Round 5 of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship
Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Belle Isle Park
No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance®/ORECA/Gibson
Stephen Simpson/Misha Goikhberg
June 2, 2018
The No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Red Dragon experienced the highs and lows of street racing today at the Chevrolet Sports Classic Detroit. Earning their best start of the season, Misha Goikhberg took the green flag from the third row, alongside the Daytona race winning car…the Mustang Sampling Cadillac. The Detroit circuit is one of the most challenging street circuits in racing, featuring 2.35 miles of very bumpy race track and surface changes, it’s tight, it’s twisty and on top of all of that…its hot and humid.
Most of Saturdays sessions were marred by incidents on track creating long red flag conditions, including engine fires, accidents and lightening strikes. The teams received about half of the scheduled practice and qualifying time because of the delays on a time certain schedule. The JDC-Miller Motorsports team made the most of the time they had and prepared a fast race car despite the delays.
Today, the green flag fell at 1pm Est, and the Prototypes jammed their way into the first turn, a short chicane featuring a sharp right-hander and then a sharp left turn onto a straight away. Misha fought hard but lost a few positions when he was pinched into the wall at the left turn. He recovered quickly, charging on to the straight away. Misha raced hard to recover the positions and was consistently setting laps as quick as the front runners through the first stint. Shortly after, a yellow flag fell, and the No. 99 crew were faced with quick decisions for strategy. To complete a full stop and change drivers? Fuel only? Fuel and tires? Misha’s times were fast and engineer John Hayes and team owner John Church chose to come in for fuel only to gain track position. Misha radioed in his confidence in the car, there would be no changes.
It was a good move. Despite having older tires, Misha was able to gain track position and hold off competitors who had fresh rubber. He was in third position for most of the remaining stint. Stephen Simpson waited intently in the pits, he knew this was his best opportunity of the season thus far to get the Red Dragon on the podium. The leaders pitted, and Misha came in a lap later, pitting from first position!
The GAINSCO crew completed a flawless pit stop and driver change, and the Red Dragon roared out of the pits with Stephen Simpson behind the wheel to finish the race. No other stops were needed.
The No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance/ORECA looked set for a top-four result and likely a podium. With less than 10 minutes to go, the Red Dragon’s fate would change. The No. 5 car erratically moved from one side of the track to another, forcing Simpson to react and it resulted in contact with the #14 GTD car. The Red Dragon was forced to return to the pit for a new rear wing and surprisingly received a penalty from the series for causing the contact with car 14. Because of the penalty, Simpson had to serve a drive through the pit lane. Any chances for a top five result quickly vanished, but more importantly, the incident cost the No. 99 team very valuable championship points.
Looking on the bright side, the Detroit Grand Prix was the team’s most competitive performance overall so far this season. The last round at Mid-Ohio was good, they set the fastest race lap, and this weekend they qualified in the top five and nearly finished on the podium. Now they turn their focus to Watkins Glen for the upcoming Sahlen’s six-hour race. Stephen, Misha and endurance teammate Chris Miller just had a successful test there, they finished second at the Sahlen’s Six Hour last year and feel the track really suits the Red Dragon. Stay tuned…JDC-Miller Motorsports is knocking on the door for their first podium of the season.
Misha Goikhberg: “The day obviously didn’t end the way we wanted, but I think we have a lot to be pleased with this weekend. We will take this momentum to Watkins Glen. Traditionally that is a good track for us, they we head to my home race at MoSport, which is my favorite race track, so I am looking ahead.”
Stephen Simpson: “I am tremendously disappointed in the outcome of the race today. The GAINSCO Auto Insurance car was very good and the JDC boys did a great job in the pits. We had a racing incident out there today that cost us. I wish Watkins was tomorrow, I’d sleep in my suit and get right back out there.”