DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Drivers and crew at Winward Racing must be scratching their heads, wondering what they need to do to nail down a win in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. It’s not for lack of trying.
In last weekend’s FCP Euro Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, the No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 grabbed the GT Daytona (GTD) lead on a restart with less than 10 minutes remaining and appeared the certain class winner on the last lap, until the car sputtered heading into the final turn – victim of a fuel pump failure.
The No. 57 coasted agonizingly slower and slower as driver Philip Ellis feverishly tried to change over to a backup fuel pump installed in the car for just this situation, but to no avail. Ellis fell to fifth place by the time he rolled across the finish line.
Among those helplessly watching from pit lane was co-driver Russell Ward.
“I’ve got to say it was a new experience for me,” Ward admitted. “It could have failed one corner later and we would’ve won the race, or it could have failed in practice. It was just kind of a freak accident; sometimes that happens. It was really disappointing.”
Ward said the fuel pump was new, installed following the previous race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park two weeks before. The racing gods just weren’t looking out for Winward that day.
“We had plenty of fuel to finish the race,” Ward said. “The car has a spare fuel pump for this case; you swap it over and then refire the car. By the time Philip was able to do that, the damage was already done.
“It adds another race on the list of races that got away from us – and this year there have been plenty of them.”
Indeed. Lime Rock marked the third straight race where the No. 57 Winward Mercedes challenged for the win but came up short. In the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen on June 26, the car took the checkered flag first in GTD but was among nine entrants moved to the rear of their respective classes for failing to meet adjusted minimum drive times in the weather-shortened race.
The following week, Ward and Ellis – whose lone win came in their series debut with Winward at the 2021 Rolex 24 At Daytona – were within an eyelash of winning at CTMP, finishing second just 0.493 seconds behind the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin GT3. Despite the disappointments, Ward said spirits remain high.
“Since Detroit (in early June), we’ve been able to execute everything quite well and just haven’t had the luck to put it all together,” he said, adding that optimism runs high because of the Mercedes’ prowess on the three remaining tracks this season – Road America, VIRginia International Raceway and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
“I think the next couple of tracks are really good for us. I was a little worried about the pace at Lime Rock because the Mercedes typically doesn’t do super well there. Road America suits the car a lot better, Virginia suits the car a lot better and so does Atlanta. The next three races coming up are some of my favorites on the calendar.”
First up is the IMSA Fastlane SportsCar Weekend at Road America from Aug. 4-7. All five WeatherTech Championship classes will be in action at the Wisconsin circuit. Race coverage starts at 11:40 a.m. ET Sunday, Aug. 7 on Peacock and IMSA Radio. USA Network joins the live telecast at noon.