Honda Claims North American Endurance Championship with Petit Le Mans Win
After leading all but one of the five pre-race practice and qualifying sessions at Road Atlanta, the driving trio of Olivier Pla, Oswaldo "Ozz" Negri and John Pew took the lead at the start of the 10-hour contest, and remained at or near the front of the field throughout the race, despite an issue with the left rear wheel hub of the MSR Honda Ligier JSP2 that required slightly longer pit stops at every scheduled service.
In addition to the wheel hub issue, the MSR team survived at least two instances of contact from other cars, one resulting in a spin in the eighth hour, but sustained no major damage in either incident. The spin, however, cut the MSR lead from more than 30 to fewer than 10 seconds just prior to the final round of pit stops. Finishing driver Pla then fought hard in the closing laps to edge the similar Honda-Ligier of Luis Filipe "Pipo" Derani by just over four seconds for the victory, the second win of the season for the MSR team.
In addition to finishing second tonight, victories earlier this season for the Tequila Patron ESM team of Derani, Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring – plus a third-place finish for MSR at the Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen – combined to gain Honda the 2016 NAEC Prototype Manufacturers' Championship, the eighth such title for the manufacturer in North American endurance racing since 2007.
Video recaps from this weekend's Honda activities at Road Atlanta are being posted on the "Honda Racing/HPD" YouTube channel. Produced by the Carolinas Production Group, the video packages can be found in the 2016 HPD Trackside Video Playlist at: https://www.youtube.com/HondaRacingHPDTV.
This weekend's race concluded the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and the latest era of Honda participation in the prototype category. Next season, Michael Shank Racing will lead the Acura Motorsports effort in the GTD category, fielding a pair of new Acura NSX GT3 race cars, which will debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 28, 2017.
Ozz Negri (driver, #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier Honda): "A weekend like this … a [race] finish like this … it's just amazing. We worked really hard all year long and this weekend we approached the race exactly like we did [the Rolex 24 at] Daytona in in 2012 [won by Michael Shank Racing]. We all worked together to raise up the entire team effort. Olivier [Pla] was really fast and consistent and John [Pew], one of the few amateur drivers in the field, just did a great job, as always. This is a fun team. We work hard, but we work together as one, and that makes nights like this all the better."
Michael Shank (owner, Michael Shank Racing): "Today was our 250th race, and one of the biggest wins ever for our team. I'm so proud of everyone connected with Michael Shank Racing: the crew, the drivers, Honda and HPD. We had a real 'hot rod' this weekend, just dominated the field, and that is so difficult, so rare a goal to achieve. I feel nothing but proud, and lucky, to be associated with everyone on our team. This ends an era for us. We're extremely excited and looking forward to joining the GT ranks with the Acura NSX in 2017. There are many exciting days ahead of us next season. But we're not saying 'goodbye' to prototype racing, just 'see you later.' "
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development): "A one-two finish … you can't beat that! We've been trying to do this for awhile now, and it's the perfect way to wrap up this prototype era for Honda and Honda Performance Development. Congratulations to everyone at Michael Shank Racing for a dominating victory tonight, and the combined efforts of MSR and Tequila Patron ESM for their efforts all season in helping Honda win the NAEC Prototype Manufacturers' Championship. Thanks to everyone at HPD; it's your tireless efforts that make these championships possible. Next year, we begin an exciting new chapter in sports car racing with the debut of the NSX GT3, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Michael Shank Racing in IMSA racing, starting with the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January."
IMSA Tequila Patron North American Endurance Manufacturers' Championship:
|1. Honda||55 points (3 wins)|
|1. Chevrolet||53 (1 win)|