Bill Auberlen added to his deep history of success in IMSA and at Watkins Glen International, with a late pass giving him and Turner Motorsport teammate Dillon Machavern the victory in the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 120 late Saturday afternoon.
With just over 11 minutes on the clock in the timed 2-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race, Auberlen overtook Christian Szymczak for the lead in the Inner Loop and pulled away for a comfortable 2.05-second victory over the driving duo of Stevan McAleer and Eric Filgueiras. Szymczak, teamed with Ken Murillo, ended up third in the 52-lap event.
The triumph came a year after McAleer got past Auberlen in the same part of the track with 3 minutes, 38 seconds remaining to win the four-hour Tioga Downs Casino Resort 240 on the 3.4-mile road course.
Auberlen, 53, has four class wins in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series' Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen among his 65 in IMSA's top series, more than anyone else. He now has 17 Pilot Challenge victories.
Szymczak passed Koch for the lead off a restart with 26 minutes to go and was still at the head of the field when the race's final caution came out with 21 minutes remaining. The race went green again with 14 minutes left.
Following the restart, Auberlen bump-drafted Szymczak in a bid to gain separation from McAleer.
"I think it freaked him out a little bit, so I got him kind of looking backwards," Auberlen said.
On the next lap, Auberlen made a run in the BMW that had the same setup as last year before coming through with the decisive pass.
"He was nice enough to give me enough room. I tried to give him as much room as I could," Auberlen said. "It was an aggressive move. Once we got by, I couldn’t quite see what happened to him. He dropped back, so he must have got really kind of bounced through there and got caught up with other cars. It allowed me to break away a little bit. Once I got into the lead, my temperature dropped by like five degrees Celsius."
That dip in car temperature helped Auberlen extend his lead on a day in which temperatures reached 90 degrees.
Coming into the season, Auberlen said the approach was to not be overly aggressive and make a bid for the points title. With those hopes diminished, Auberlen was more inclined to take his shot Saturday.
"Obviously Bill was able to make some moves he might not make if we were in the championship hunt, but it feels good," Machavern said. "It feels good to get the Turner boys a win because they've worked hard all season to get those cars right and we just haven't been able to put it together, whether it's running out of gas or overheating or some little thing."
Mark Wilkins and Robert Wickens were winners of the race's Touring Car class. The win was Wickens' first since he suffered a spinal cord injury in 2018 during an IndyCar Series crash at Pocono Raceway.
Wickens wins for first time since 2018 crash
Robert Wickens, 33, won for the first time since suffering a serious spinal cord injury in August of 2018 by teaming with Mark Wilkins to capture the Touring Car class in the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 120.
Wickens, a native of Ontario, crashed into the fence at Pocono Raceway while an up-and-coming IndyCar rookie. The crash left him paralyzed from the waist down. He returned to racing this year and a specially built steering wheel helps him steer and control the brakes and throttle. He drove for the first half of Saturday's race after qualifying third.
"It means a lot," Wickens said of the win. "I don't think it's really sunk in yet. I'm not much of an emotional guy. I just try to have my moments to myself when I can. ... I'm a little lost for words, but it's just been a really good day."
There were 27 Grand Sport cars and 16 Touring Class cars in the event.
Blomqvist grabs Six Hours pole with record effort
Series points leaders Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis will have the advantage in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen thanks to Blomqvist's qualifying effort Saturday.
Blomqvist set a track record for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series with a top lap of 1 minute, 29.580 seconds in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing W/Curb Agajanian Acura DPi to lead 48 qualifying cars across five classes. The previous record of 1:29.639 was set by Jarvis in 2019.
Blomqvist, who earned his first Watkins Glen pole, and Jarvis were also fastest in the weekend's two practice sessions.
"We put quite a big focus on qualifying this weekend," said Blomqvist, who was born in England. "The championship is so tight every point counts. Obviously it's a six-hour race, so a lot can happen, but it definitely makes your life easier starting in the front."
Sunday's high temperature is expected to be in the upper 80s, similar to Saturday's conditions.
"I'm really looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully myself and Olly can convert this pole position into another victory because it's been awhile since we stepped on the top step of the podium," Blomqvist said.
Filipe Albuquerque qualified second in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura DPi he shares with co-driver Ricky Taylor. Albuquerque had a top lap of 1:29.744.
Sebastien Bourdais qualified third in the No. 01 Cadillac Racing DPi (1:30.048).
Blomgqvist and Jarvis entered the weekend with a 10-point lead over Taylor and Albuquerque (2,027 to 2,017). Blomqvist and Jarvis are seeking their first win since opening the season by teaming with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud for a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Sunday's race is set for a 10:40 a.m. start. Peacock's premium streaming service will provide live coverage from start to finish. USA Network will air the second half of the race, beginning at 2 p.m.
Pole-winners for the other classes Saturday were Ben Keating in Le Mans Prototype 2 (1:33.93), Nico Varrone in LMP3 (1:40.028), Connor De Phillipi (1:44.755) in GT Daytona Pro and Steven McAleer (1:45.077) in GT Daytona.
"I'm looking at Tom here and I'm thinking pink cars are quicker around Watkins Glen," joked Keating, who turned in his fastest lap ever at Watkins Glen.
Kamui Kobayashi qualified 45th overall and last among the seven DPi cars (2:17.096) in the No. 48 Cadillac that includes seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.
Other weekend winners
Six additional IMSA support races were held at the track Friday and Saturday.
Kyle Marcelli and Danny Formal swept the Lamborghini Super Trofeo races for Wayne Taylor Racing.
Kay Van Berlo took both Porsche Carrera Cup events.
Tyler Gonzalez, who turns 16 next month, and 19-year-old Aidan Fassnacht were winners in the Mazda MX-5 Cup series. Fassnacht was a first-time winner.
This article originally appeared on Elmira Star-Gazette: Bill Auberlen and Dillon Machavern teamed for Pilot win at WGI