29 September - 1 October, 2016, Braselton, Georgia, USA ©2016, Michael L. Levitt LAT Photo USA
The #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE co-drivers Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and James Calado broke through for their first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory of the season in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans, the final race of the season.

Meanwhile, the #4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R duo of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin picked up their first WeatherTech Championship GTLM title with a third-place class result alongside endurance co-driver Marcel Fassler.

The No. 62 Ferrari team had shown plenty of speed – particularly during the second half of the season – but bad luck plagued them prior to Saturday’s race. In the 10-hour Petit Le Mans, however, the Risi Ferrari spent the entire race among the GTLM front-runners, and the vast majority of it at the head of the field.

Fisichella took the lead for the final time with just under 30 minutes remaining when Dirk Mueller brought the #66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT – which was on a different strategy – onto pit lane. He brought the #62 Ferrari home to victory by 15.618 seconds over Mueller, securing his and the Risi team’s first WeatherTech Championship race victory since VIRginia International Raceway in 2014.

Image: Ford Performance via Facebook
Image: Ford Performance via Facebook

“From when we came here from the first practice we were always on the top,” Fisichella said. “The car’s balance was really good. We made some adjustments in the right direction. I think we dominated the race and the guys did a fantastic job on the pit stops. We, both of us, we drove at the maximum. I think it was a perfect race and we deserve this victory this year. It’s good for us, and Mr. Risi and the crew.”

It was Fisichella’s third victory in WeatherTech Championship competition, but the first for both Vilander and Calado. It also was the first GTLM victory of the season for Ferrari. The #62 team also won the DEKRA Green Award. The award recognizes the cleanest, fastest and most efficient team in the GTLM class in each race through a scoring system developed in a partnership between IMSA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy and SAE International.

Mueller wound up second in GTLM alongside his #66 teammates, Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais. In their most recent race together, Mueller, Hand and Bourdais combined to win the GTE Pro class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The #4 Corvette team picked up its seventh podium result of the 11-race season to sweep WeatherTech Championship and Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup drivers’ titles for Milner and Gavin, team championships for Corvette Racing and manufacturer championships for Chevrolet.

“Every year, this class somehow gets more competitive,” Milner said. “This year was even that much more so. Ford came in with a great car, great drivers, and pushed us to the end. A good example of the guys who keep pushing was the Risi guys; they got the win and you could see the relief on their faces. That shows how much it means to get a win in this class. This whole year, we can think about all the good memories and moments we had. I’m proud to be a part of this team and represent Chevy and Corvette. It’s exactly what a driver wants in a car, is a chance to win. It’s good to see all those efforts were rewarded this year.”

Image: IMSA/LAT Photo

In the final WeatherTech Championship race for the Dodge Viper GT3-R, No. 33 ViperExchange.com / Cruising with the Monkey Viper teammates Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller sent the car out on top with a GT Daytona (GTD) class victory.

“It is emotional,” Keating said. “The goal was to give it a good sendoff. Viper has such a rich racing history, and to do our last race in the Viper with IMSA at Petit Le Mans and go out on top is a huge deal. 2017 is the last year they’ll build the production-car Viper and it seemed fitting to finish off the season this way. Last year we had Viper Exchange on the car, and I happen to be in the Viper business, and I’ve been involved in the Viper community. It means a lot to Dodge and the Viper clubs, and to the dealer, and to me as an individual. It means a lot to go out on top.”

It was the third GTD victory of the season for Keating and Bleekemolen, while it was the first in WeatherTech Championship competition for Miller, a full-time 2016 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competitor who joined the team as a third driver for Petit Le Mans.

Bleekemolen – who earned the TOTAL Pole Award in qualifying on Friday – originally crossed the finish line behind Andy Lally in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3, but the No. 44 car was moved to last place in the GTD class as John Potter, who was paired with Lally for the full season, did not meet the three-hour drive-time requirement for a Bronze- or Silver-rated driver in the Pro-Am class.

Patrick Lindsey, Joerg Bergmeister and Matt McMurry teamed up to finish second in the No. 73 Park Place Porsche / Justice Brothers Inc. Porsche 911 GT3 R. Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Segal finished third in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3.

Nielsen and Balzan wrapped up GTD championships for themselves and the Scuderia Corsa team with their seventh podium result of the season. Nielsen became the first woman to win a major, full-season professional sports car championship in North America, while Balzan picked up his second title, having also won the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT championship in 2013.

It was the second consecutive GTD title for Scuderia Corsa, which won last year with drivers Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler. Audi claimed the GTD manufacturers’ championship.