Tom Blomqvist has been in this situation before: a fierce battle with Filipe Albuquerque in the final stage of the race.
At WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, he was stopped in traffic and Albuquerque passed him in a corkscrew, leaving Blomqvist frustrated that everything he threw at the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura then didn’t give him back the lead. Then there was Watkins Glen, where on the restart after a long weather delay, Albuquerque made a great run through Aces and out of the race for the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing, while Kurb Aghajanian’s Akura headed for the bus stop – a nearly identical turn to the one he got in the lead at start At Road America, it was Oliver Jarvis’ turn, Albuquerque making a bold move in late-stage traffic to take the win, and MSR found himself with a wrecked Acura in fourth.
With each furious second-place finish, that glorious victory at the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, where Blomqvist and Jarvis were aided by MSR IndyCar Series drivers Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, seemed further and further away. And it wasn’t always WTR – Blomqvist had the pole at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and MSR looked like a lock for the win – but Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ranger van der Zande had other ideas.
It was going to be a Cadillac weekend at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. However, it didn’t matter – whichever Acura team beat the other would be the champion, even if Cadillac won the race. But Blomqvist spoiled the Cadillac event with a stunning pole. With qualifying at the end of the day, was this a sign of things to come when the 10 Hours of Motul Petit Le Mans got underway in the evening? Indeed it was.
“It was a real dogfight today,” Blomqvist said after he, Jarvis and Castraneves got the win. “There were moments where we didn’t have the speed, but we expected it a little bit. We set up our car to come alive at night and luckily we did. The guys did a fantastic job as well with the strategy(s) in the pits. And being able to kind of use the fuel at a critical time to give us a chance… our only option really was if it was a yellow, we knew we were in a little bit better shape with the fuel and hopefully we could jump over them if they were nose to tail, and that’s exactly what happened. But it was relentless.”
The strategy worked perfectly, and although the team couldn’t have predicted how it would end, who could have imagined the final hour caution caused by Chip Ganassi’s two Cadillacs crashing each other off the track? – a yellow at the end of the race was quite likely. Blomqvist said he believed he would have closed the gap on Albuquerque eventually, but also admitted it would have taken some aggression and luck to make the pass. A final pit stop requiring slightly less time to refuel made the passage easy. Even Wayne Taylor predicted as the race went into the night that track position was everything and the best way to get there was through the pits.
When the race resumed, Blomqvist opened up a small gap that was only reduced when he was held up in traffic. It looked like the 60 was indeed a size 10. But then for a moment it looked like history might repeat itself.
Coming out of Turn 12, Blomqvist was held up by the GTD PRO WeatherTech Mercedes-AMG, allowing Albuquerque to run into him. Blomqvist defended tightly in Turn 1 and Albuquerque briefly looked on the outside but changed his mind. Blomqvist caught the next traffic, the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG running third in GTD with Philip Ellis at the wheel, in the right place, and swept by on the outside at Turn 2. But as Albuquerque went to the inside at Turn 3, the No. 10 Acura and Merc crunched the side to the side. Both suffered damage, neither finished the race, and the battle for the championship was over.
Albuquerque, which has made many masterful moves in road traffic over the course of the season — the pass for the lead at Road America being perhaps the best example — was unlucky. He braked almost immediately, pulled into the pits where the crew started to watch, but the car wasn’t coming out of the pits and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The WTR pit crew felt what the MSR crew felt so many times this year, but it was even worse: the complete feeling of losing the championship. And for the third time in as many years, WTR entered the finals in a strong position to claim the title, only to leave empty-handed.
“I think my engineer came on the radio and said four seconds ago or so,” Bloomquist explained.
“But initially I just thought I passed one guy just before turn 4. And as we know the Esses is not a place where you want to be stuck behind someone in slow motion because you can lose two or three seconds just like that. . So I thought I just passed and he maybe got stuck behind and then I heard he was in the pits with damage so I guess he was trying to follow me and it just didn’t work.” .
Blomqvist got pole and checkered car driving glory, but Jarvis and Castraneves also worked for 10 hours. In fact, their job in the middle of the race might have been more difficult, because if the car is set up for cool night conditions, it probably isn’t ideal in the middle of the day, and Acura’s 60 pace in the afternoon reflected that. So what was it like to drive the car until the sun dipped below the horizon?
“Terrible,” Jarvis announced. “We tested here for two days a couple of weeks ago. And then when I got in the car in the race, it was like what I had felt before. The car was really loose; even just going down Esse, which is usually comfortably flat, you had to be very careful not to lose it. So we knew it was coming to us, but I have to say I don’t think any of us expected it to be like this on the day. I don’t know if the track changed, we changed, I don’t know, maybe we were a little aggressive during the day… but there were moments where I really thought it could end badly.”
Reiterated Castroneves: “I had a lot of hairy moments, not only with the car itself, but also with the traffic. But at the end of the day, or even at night, the car came alive with Tom, and it was great, but it was very difficult conditions. Ganassi cars were really strong. It was very difficult for me to hold them. I must say it was a fun race. I had a great time.”
It was Jarvis’ second straight victory at Petit Le Mans. Last year he won alongside Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito for Mazda in the final race for the RT24-P. Now he won the last race for the Acura ARX-05 and the grand finale of the DPi era.
“I think winning with Mazda was special because we knew it was the car’s last race,” he said. “And this is the last race of the DPi era and then to win the championship… it’s been a good place to hunt for the last 12 months here. This is such a wonderful track. It’s a tough race. We always say at IMSA that the traffic and racing here is flat, that it’s tough. Just watching Tom on board at the end, I think my heart rate was probably as high as his in the car.
“To win this race the way he did, you have to take risks, you have to take risks. I think if people at home could watch the boards as much as we do, you’d understand what it takes to be fast here to win this race. It’s a calculated risk, but you also have a lot of faith in your competitors. It’s an amazing place, it has a lot of history and everyone wants to win here.”