Two spirited drives – first by Max Root, then by Jan Heylen – tightened the championship battle in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
Root kept the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport in front at the start of the race, and Heylen brought the car home with a comfortable lead Saturday to win the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The victory brought Heylen closer to Bill Auberlen and Dillon Machavern in the driver standings of the Michelin Pilot Challenge’s Grand Sport (GS) class. Heylen pursued Auberlen during the second half of the race until Auberlen’s No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 drifted off course in Turn 6, allowing Heylen to make the race-winning pass with 38 minutes left in the two-hour race.
Auberlen’s right-rear tire went down immediately after the off-course excursion, forcing him to the pits for an unscheduled stop. He finished 14th, which let the rest of the field gain ground in the points. Heylen pulled to within 80 points of the co-leaders with two races remaining this season – at VIRginia International Raceway on Oct. 10 and at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Nov. 12.
Robby Foley and Vin Barletta, who finished sixth in Saturday’s race, are second in GS standings in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4, 40 points behind teammates Auberlen and Machavern.
Heylen crossed the finish line 4.563 seconds ahead of Indy Dontje, who prevailed in a late battle for second place in the No. 4 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4 he co-drove with Russell Ward.
It was Heylen’s first Michelin Pilot Challenge victory despite four podium finishes.
“A win has been missing,” Heylen said. “We came close a couple of times this year, but it was a good points day. … I hope this gets us back in the hunt. It will be an exciting last two races.”
Root, subbing for Ryan Hardwick for the second time this season, won the Motul Pole Award in morning qualifying and set the pace before turning over the No. 16 to Heylen. Root has won the pole in both of his Michelin Pilot Challenge races. He and Heylen finished second in the race at Sebring International Raceway in March. The victory capped a big day for Wright Motorsports, as Trent Hindman also qualified on the GT Daytona (GTD) class pole for Sunday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race.
Alec Udell and Bryce Ward shared third place in the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG.