Cadillacs 1-2 at Petit LeMans
Added by a Balance of Power adjustment from IMSA to ensure a Cadillac win, The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi did everything it could in an attempt to repeat as Daytona Prototype international champions in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Even by winning Saturday’s thrilling Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, the No. 31 couldn’t unseat the No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi from the 2019 season title. By placing fourth on Saturday, No. 6 drivers Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya held on for the DPi crown by five points. And along with third driver Simon Pagenaud, they sealed the team title in the Acura Team Penske program’s second season.
In a race that saw a record 465 laps completed on the 2.54-mile Michelin Raceway road course (1,181.1 miles) – 22 laps more than last year’s previous standard. But it came down to a 25-minute trophy dash to the finish following the last of four full-course cautions in the iconic 10-hour race to close the WeatherTech Championship season.
The final restart saw the No. 31’s Action Express teammate, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi, take the green flag in the lead with Filipe Albuquerque at the wheel. Pipo Derani, celebrating his 26th birthday, was in the saddle of the second-place No. 31 – which needed to win the race and have the No. 6 finish ninth or worse to pull off the championship repeat.
Derani hounded Albuquerque until the No. 5 suddenly skidded off track in Turn 10 with just under 20 minutes remaining. As the No. 31 zoomed into the lead, the No. 5 pulled into pit lane, the victim of a badly damaged left front brake rotor that ended its night.
“I’ve been trying to win this race for the last three years,” Derani said. “I finished second on my first time here in 2016, and last year I was close for the overall win and it slipped away in the last few minutes on both occasions. To finally have it this year is fantastic.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t take the full championship,” Derani added, “but we’ll take a strong end to our season that can hopefully be the success we carry on for next year.
"This track has been good to me for years, but never a win," Curran said. "This is a special day to win here at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. The Whelen Cadillac was really strong all week. Probably the best car I have been in with the team. Felipe and Pipo have been strong all year long. I was glad to come onboard and support them and get the win. The Action Express team did a great job all weekend. It is cool to wrap up the season with a win."
The victory was the second of the year for the No. 31, as well as its fifth podium result of 2019. Curran earned his 10th career IMSA victory, Derani his seventh and Nasr his third. The No. 31 also overtook the No. 10 to win the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup that awards points at different junctures in the four endurance events on the schedule.
“I’m pretty happy with the final result and the victory itself,” said Nasr, who joined the WeatherTech Championship full time in 2018 after two years in Formula One. “Just looking back at how the weekend started, from the time we hit the track, the work we did through every session, Action Express Racing did an amazing job to get the car together in every kind of condition out there.”
Cameron and Montoya wound up five points ahead of Derani and Nasr in the driver’s championship, the same gap that the No. 6 defeated the No. 31 by for the team title. Cameron earned his third WeatherTech Championship crown, following the GT Daytona title in 2014 and the Prototype championship in 2016 – ironically with Action Express.
“It’s cool to just win the championship for something you’ve had so much influence in its development and its growth,” Cameron said. “It’s a nice rebound from the learning year we had last year to come back and win three races and win the title, it’s fantastic.
“For me, it’s the first time to be in this tight and in-depth with a manufacturer, so it’s something I’m excited to be a part of. I think Juan and I said earlier in the year we were excited to come to this program because it had potential. We fell a bit short of it last year and this year we got it to the level it should have been all along.”
For Montoya, whose many racing accomplishments include two Indianapolis 500 wins and seven Formula One victories, it was his first season championship of any kind since taking the CART title in Indy cars 20 years ago. The thought of it brought a smile to the 44-year-old’s face.
“I think it’s great, I think it’s fun,” Montoya said. “When you join Team Penske when you come to this program and with Acura, they expect this. It’s great that we won it, but if we didn’t, they’d be disappointed. As hard as everyone works in the program, and how well we prepare the cars and how everything is done, it’s great. You’re so proud of the guys. They are so pumped.”
McMurry, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Win LMP2 Race and Championship
The Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class was decided by the halfway point of Saturday’s 10-hour race. By just taking the green flag, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 wrapped up the team championship, with driver Matt McMurry clinching the driver’s title.
The No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA won the LMP2 pole in qualifying on Friday but was eliminated less than 90 minutes into the race. Cameron Cassels slowed in the esses to let the No. 6 Acura Team Penske DPi go past. But the trailing No. 7 Acura Team Penske DPi ran into the rear of the No. 38, sending it into the Turn 4 barrier and bringing out the first full-course caution of the day.
That left the No. 52 driven by McMurry, Dalton Kellett and Gabriel Aubry alone in class on track. Just past the halfway point, however, smoke erupted from the rear of the car, and it headed to the paddock and didn’t return.
