A Birthday Win
Performance Tech Motorsports celebrated Patricio O’Ward’s 18th birthday with another Prototype Challenge class win, this time at Circuit of the Americas in the Advance Auto Parts SportsCar Showdown.
James French and O’Ward proved that it was part talent, part machine that fuels the wins of the No. 38 Ric-Man Construction / Neurospine Institute / Cardio Access / AIG Technologies / Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children PC. Both French and O’Ward took their turn driving through the field of traffic to reclaim then secure the first place finish. This was Performance Tech’s first win at COTA.
French began the race on pole but found himself in turmoil shortly after the start. As the cars rounded the first Turn the No. 70 Mazda Prototype went wide and nearly struck French upon reentering. Into the second turn, French found himself avoiding contact once again with the ESM prototype spinning in front of him. The crisis was averted after French slammed on his brakes, but in doing so he lost position.
French, in third, quickly got back up to speed and started chasing down the competition. He maneuvered his way through GT Le Mans traffic and swiftly passed the No. 20 and No. 26, rightly taking back first place. From there French focused on consistent lap times and saving the car for the long battle ahead in the Texas heat.
“Basically, at the start, I had a pretty good run, kept it clean at the start of the race,” French said. “I was right behind the Mazda when he pushed super wide in Turn 1 and was probably 20 feet off the track. Then I’m guessing he didn’t look when he merged back onto the track and came back on at a 30-degree angle. There was no way he was ever going to make Turn 2 flat, but he tried. So, I was still on the outside and he basically attempted to spear me. I slammed on the brakes and I think I hit him a little bit.
“In front of him, the ESM car spun on the exit of Turn 2 so as I turned to miss the Mazda I almost hit the ESM car and then I got passed by both of the other PC cars. Once I got out front and had clean air I focused on managing tires and keeping everything cool. They were pretty bad by the end of the stint so I’m glad I made that decision. I focused on preserving and not getting a good lap, it all paid off.”
Preservation was key for French who drove for an hour and 40 minutes of the two hour and 40-minute race. Early cautions due to on track incidences in other classes switched up the pit strategy for the team. The new strategy left O’Ward with some work to do on track. He too would have to chase down the competition.
O’Ward came out of the pits in third place. He set to work making his way through much of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship field. O’Ward continued progress with help from the crew. Team Principal Brent O’Neill made the call to bring the car in for the final pit stop at the same time as the second-place PC. O’Ward gained position after stopping for a quick splash of fuel and claimed second place upon reentering the race. He then reeled in first to claim the top prize.
“At one point, I think we were like 50 seconds off. I didn’t know where we were when I went out,” O’Ward said. “I found out when I was looking at the number pylon. I didn’t see 38 on the board and I was like, what the heck. I saw the other two numbers, 26 and 20. I couldn’t see them in front of me from a decent distance so I started pushing. We caught up and then when it was time for the second pit stop we got in front of second place. It was a good challenge. It would have been really boring if we were first the whole race so I enjoyed it.”
O’Neill conquered another elusive track with today’s win. Previously Performance Tech’s best finish was third. This marks the team’s third consecutive win and fourth major sports car victory, winning the 2012 Baltimore Grand Prix and this year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona and Sebring Twelve Hour.
“Another checkmark for the team. It was a good race,” O’Neill said. “I got us a little out of sync on our pit stops. We were only 45-minutes in when a yellow came out and I didn’t want to put Pato in for two hours and kill him. I tried doing that to James last year. But just the way everything was going I was sure another caution would come out within 20-minutes. That would have put us in our two fuel stop window.
“But when James started losing ground to P2 at a second a lap we made the decision to come in, we knew we’d have to fight our way back to the front. We waited for Bar 1 to pit and pitted with them. Just fuel and a driver change, then Pato did the rest. James and Pato did a killer job today. Glad Pato can celebrate with this win.”
Next on the Prototype Challenge class schedule is the Detroit, Michigan for the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic. The Raceway at Belle Isle features a one hour and 40-minute race on the 2.35-mile track. The race will be broadcast live on FOX Sports 2 and streamed live on IMSA.tv. Check imsa.com for schedule details.