Acura’s Louis Deletraz led the 54-car field to the green around the undulating 2.54-mile road course in Georgia but Sebastien Bourdais took little time in taking the lead, sweeping his Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac around the Wayne Taylor Racing ARX-06 outside at Turn 1 and quickly pulling clear.
But the race quickly went under caution as Ari Balogh crashed the #8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 car for the second time (having already spun on the straight on a warm-up lap), that he shares with IndyCar star Scott McLaughlin, in the third minute of the race. A second yellow was required soon after to retrieve a detached tire following a GTD clash.
There was also early drama in GTP as Porsche’s title contender Nick Tandy was given a drive-thru penalty for not keeping in his lane at the very messy start, dropping him to ninth.
Bourdais and Deletraz stayed out as the other GTP cars pitted for fuel only after 30 minutes. Pipo Derani (Action Express Cadillac) was the first of the pitters but got hung out to dry on the second restart and fell from third to sixth.
Just after the first hour, Deletraz passed Bourdais for the lead and the Frenchman got embroiled in a battle with the Meyer Shank Racing Acura of Tom Blomqvist. Deletraz then made his first pitstop after 70 minutes.
A huge crash on the approach to the downhill chicane put the race under caution again, as Tandy was taken out following a clash between the #20 High Class Racing LMP2 car of Dennis Andersen and the #023 Triarsi Ferrari GTD of Charles Scardina, a crash that also took out the #70 Inception McLaren GTD entry of Brendan Iribe.
The timing of the yellow hurt Bourdais, who fell back to sixth at this point.
The next major drama afflicted Blomqvist, who was right on Deletraz’s tail for the lead when he was sent into the pits for suspension repairs after being hit by the #1 BMW GTD at the exit of the chicane, when he was boxed in by the #20 High Class car, contact that sent Corey Lewis into the tirewall. That caused a fourth full course yellow.
“One of the GTs hit me from behind, gave me a big tankslapper and hit him back again, and bent the toe link,” sighed Blomqvist. “It was a super slow speed.”
More madness occurred under caution at pit out, as the #31 AXR Cadillac of Alexander Sims was rear-ended by the #25 BMW of Sheldon van der Linde as they happened upon a red light at the end of the pit lane.
The chaos played into Bourdais’s hands this time, hitting the front from the JDC Miller Porsche of Mike Rockenfeller, the surviving works PPM 963 of Matt Campbell and the #24 BMW of Marco Wittmann, which briefly ran second but fell backwards.
Campbell went on a tear, surging past Rockenfeller and Bourdais to lead, making up somewhat for PPM’s earlier disaster with the luckless Tandy.
TDS Racing’s Steven Thomas led Ben Keating initially but PR1 Mathiasen ace Keating got ahead and stayed there, despite a quick spin towards the end of the opening hour. Alex Quinn took over the #52 PR1 car from Keating and held the lead from George Kurtz’s #04 Crowdstrike machine.
In the minnow prototype class, Glenn van Barlo led for Andretti Autosport from the start but Cameron Shields soon took up the running for Performance Tech Motorsports. There was even action before the green flag when Rasmus Lindh crashed the frontrunning #85 Duqueine LMP3 car seconds after leaving the dummy grid, substantially damaging its rear end.
Through the early chaos, Bijoy Garg took the lead for Jr III Racing, ahead of AWA’s Anthony Mantella.
Ian James led the way initially in his pro-am Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage but quickly came under attack from Jack Hawksworth in the Lexus, which was crowned as GTD Pro class champion as it took the start. Doriane Pin jumped to second in the Iron Dames Lamborghini, and then inherited the lead in the first round of pitstops as James’s Aston fell back down the order.
Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia passed Hawksworth for the lead of GTD Pro just after the opening hour.
The GTD pack was shaken by the cautions that followed, with Jules Gounon leading the way in the WeatherTech Mercedes, just ahead of Kevin Estre’s Pfaff Motorsports Porsche. IndyCar star Kyle Kirkwood took over the #14 Lexus from Hawksworth to run third, ahead of Jordan Taylor in the Corvette.
Russell Ward led the pro-am class in the Winward Mercedes, running fifth overall of the GT machinery.