|Lewis, Filippi Win Road Atlanta Thriller
Victory Catapults Lewis and Filippi to the Front of the Championship Standings
On what is normally the season finale, the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge returned to Road Atlanta for the Fox Factory 120, a two-hour “sprint” race Friday. With just three races to go, the intensity was evident in the battle for the coveted drivers’ championship. The Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai’s arrived leading the top three positions, and separated by just 11 points, with the #33 in first, #21 second and #98 in third.
Driving the #98 Hyundai Veloster N TCR, Mason Filippi was the top qualifying Hyundai. Starting second, he led the pack from the front row, with his teammates Mark Wilkins in the #21 and Ryan Norman in the #33 on row two and Spencer Brockman in #29 just behind on row three in sixth position. The green flag fell and so did the mayhem – it was a chaotic start that immediately saw the pole sitting Honda hit with a drive through penalty for starting on the wrong tires. The car that started fifth shot to first, the #98, was forced to fifth position due to slower GS traffic, Mark Wilkins moved to second, Spencer Brockman rocketed to third. Norman, remaining fourth, let the dust settle through the first lap chaos, but not for long; by the third lap Norman raced to second and took the race lead on lap six.
Having met the 40-minute drive time requirement, all four BHA Hyundai’s took advantage of the second caution period, 45 minutes into the 2-hour race, when they made their pitstops with driver changes. It was a hectic pit lane, but the experienced BHA crews executed flawlessly, unleashing Gabby Chaves (#33) in fourth, Harry Gottsacker (#21) in fifth, Michael Lewis (#98) in seventh and Parker Chase (#29) in tenth.
Half-way through the second half, Gabby Chaves’ race and championship lead took a turn for the worse as slower GS traffic, specifically the #65 AMG Mercedes GT4 made contact in turn one as Chaves tried to get around the slower car. The contact resulted in a broken left front controller, requiring an axel replacement and a lengthy pitstop. The #33 crew worked tirelessly to get the car back on track to salvage a points-paying position. They did, and Chaves returned to the race with nine laps to go. “The guys did an unbelievable job in very challenging conditions,” said Chaves. “The brakes were hot and the repair was difficult, but they didn’t give up and when I returned to the track, the car was really good. Unfortunately, there was just not enough time left in the race to make up positions.” Chaves and Norman finished 11th.
The #98 and the #21 Hyundai’s made their final stops just as the #73 Honda Civic made heavy contact into the tire barrier causing the third extended caution of the race. The timing benefitted Lewis in the #98 and Gottsacker in the #21 as they ascended to the race lead when the rest of the field completed their pitstops, under caution. The #29 Hyundai, with Parker Chase behind the wheel, stopped with the rest of the field under yellow, he took four tires and fuel, but ultimately it was under another caution that ended Chase’s opportunity to race to the front.
Ready to battle to the end with fuel and tires, Michael Lewis found himself contesting another Hyundai up front. This time an orange Veloster N TCR, that of 16-year-old Tyler Maxson driving for the BHA/Hyundai Customer Support Team, Copeland Motorsports. Making his IMSA debut with co-driver Tyler Gonzalez, also just 16, Maxson raced like a veteran, battling Lewis for the lead. Creating a thrilling finish to a wild race, Maxson took the race lead from Lewis with five laps to go. The defending series champion, Michael Lewis stayed on the tail of the #27 Veloster of Maxson, challenging through the elevation changes and challenging turns of Road Atlanta, Lewis made the pass for the win with one lap to go, scoring the second victory for the #98 Hyundai Veloster N TCR of Michael Lewis and Mason Filippi this season. The victory catapulted Lewis and Filippi to the front of the championship standings with eight points over Gabby Chaves and Ryan Norman. Mark Wilkins and Harry Gottsacker brought home a solid points-paying result, finishing fourth, now ranked 3rd. Parker Chase and Spencer Brockman finished 6th.
Referring to the yellow-flag caution period, there is an industry adage: “yellows breed yellows” in racing and that was the case in this event, with four on track incidents causing cautions, 28 of the 62 laps were yellow.
Bryan Herta Autosport turns their focus to the west coast for the penultimate round of the 2020 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, October 30th – November 1st.