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Michael Shank Racing earns 'fairy tale' victory at Petit Le Mans
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The Michael Shank Racing Honda HPD races to victory during Saturday's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in Braselton. - photo by Doug Chellew

Despite a one hour and four-minute delay in track repairs, Saturday’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta showcased some monumental finishes on the track in Braselton.

Olivier Pla and Luis Felipe Derani in the JS P2 Honda race car took the Petit Le Mans with a 1-2 punch, respectively, and brought Michael Shank Racing a monumental victory in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship — a fitting farewell for the team’s DP prototype.

Fellow teammate Oswaldo Negri Jr. considered this team win as sweet revenge for their previous losses. Also for Michael Shank, John Pew will use this as a reason to go out on top in the final race of his career.

“It’s a fairy tale story isn’t it? The last prototype for me and for Shank, and John’s last race,” said Negri. We worked very hard since we arrived at the track. We spent an enormous amount of time working with the engineers and you know, it’s amazing.”

Pla, who experienced a minor setback with a left-rear wheel hub issue for Pla during his opening pit stop, went on to lead the majority of the way and recorded his fastest lap of the race (1 minute, 13.478 seconds) before taking the checkered flag by a margin of 3.524-seconds. He became just the fifth pole leader in the event’s 19-year history to win the title.

Teammate Derani also recorded a personal record time before knifing his way past Joel Miller’s No. 70 Mazda Prototype and into the runner-up slot with less than 35 minutes remaining.

Pla and Derani’s memorable finish came after a late-race yellow flag was signaled for Miller, whose race car caught fire going downhill toward the main straightaway with 14 minutes left in the race.

Wondering fans were also hit with an agonizing delay around the five-hour mark of the race. Maintenance crews were summoned to turn three of the track, where a small section of pavement began to cave.

Luckily for the GTD Ferrari F488 GT3 crew, one of their own made history before the surprising delay.

Danish racer Christina Nielsen, 24, became the first female driver to win a major full-season professional sports car championship in North America.

Nielsen and co-driver Alessandro Balzan entered Petit Le Mans with a 32-point lead in the GT Daytona class standings, and both were able to achieve the three-hour minimum drive time of the championship to clinch the title.

Not long after realizing the feat, Nielsen climbed out of her race car and took a moment to rest against the pit wall – helmet on – to soak it all in. She also commended Ferrari for producing an amazing product and reflected on the year-long process to get to this point.

“I am proud as a driver to win the championship,” Nielsen said.

“There has been a lot of focus on the female message, and it’s important to let females in male-dominated sports to know that they can compete with the guys. Hopefully it inspires them to come out and maybe start karting or similar.

I want to use all the attention for our partners too. It’s something that I’m proud of for sure, but it’s awesomely amazing to be sitting with my co-driver and be the champions in the GTD class.”

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