By IMSA Wire Service
BRASELTON, Ga. – 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.
From there, the No. 31, shared in the race by co-drivers Derani, Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran, took the checkered flag .996 seconds ahead of the defending race champion, the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. shared by Renger van der Zende, Jordan Taylor and Matthieu Vaxiviere.
“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.
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.”