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Colin Braun, Jonathan Bennett win Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

On Saturday, Colin Braun of Dallas, Tex., obliterated the track record at Canadian Tire Mostorsport Park to win the pole for Sunday’s Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix, a round of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Driving an ORECA LMP2 Prototype, Braun turned a time for one lap of the 2.45-mile CTMP Grand Prix circuit of one minute, 6.315 seconds (133.490 mph) to beat Ricky Taylor’s record set a year ago of one minute, 8:459 seconds.

Sunday, Braun completed his mission by winning that SportsCar Grand Prix. Co-driving with Jonathan Bennett of Fort Knox, Ky., Braun took the lead with eight laps remaining of the 116-lap race – it was officially a two-hour, 40-minute timed event – and then held off the second-place Cadillac DPi being driven by Jordan Taylor (Renger Van Der Zande).

Felipe Nasr (Eric Curran), in yet another Cadillac DPi, finished third.

Richard Westbook and Ryan Briscoe, driving a Ford GT, were first in the GT LeMans class while Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating won the GT Daytona class aboard a Mercedes-AMG GT3.

CORE Autosport, which entered the winning car, is a privateer entry in the WeatherTech championship and both the pole and overall race victory were impressive  performances, considering the might of the many factory teams in the series like, for instance, Acura Team Penske.

Team Penske features famous and accomplished drivers like three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves and the multi-talented Juan Pablo Montoya, who has starred in Formula One and NASCAR in addition to Indy cars and, now, sports cars.

Castroneves started the race but packed it in around the 14-minute mark. Co-driver Ricky Taylor was in the cockpit the rest of the way and eventually brought the Acura home in fifth place.

According to IMSA rules, Castroneves only had to drive for 10 minutes before handing off to his co-driver. But most participants in sports car races will drive about half the race each.  Castroneves, who is now 43, had a crash at Corner 5A during the first day of practice on Friday and although he got out of the car without apparent difficulty, it was a heavy shunt.

Saturday, reporters were told that Castroneves wasn’t available for interviews – something that’s unusual for the enthusiastic Brazilian driver. Sunday, he appeared to be his usual jocular self during a pit walk-through by fans, but the fact that he spent little time in the car suggests that the veteran might have been affected by the crash more than anyone wanted to let on.

It’s one thing to crash a high-powered race car when you’re 25; it’s another when you’re 43. He might very well have been sore.

And Montoya didn’t have such a hot day, either. At or about the two-hour and 14-minute mark, the F1/NASCAR/IndyCar veteran entered the pits with the left-front wheel of his car missing.

To add insult to injury, after repairs were made and he rejoined the race, he was handed a penalty for going into a closed pit.

Montoya didn’t drive his car much longer than Castroneves. The official reason was that neither had even seen CTMP before Friday and didn’t know the track well and it was decided co-drivers Ricky Taylor and Dane Cameron would carry the load because of their experience racing there.

I suppose. Having said that, these men are champions and during the course of their careers, they raced at all sorts of “new” tracks and managed to do just fine. I still suggest Castroneves’ crash factored in here – and Montoya, during a short media conference on Friday, indicated that while he wouldn’t say he was scared of Mosport, certainly let reporters know that he wasn’t happy driving the track.

Said Montoya: “This place will scare the hell out of you. When we did the track walk yesterday, every corner is blind, every corner is 5th gear, 6th gear. It’s like, are you kidding me?”

Meantime, co-winner Bennett told a media conference after celebrating in Victory Lane that, “Since we unloaded, it’s been a Cinderella weekend for us. Our team was working well all weekend. Colin (Braun) was amazing all weekend, walk-on-water amazing.

“I don’t have to tell you what kind of momentum that (pole) gave us. Qualifying is qualifying, and racing is racing, so it carried over to the race. My job and our strategy has always been: return a square, damage-free car to Colin and go, and that’s what we did. A lot of great strategy from his dad (engineer) Jeff Braun, and holy cow, here we are.”

It was Bennett’s 15th career IMSA victory and Braun’s 16th but the first for the team in the Prototype class.

“It’s so cool to get the first win for CORE at this level,” Braun said. “It’s been a pleasure driving with Jon all these years. We’ve had a lot of firsts together and done a lot of cool things and this is another one of those things in a long line.

“We had great strategy all day. We saved fuel when we needed to, we saved tires when we needed to and we just played our cards the right way and got it done when it mattered. It was important in this race to not get too excited at the beginning. We just sort of laid in the weeds all day and slowly worked our way up and we were there when it mattered at the end.”

Montoya’s loose wheel turned out to be a gift for the GT LeMans class-winning Ford GT team. Running in first place at the time, Ford driver Richard Westbrook ducked into the pits when he became aware of the former F1 driver’s predicament, seconds before the pits were closed. He emerged right behind the safety car.

“You never stop believing,” said Westbrook. “They just did a great call (on Montoya’s wheel), so this goes to the team and my fantastic teammate (Briscoe), giving us a fantastic chance (by) putting it on the front row (in qualifying), which was definitely over-achieving. It just gives us great confidence knowing we can win in this way. It’s just great to be part of.”

Reminded that the Ford GT they’re racing was designed and developed by Multimatic Motorsport of Markham, and that some of the development testing was done at Old Mosport, Westbrook suggested the car didn’t really suit the track.

“It’s nice to see the Multimatic guys come to support us,” he said. “But funny enough, it’s not a great track for the Ford GT. We don’t know why; it should be on paper. The car was really tricky to drive. I struggled a lot in my stints. The guys did a great job, adjusting tire pressures and things like that. It’s what you expect from Chip Ganassi Racing.”

The win at CTMP is the second of the year for Westbrook and Briscoe, who also delivered Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s 200th team win at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.

A pair of Corvettes rounded out the remaining steps on the GT LeMans podium, with the No. 3 of Antonio Garcia and co-driver Jan Magnussen holding on to second place and the No. 4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin in third.

GT Daytona winner Keating was ecstatic about his and Bleekemolen’s victory and simply gushed about Old Mosport at a media conference later.

“ It’s really amazing,” he said. “I love this track. You love the track who loves you back. It takes a lot of courage to be quick around here. I’ve never been short of that. It’s really great.”

He said he was delighted to be back in Victory Lane. “It’s been over a year since we had a win,” he said, “so it’s nice to be back.”

Kyle Marcelli of Barrie finished second in class. Following his overall win Saturday in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, it was one of Marcelli’s best racing weekends.

Actor Patrick Dempsey, who is a producer on the film The Art of Racing in the Rain, helped direct some of the shooting at CTMP over the WeatherTech weekend and many of the real racers were involved.

“We’re doing a lot more than just racing here this weekend,” Keating said. “On my (ACTRA) permit, I officially have the title of Stunt Car Driver. Jeroen has the title of Actor. I can’t wait to see the movie. I’ve loved watching them film the thing. The mechanisms they have to film the cars going around the track is pretty neat to see.”

The last time a movie was filmed during a race weekend was in 2000 when Sylvester Stallone shot scenes for something called Driven at the Molson Indy in Toronto. It was not what could be called a film classic.

The Dempsey movie should be released sometime in 2019. Driven hasn’t been seen by anybody in years.

nmcdonald@thestar.ca