Wright Porsche carves through field to win in GTD

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Ryan Hardwick knew he put his team in a hole in GT Daytona (GTD) qualifying for the Sports Car Championship. He also knew he had an ace in the hole in co-driver Jan Heylen.

Heylen drove magnificently in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R on Sunday. Once he climbed into the car with just under two hours remaining, the Belgian charged from eighth place to win the GTD portion of the race by 5.517 seconds over the No. 39 CarBahn with Peregrine Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3.

“It was just a lot of fun,” a smiling Heylen said in victory lane. “I had a ton of fun out there.”

Heylen was especially impressive in an eight-minute span near the end, when he passed three cars to take the lead with 13 minutes to go.

The No. 16 Porsche led only the final 11 laps, but it was enough to secure the second victory of the season, after Heylen, Hardwick, Zacharie Robichon and Richard Lietz won the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.

“We had a good car all weekend, good strategy, good drive by Ryan, but I think mostly it was just understanding the track,” Heylen said. “You come here enough, understanding the tire deg, that’s the key here. I think we just did a good job of that, maybe better than some others. You’ve got to be patient here.”

The stout performance from Heylen overcame what Hardwick termed his own poor qualifying effort on Saturday, which put the No. 16 in the 10th GTD starting position.

“We’ve had a great car all weekend – the Porsche was the car to have here – and I just tried too hard in qualifying and didn’t do my best lap,” Hardwick said. “So, my focus (in the race) was to try and overtake a few cars and keep the car in a good condition for Jan because I knew he had the car to go to the front.”

The victory also put Heylen, Hardwick and the No. 16 Porsche at the front of the WeatherTech Championship GTD season standings, unofficially 31 points ahead of the No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 and driver Stevan McAleer. They also closed to within 40 points of IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup leaders Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3.

Jeff Westphal edged the No. 39 Lamborghini into second place Sunday at the last moment, squeezing past Bill Auberlen in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 by 0.037 seconds at the finish line before Westphal ran out of fuel on the cooldown lap.

“In the laps leading up to the end, I noticed Bill struggling with the rear of the car quite a bit,” said Westphal, who shared the Lambo with Robert Megennis.

“He had a bobble in (Turn) 9, I aggressively attacked in (Turn) 10 and forced him to go uber-defensive into (Turn) 11, which really hurt his exit. I got underneath him on the exit, used a bit of a side draft and I was able to make it work. Really great day for the team and for Lamborghini.”