mans next month will be their one and only chance to claim their first podium spot in their debut season, with the 10-hour season finale expected to be demanding for all teams and drivers.

Winner – #11 TDS Racing (LMP2): Steven Thomas and Mikkel Jensen

The #11 Oreca 07-Gibson duo find themselves as winners both on the basis that they had triumphed in the LMP2 category, and more importantly surpassed the #52 for the championship lead from a highly stimulating race at the Brickyard.

Seven Orecas took to the fight in LMP2, although the #18 Era Motorsport’s Dwight Merriman and the #20 High Class Racing fell back in their own dramas.

The #52 PR1 Mathiasen drivers of Ben Keating and Paul Loup Chatin are a strong combination claiming a podium and a win so far, undoubtedly setting the benchmark in the category as the team to beat from qualifying.

Realistically speaking, three other rivals could challenge them: the #8 Tower Motorsports, the #11, and #35 TDS Racing.

Unsurprisingly, in a category where ‘amateur’ drivers (with the other driver a professional – like Mikkel Jensen, Peugeot Sport Hypercar driver) took qualifying duties, Ben Keating claimed pole position for the third time in this season.

#11 TDS Racing – Oreca 07 Gibson – Credit: Kevin Dejewski

Thomas qualified the #11 third behind the #04, setting a time almost seven-tenths behind Keating, yet ahead of the other #35 TDS Racing entry.

The standings in LMP2 were relatively close, as the #52 led on 1345 points before the Brickyard weekend.

The #11 was just 45 points behind, and so they fell into third place post-qualifying, because of the #04’s grid spot in P2.

Whilst the #11 were not necessarily hindered by this, it demonstrated the competition is fierce in LMP2, and all four of those LMP2 top-qualifiers were hungry for a win which would result in the championship lead prior to Petit Le Mans.

The category’s lead fight ran quiet with GTP as the main talking point, but it emerged that the #11 maintained proximity to the leading #52, admittedly assisted by the caution periods.

One major talking point was Jensen and his race pace, which was simply unrivaled by any other LMP2.

His fastest race lap of 1:16.619 (compared to Keating’s 1:17.950 pole lap) was an indicator of how he managed to assert consistent, strong lap times during his stint (during the second half of the race), whilst dealing with surrounding lapped traffic (and being lapped by GTPs).

In the final hour, fuel saving was a key factor as the LMP2s played their risk over how early they could pit, and how long a final stint to the finish they could do, with over 55 minutes remaining.

Louis Deletraz of the #8 brought the heat against the pace of the #11, and pitted the earliest and held the lead.

It soon emerged he was significantly fuel-saving, which overridden the objective of quicker average pace. The #11 and the #8 juggled the lead beforehand in the race, but it was now the #11 who pitted slightly later which indicated TDS Racing timed the final pit stop to perfection.

Jensen’s average pace and mistake-free outing had got the #11 easily passed Deletraz, and finished in first position; both in the race and LMP2 championship classification.

After the Battle on the Bricks, the points stand on 1680 for the #11 and 1640 for the #52.

This relentless championship fight will continue at Petit Le Mans, from qualifying to the race, by the end of which will crown an LMP2 champion.

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