BMW M6 GTLM speeds at Laguna Seca
The No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM of BMW Team RLL was victorious in the 2017 America's Tire 250 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. | Photo: BMW Motorsport (Twitter)

John Edwards went from the back to the front in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s America’s Tire 250 at the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix with a spin on Lap 1 ending in victory for BMW Team RLL.

Just after the start of the two-hour, 40-minute race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Edwards found himself spun around in the infamous Andretti Hairpin at Turn 2. The incident dropped him all the way to the back of the 33-car field including the 16-car GT Daytona class.

Eight laps later, Edwards had worked his way past the GTD contingent and back into the fight with his GT Le Mans competitors.

For the middle stint of the race, co-driver Martin Tomczyk took over and ran just outside the top five.

A mid-race caution for the No. 25 BMW M6 GTLM of Bill Auberlen off course at Turn 3 gave Tomczyk the opportunity to pit with Edwards stepping in to finish the race. The timing of the caution, which came in the middle of pit stops for the GT classes, forced many teams to go onto alternate strategies.

BMW M6 GTLM corners at Laguna Seca
John Edwards started and finished the race in the No. 24 BMW. | Photo: Michelin Alley (Twitter)

Edwards restarted in the third position and quickly passed the No. 3 Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia and took the lead from Chip Ganassi Racing’s Joey Hand three laps later. 

On a two-stop strategy, Edwards began fuel saving with a resurgent No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE driven by Toni Vilander behind him. Though Vilander possessed the speed to pass Edwards with 53 minutes left on the clock, a pit stop for the Ferrari 20 minutes later put the BMW back into the class lead.

The final laps came down to a duel between Edwards in fuel-conservation mode and Vilander charging hard to reclaim the top spot. 

Edwards went on to take the checkered flag by 0.152 seconds over Vilander after surviving a surge from the Ferrari out of the final turn.

“In order to hit our number, we were giving away so much lap time that the Ferrari was able to catch back up and it was pretty close at the end,” Edwards said. “Ultimately, it’s a good thing it’s a two-hour and 40-minute race and not a two-hour and 45-minute race, because he was running flat out and I think he could have had a shot.”

The victory marked Edwards’ second in WeatherTech Championship competition. He previously won at Laguna Seca in 2015. Tomczyk, in his first year driving the No. 24 BMW, celebrated his inaugural series victory.

“Finally, we are on the top step,” Tomczyk said. “I have to say thank you to John, because he did an outstanding job today with the fuel saving in the last stint and getting through the GTD field in the first stint when he got spun around in the first corner.

“At the end, it really worked out well.”

The pole-sitting Ferrari of Vilander and co-driver Giancarlo Fisichella earned its second consecutive podium finish. The pair scored a third-place finish in last month’s Michelin GT Challenge at Virginia International Raceway.

Risi Competizione Ferrari on track at Laguna Seca
The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE earned its second consecutive podium finish of 2017 at Laguna Seca. | Photo: Michelin Alley (Twitter)

The No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR of Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner took the checkered flag in the third position 4.998 seconds behind the Risi Ferrari.

Garcia and Jan Magnussen maintained the GTLM points lead with a fourth-place finish in the No. 3 Corvette while Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook completed the top five in the No. 67 Ford GT.

The class heads into the final race of 2017 at Road Atlanta with 19 points separating Garcia and Magnussen from Briscoe and Westbrook. With the same nine-car field expected, the pair will only need to score points in the race to secure the championship.

Scuderia Corsa Ferrari Achieves First Victory of 2017

Fuel also played a role in the GT Daytona finish with the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 of Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan outlasting CORE autosport’s Porsche to garner the first win of the season for Scuderia Corsa.

Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 at Laguna Seca
The GTD championship-leading No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 won at Laguna Seca. | Photo: Scuderia Corsa (Twitter)

A string of six consecutive podium finishes in the middle of the season put the pairing of Nielsen and Balzan on top of the GTD points. Their victory at Laguna Seca solidified their position as the championship leaders heading into Road Atlanta.

The early part of the race was dominated by the Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Hurcan GT3 of Madison Snow and the Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Daniel Morad.

The Alegra Porsche dropped out of contention when co-driver Patrick Long pulled off course with a mechanical issue. As the final hour opened just after a full-course caution for a GTLM competitor, Colin Braun led in the No. 54 CORE Porsche with Jesse Krohn and the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 in the second position.

With less than five minutes to go, Braun made a final pit stop, advancing a well-positioned Balzan into the lead.

The driver went on to take the checkered flag by 6.550 seconds over the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3.

“As a team, we’ve fought really hard all season,” Nielsen said. “Last year, we were with a new car. This year, we’re on the second year, and I don’t think anyone expected us to be in contention.

“We’ve had so many podiums, we’ve had good runs, but to finally take that victory, there’s just something about it. It doesn’t feel as a whole, if you’re on the verge of winning a championship, if you don’t have a victory among those podium finishes as well.

“I am so proud to be with those guys. They make me so happy.”

The victory marked the Balzan’s sixth in IMSA competition and Neilsen’s third. The pair last won at the 2016 Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.

The finish of second for Lally and Legge in the Shank Acura was their fourth podium in 2017. Their most recent podium finish was a second at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July.

Shank Acura NSX GT3 speeds at Laguna Seca
The No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 of Andy Lally and Katherine Legge finished second at Laguna Seca. | Photo: Honda Performance Development (Twitter)

Patrick Lindsey and Joerg Bergmeister finished third in the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche while the No. 54 Porsche of Braun and Jonathan Bennett and the No. 96 BMW of Krohn and Jens Klingmann completed the top five.

With their victory, Balzan and Nielsen will enter the last weekend of the WeatherTech Championship season with a 26-point lead over Jeroen Bleekemolen. Bleekemolen and co-driver Ben Keating finished eighth at Laguna Seca in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3.

A final round will decide the series’ four classes at Road Atlanta. The 20th Motul Petit Le Mans will take place on Oct. 7 with live coverage on FS1, FS2 and IMSA.tv.

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