Perfect Restart Pushes Wittmer, Fidani to Win in Pilot Challenge Opener

By Jeff Olson
IMSA Wire Service
The last thing a leading driver wants to see is a yellow flag late in the race.
Unless that driver is Kuno Wittmer.
Wittmer pulled off a picture-perfect restart with five minutes remaining Friday and went on to win the BMW Endurance Challenge At Daytona, the season opener for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona International Speedway.
The restart helped Wittmer stay ahead of three battling BMWs to win with co-driver Orey Fidani in the No. 13 AWA McLaren 570S GT4 and take the early lead in 2021 championship points in the series’ Grand Sport (GS) class.
The key to getting the edge, Wittmer said, was getting the McLaren in the right place to throttle up.
“Every car has a sweet spot as to where you want to accelerate,” Wittmer said. “It was up to my choice. That’s what I did. I put the thing right in the sweet spot. As soon as we had the clearance to accelerate in the acceleration zone, I took it.”
In the Touring Car (TCR) class, the opposite took place. Mikey Taylor got around the outside of leader Ryan Eversley and pulled away to take the No. 17 Unitronic JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi RS3 LMS SEQ and co-drivers Chris Miller and William Tally to Victory Lane.
“I actually thought I was behind the eight ball, so I was flat out,” Taylor said of the restart. “But it turned out that he jumped maybe a second or two too early. … All day they’d been calling the green quite early. They started to call it later and later throughout the race, so I kind of knew it was going to be later. (Eversley) obviously expected it to be earlier.”
Eversley, who co-drove with Greg Strelzoff and Todd Lamb, held on for second place in TCR in the No. 94 Atlanta Speedwerks Honda Civic FK7 TCR, 0.736 seconds behind the class winner. Michael Johnson and Stephen Simpson brought the No. 54 Michael Johnson Racing Hyundai Veloster N TCR home in third.
Wittmer broke his own track record Thursday while winning the GS pole, then teamed with Fidani to overcome a penalty and get the No. 13 McLaren back into the lead ahead of Mike Skeen’s No. 82 BimmerWorld BMW M4 GT4.
With 11 minutes, 30 seconds left, a full-course caution erased Wittmer’s lead. On the restart, Wittmer timed his move perfectly to gain a slight advantage as two other BMWs – the Turner Motorsport tandem driven by Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley – joined Skeen in a battle for second.
Afterward, Wittmer and Fidani credited their crew for the victory – the fourth in Pilot Challenge for Wittmer and first for Fidani. Wittmer also won at Daytona in a McLaren in 2019.
“The only way you can win these races is by spending the least amount of time in the pit lane,” Wittmer said. “That’s what we executed today.”
Auberlen eventually finished second, 1.169 seconds behind Wittmer, for a runner-up finish with Dillon Machavern in the No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW. Turner’s other entry – the No. 96 BMW shared by Foley and Vincent Barletta, also landed on the podium.
The four-hour Pilot Challenge event served as the Friday headliner the 59th Rolex 24 At Daytona weekend. The 24-hour race for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship begins Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET.  
Adam Sinclair