Auberlen, Machavern claim Michelin Pilot Challenge win at Watkins Glen

It’s raining, there’s a lap remaining, and Jan Heylen is inches away from your rear bumper. What do you do?

If you’re Bill Auberlen, you gas it.

Auberlen, the 52-year-old sports car legend, managed to maintain grip as rain increased during the final laps Friday to win the Sahlen’s 120 at The Glen, the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Watkins Glen International.

In doing so, Auberlen held off Heylen – “the most treacherous person you could ever drive against,” according to Auberlen – to put Auberlen, co-driver Dillon Machavern and the No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 back atop the Michelin Pilot Challenge Grand Sport (GS) standings.

“It definitely was raining, but there’s a point at which the track still holds grip and you have your hot, slick tires,” Auberlen said. “They’re both working together. Then there’s the point at which the temperatures drop and the layer of water goes up. … I was still pretty good.”

Shortly after the 17th Michelin Pilot Challenge victory of his win-heavy career, Auberlen prepared for a fast turnaround to race in Friday evening’s IMSA WeatherTech 240, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

During the final laps of the Michelin Pilot Challenge race, Auberlen said he had about 75 to 80 percent of the grip level that he had under dry conditions. The Boot portion of WGI’s 11-turn, 3.4-mile layout proved trickiest.

“You don’t know what you’ve got,” Auberlen said. “You stand on the brakes and don’t know if it rained heavy a minute and a half ago or if it was light. You stand on the brakes and you just hope there’s not a big layer of water.”

Heylen and co-driver Ryan Hardwick brought the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport home in second place in the GS class and overall, while brothers Matt and Hugh Plumb finished third in the No. 46 TeamTGM Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R.

Noaker, Henderson Win in Wild TCR Finish

While Auberlen was sliding around and finishing just 0.615 seconds ahead of Heylen, Robert Noaker was navigating traffic to win a back-and-forth duel for the victory in the Touring Car (TCR) class.

With 2 minutes, 15 seconds left in the two-hour race, Jon Morley drove his No. 61 Road Shagger Racing Audi RS3 LMS SEQ past Noaker’s No. 84 Atlanta Speedwerks Honda Civic FK7 TCR co-driven with Brian Henderson. Seconds later, Noaker returned the favor.

“It was all-out, as fast as you can possibly go,” Noaker said. “There were four cars there trying to get the lead. You’d go from first to third back to first in one lap. It was like, ‘Whoa, what just happened?’”

It was the first Michelin Pilot Challenge victory for Noaker and Henderson. It looked like a 1-2 finish for Atlanta Speedwerks until the No. 94 Honda – which won the four-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge race at The Glen on June 27 – was moved to the rear of the finishing order when it didn’t meet the minimum weight standard in post-race technical inspection.

That elevated the No. 61 Audi co-driven by Morley and Gavin Ernstone to second place. Third place went to the No. 77 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Veloster N TCR shared by Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis after the No. 27 Copeland Motorsports Hyundai Veloster N TCR that would have moved up to third also was found to be underweight in post-race tech.

RESULTS

The Michelin Pilot Challenge season resumes July 17 with the Lime Rock Park 120 at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut.