16 Oct Race Report: Road Atlanta
The final Continental SportsCar Challenge race of 2018 at Road Atlanta finished with yet another podium for Winward/HTP Motorsport after a late-race charge by young Dutchman, Indy Dontje. Having qualified P18, another steady opening stint from Team Owner, Bryce Ward, saw him move steadily towards the top ten allowing him to hand the #57 Sonic Tools AMG GT4 over to his teammate, Dontje for to run to the flag. Fuel strategy propelled the man from Alkmaar into the lead, which was relinquished when the team pitted for fuel on Lap 53. The following thirty minutes saw a stunning drive which moved Dontje from ninth to third by the checkered flag.
The week began on Wednesday with an extended promoter test session which saw both the #33 and the #57 run extensively. This was a significant help to Indy Dontje who was making his first ever visit to the 2.54 mile, twelve-turn track in Georgia. Thursday’s first officially timed session saw both drivers of the #33 Techemet AMG GT4, Russell Ward and Damien Faulkner, run fastest times in an incredibly competitive session, where less than a second separated the top twelve cars.
The second of the three Wednesday practice sessions finished with both Winward/HTP Motorsport focusing on race pace before gearing up for the final fifteen minute pre-qualifying practice session later in the afternoon. That short session proved costly for Russell Ward in the #33 Techemet AMG GT4 as he made an error through the Esses on a simulated qualifying lap and hit the tire barriers. The damage was enough to rule the car out for the rest of the weekend putting the pressure totally on the #57 Sonic Tools crew to finish its debut season with a strong result for the new team. Ultimately P18 in the GS Class with a time of 1:30.623 meant that the Houston-based squad would have its work cut out on Friday afternoon, if it had any hope of finishing the season on a high note.
At the drop of the Green Flag on Friday afternoon, Bryce Ward did everything that could have been asked of him as he consolidated his position in the early laps before working his way up to twelfth position by Lap 14. A high speed moment at the Esses put a halt to his charge but fortunately left the car undamaged. “I was really pushing to try and get a gap on the Porsche behind me but with the tires coming to the end of their life the car could not carry the speed I was asking for so I had to open up the steering and shortcut the Esses losing a place to the Porsche, Luckily escaping with no damage to the car,” Ward explained.
A full course yellow on Lap 24 flew just before the minimum drive time window of 45 minutes. Several laps under yellow meant that Ward was able to pit once the window opened and an outstanding full-service stop by the #57 Sonic Tools crew allowed Dontje to take the re-start in P8. It took a number of laps for Dontje to get comfortable with the car and by Lap 32 he found himself in P18 with plenty of work to do and half the race to go. What followed was an outstanding mix of racecraft from Dontje and teamwork from the Winward/HTP Motorsport crew which led to a well deserved spot on the final podium of the season.
“I struggled a lot in the beginning of the race and felt some positions back,” explained Dontje after the race. “I stayed cool and together with the team we executed a great strategy which worked out really well. I drove back to P4 and until the last lap I gave it all and with a bit of luck we finished on the podium! It was a great job by the team and a really nice gift for all their effort and hard work. I would like to thank Russell and Bryce for having me in the States and of course the whole crew of the Winward Racing team!”
The 2019 IMSA season begins with the pre-season ‘Roar Before the 24″ test at Daytona International Speedway from Friday, January 4th to Sunday, January 6th.