INDIANAPOLIS — The third Brickyard Grand Prix lasted two hours and 45 minutes and saw cars turn 108 laps.
But it took just one corner to set the stage for the race.
Polesitter Scott Sharp fell back, rookie Sage Karam went into the grass, and Christian Fittipaldi’s Corvette threaded the needle to go from fourth position to the lead by the second time he turned the wheel.
Fittipaldi and teammate Joao Barbosa dominated the race, yielding the lead only briefly, winning the third sports car race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They won by a 48.964-second margin over second-place Karam and Scott Pruett.
Barbosa was able to stretch the final fuel stint for the race’s last 40 laps – all of which were run under green – while his competitors had to pit, turning what had been a five-second advantage into one that stretched to nearly a minute.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling winning here for the first time in Indy,” Barbosa said. “Being able to kiss the bricks is special. It’s unbelievable the work put into this weekend. We were prepared and we executed everything this weekend and it paid off. It’s such a tight series, it’s very competitive. We need everything to be perfect, and that’s what we did today.”
Fittipaldi – the brother of two-time Indy winner Emerson Fittipaldi – also got to taste victory at Indy after coming close in the 1995 Indianapolis 500 and being named the race’s Rookie of the Year.
“Although that was 19 years ago, that was a little bit of mixed feelings in that race, because Emmo didn’t make the field and I finished second,” Fittipaldi said. “I wanted to race together with him at least once here. It was an awesome race for us. Today, was an excellent race again, although it was 19 years after that. It was a perfect day. All the stars aligned.”
Friday’s race was the first under United Sports Car sanction – an amalgamation of the old Grand Am and American LeMans Series that had competed side-by-side for years. The merger meant there were four class winners, rather than two. The Daytona Prototypes from the old Grand Am series held the top spots. The top three finishers were DPs, with the highest-finishing LeMans Prototype being the fifth-place car of Sharp and defending winner Ryan Dalziel.
Also winning their respective classes were Jack Hawksworth and Chris Cumming in the Prototype Challenge class, Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Witner with a Dodge Viper in the GT LeMans class, and the duo of Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Westphal with a Ferrari in GT Daytona.
The most entertaining finish came in the Prototype Challenge class, with Hawskworth and Bruno Junqueira battling for the last several laps. Hawksworth caught up to Junqueira and made a pass late in the race, and then was able to hold him off in heavy traffic the last two laps. Hawksworth won the class with a 1.422-second margin over Junqueira.
Both have a history at Indy – Hawksworth led much of the early part of this year’s IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Junqueira is a former Indianapolis 500 polesitter.
“It was a lot of fun,” Hawksworth said. “It’s some of the most fun in a racecar. I had a great bout with Bruno, slicing through traffic and all. To finally get a win here feels awesome.”
Up front, Fittipaldi and Barbosa held the overall lead until Lap 55, when Karam worked his way through the field and made an on-track pass for first. But when Karam pitted and yielded the car to veteran Scott Pruett on Lap 66, Barbosa re-took the lead and, other than giving it up briefly on the pit cycle, quickly established a five-second lead that continued to grow as the race went on. It grew when everyone else had to pit and Barbosa was able to make it to the finish.
“I kept asking the team ‘are we good on fuel.’ They said ‘don’t worry. Keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll be fine,’” Barbosa said. “They had a great strategy. I was saving fuel from the moment I got in the car. I kept saving fuel. Luckily, we had a good gap. Tremendous job by the team that we could run a good pace and still save fuel. When the other guys pitted the last time, I could breathe a bit. It was a great strategy and perfect call by the team.”
Pruett had to settle for his third straight runner-up finish in the event – the first two with Memo Rojas, who was unable to drive Friday due to injury. Pruett was five seconds back when he had to pit on Lap 100 – eight laps before the finish.
His teammate Karam, a rising star who had an impressive run in May’s Indianapolis 500, filled in admirably. He drove the car eventually to the lead after his first-turn shunt, leading 11 laps.
“I made a mistake on the start, I got pushed to the bottom, everyone was trying to get by the (LMP2) cars,” Karam said. “We knew we had to go for it. I locked it up. I knew if I stuck with it, I’d T-bone someone, so I bailed and went straight. Thankfully, we got it back going. We showed some speed and got it back to the front.”