Despite Alice Powell's positive IMSA debut, the Heinricher Racing duo endured a tough race which came to an end with a big crash in the closing stages.
After a triumphant last race in the all-female W-Series championship, Alice Powell was back on the radar of the international motorsport arena. The much debated IMSA deal is thus very much deserved for Powell, who famously came back to racetracks after a five-years hiatus due to a lack of funding.
With W-Series starting to prove its point, Powell debut in the prestigious IMSA championship was highly anticipated. The 26 year-old British talent joined compatriot Katherine Legge in the all-female crew of Heinricher Racing.
With little knowledge of the Acura NSX GT3 and at her second ever experience of endurance racing, Powell had a strong qualifying run in very difficult weather conditions, putting the #57 Caterpillar entry in third row for Sunday's Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway.
The heavy showers during Friday practice sessions certainly did not help Powell learning process and the changing conditions during Saturday's qualifying presented an extra challenge. On a drying track, Powell opted for slick tyres and posted a 1:48.159, which was good enough for fifth place.
“For my first qualifying effort with Heinricher Racing, it was probably one of the toughest conditions you could have, really.” - commented Alice.
“It was a situation where it was 'do we go slicks or do we go wets?’ In the end, we opted for slicks and it was definitely the right decision. We just needed to get the slicks worn in."
"Everything went well and then Trent (Hindman, driver of the sister car run by Meyer Shank Racing) came through and I just tried to latch on to the back of him. Overall, P5 is a good starting position in some tricky conditions and I’m excited to make my IMSA race debut.”
Powell took the start of the 2 hours and 40 minutes race and maintained 5th place despite being tagged during the first lap by the #96 BMW. The contact damaged the rear end of the Acura NSX and caused a slow puncture a few laps later.
Forced to pit for new tyres, Powell kept running steadily and a full course yellow in the early stages played in favor of the Heinricher team. She made some positions back before handing the wheel to her experienced colleague.
"The first handful of laps were quite frantic. I got a tap from behind which caused a slow tire leak and I had to come in. We were in good position but I got boxed in behind the McLaren coming into the pits so we lost a few positions there. The car felt good and we had the pace." - said Powell after her first ever IMSA stint.
Katherine Legge, 2018 IMSA vice-champion, moved up to 8th but after the last pitstop started to lament tyre vibrations.
In the closing minutes, Legge suffered a high-speed tyre failure which sent the Acura NSX GT3 off track and heavily into the barriers.
Luckily, Legge was able to climb out of the destroyed car under her own power, unharmed.
"That was one of the toughest races we have had. Alice had a fantastic stint but we struggled finding the overall pace that our competitors had." - said Legge.
"We received some damage early on in the race which worked against us as well. That contact broke something in the rear of the car so we were struggling with a loose car the entire race."
"On the second set of tires there was a vibration that I was dealing with which led to a tire blow out. I couldn't control the car at the top of the Esses. It is one of the those places on track were you carry a lot of speed so I went into the wall quite hard. That crash is a testament to how strong the Acura NSX is and how good VIR's track safety structures are. I have to thank the safety crew for doing a great job to get to me quickly as well. These things make us stronger so we will be back ready to fight at Laguna Seca."
"It wasn't a great way to end my first IMSA race but what really matters is that Katherine (Legge) is ok" - stressed Powell.
"It is an unfortunate way to end but also glad my co-driver is not hurt."
Porsche GT Team scored a dominant 1-2 in the GTLM class, while Jeroe Bleekemolen and Ben Keating won the GTD class in the Riley Motorsports Mercedes, followed by the Meyer Shank Racing Acura driven by Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher.
IMSA next event on the calendar will be on 13th-15th September in Laguna Seca, USA.
With both Christina Nielsen and Bia Figueiredo alternating at the wheel alongside Katherine Legge this year, it is unclear at the moment if W-Series front-runner Alice Powell will be back in the premier North American sportscar series for the remaining two rounds of the championship.
In Alice's words:
"It wasn't a great way to end my first IMSA race but what really matters is that Katherine is ok. "
Ph credits: Meyer Shank Racing