“I wish we could have raced into the night to see how the track is and how the lead would hold,” Aubry said. “We had a good car. I think something happened on the rear suspension and took us out of the race. The track is tough on the car, but that’s how it goes.”
The victory was the sixth in a row to close the LMP2 season for the No. 52. It propelled McMurry, the 21-year-old from Phoenix, to the first major championship of his young racing career.
“It’s amazing,” McMurry said. “I’ve been watching IMSA my whole life. My dad drove in LMP2 and P1 for years, and to be the champion is pretty special.
“The team did great all year, I couldn’t have done it without them. They performed pretty flawlessly all year. There were a couple of unfortunate things that happened, but it was nothing the team could have done to prevent it. The team, all the pit stops were perfect, the suspension and setup were almost always spot on as soon as we pulled it off the trailer.
“It’s special, and I’m glad I did it with PR1, and with Dalton and Gabby.”
Ferrari takes GTLM
In the weeks leading up to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, all eyes were on the four full-season manufacturers in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.
There was the last IMSA race for the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, in anticipation of the 2020 competition unveil of the C8.R; the swan song for Ford’s GT factory program; and Porsche’s Coca Cola-themed throwback livery ahead of its championship-winning efforts.
But throughout the weekend, the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 stole much of the attention.
Starting on Friday, James Calado qualified the car on the pole position for the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans. Then on Saturday, Calado and co-drivers Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra combined to lead over one-third of the laps, 157 of 434, to secure Risi Competizione’s first victory in exactly three years, as the team’s last WeatherTech Championship win came at Michelin Raceway in 2016.
“It’s one of the hardest races in all the series,” said Calado. “The track is very much a driver’s track. You can easily go over the limit and going over the limit is a gravel barrier. Concentration levels are seriously high. We’ve won together before, and we’ve won together today. Thanks to Ferrari. It will be nice to go to (the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January) and try to win again.”
“This is my first time at Petit Le Mans,” added Pier Guidi. “I was happy to be here and have the opportunity to fight for this amazing race. Every time I come to the U.S., I see a lot of fun and a lot of people loving motorsports. It’s fun to be in front of these people. It’s something special. It’s something that will stay in my heart for a long time.”
Second place, 7.8 seconds behind the No. 62, went to the No. 67 Ford GT for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and co-drivers Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon in the program’s final race of its four-year tenure in the GTLM class. They capped it off by taking driver, team and manufacturer honors in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup as well.
In third place were Connor De Phillippi, Tom Blomqvist and Colton Herta in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE.
It wasn’t a smooth race for the season champions – the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR pair of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor. With endurance driver Mathieu Jaminet, the car ran mid-pack for the majority of the race and in the closing minutes was involved in a spin following contact with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi that wound up the overall winner.
However, with the checkered flag, Bamber and Vanthoor finished with three victories and four additional podium results in 2019.
“We fought our hardest at the end of the race there for a podium and it didn’t quite come off,” Bamber said. “So that was a tough day. We managed to do what we did all season and be right there and be in the points, make no mistakes all day long and score points.
“Tomorrow it’ll definitely sink in. I think it is definitely one of the toughest championships to win here. Everyone’s at the highest level and I’m super thrilled to take the championship home for Porsche.”
“I joined Porsche three years ago,” added Vanthoor. “I wanted to go to America. It was kind of a dream to race here at one point and race for Porsche. When I came here, I basically didn’t know anything. I didn’t know the teams, the tracks, the rules, not the car, nothing. For me to come away now with the championship in the books is something I’ll be really proud of.”
James Calado, driver, No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTLM:
"Thanks to the team for an amazing car. The line-up was incredible and our result, it was a hard race. We kind of came into the race at a pace unknown. We had a serious blistering of the tires so we were hoping that the temperatures would come down. They did, and it helped. The car was amazing at the end and what driving and what a team! It's an incredible achievement.
"This is a proper driver's track, so it was great to win here again. I've only raced here twice and won both times. We keep getting better and better. We're all getting older but still better. I'm in it in every lap still and I just look forward to more of this in the future."
Alessandro Pier Guidi, driver, No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTLM:
"I think together with James and Ale, I think we are strong. We've won two Le Mans in one year, the big Le Mans and the small Le Mans, so it's great. Let's see what goes on for the future."
Daniel Serra, driver, No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTLM:
"I have no words. At first, we won Le Mans and now Petit Le Mans in the same year. I think I could never imagine something like this and it's my first time with Risi. It's such a passionate team. Everyone is passionate for their job. So, it's so nice to do this for them and it's so nice for us as well."
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