Races end prematurely for a variety of reasons. Lightning isn’t often one of them.
Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor celebrated the unusual circumstances Saturday afternoon – as did Ross Gunn and Roman De Angelis – when nearby lightning strikes ended the Northeast Grand Prix just past the halfway point at Lime Rock Park.
Garcia had a nine-second lead over the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R’s sister car driven by Nick Tandy when nearby lightning first halted racing with 72 minutes left in the two-hour, 40-minute IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race. The clock kept running, and more lightning eventually ended the race with the cars still stopped in pit lane.
“It is what it is,” Garcia said. “We had a ton of fans out here today, and safety comes first. This time we were lucky in that we were leading when the red flag came. For sure, you need to be up there in that position to benefit from the conditions.”
After the first lightning strike, De Angelis – with Gunn and their No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 leading – only wanted more lightning.
“We definitely knew the weather was coming,” De Angelis said. “Sitting on the pit box, we were all feeling a little light drizzle coming. We were definitely expecting something to change with the track conditions.
“Obviously, (Gunn) saw the splashes on the windshield, but we couldn’t really tell what was going to happen with the lightning. Once it started, in a way we hoped the lightning would come in a time that would allow us to not have to go out again.”
The GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory was the fourth this season and ninth in the last 16 races for Garcia, Taylor and the No. 3 Corvette. Tandy and Tommy Milner shared the GTLM runner-up finish in the No. 4 Corvette, while Mathieu Jaminet and Cooper MacNeil finished third in the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19.
The unusual finish reminded Taylor of the 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona, which was stopped short of the 22nd hour due to heavy rain. Taylor was part of that race-winning Wayne Taylor Racing team but had to wait out the weather delay to get to the celebration.
“You’re waiting to see if it’s going to go green again, so it’s kind of very stressful with the unknown,” Taylor said. “Today, looking at the radar, a couple of miles north of the track there were a crazy amount of lightning strikes, so I think it was going to come this way no matter what. It wasn’t as rainy as Daytona that year, but today was a similar feeling.”
The first Lime Rock win for Garcia and third win in four weeks for the No. 3 car was both planned and unplanned. Garcia and Taylor knew the plan going into the race but didn’t know how it would end.
“It was about fuel mileage, saving tires and getting through traffic cleanly,” Taylor said. “Thankfully, we executed well and the driver change went well. We knew the weather was imminent at some point and that it could be red-flagged, so we knew track position was going to be important. Thankfully, we were out front when that came.”
By Jeff Olson and Mark Robinson