Stage set for season-ending title fight
Third Win in Four Races Puts Whelen Squad within 19 Points of Championship Lead Heading into Motul Petit Le Mans
Action Express Racing’s furious second-half rally in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Daytona Prototype international (DPi) season gained pace with a commanding overall victory at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani led all but five laps, dominating the 100-minute “sprint” race in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R to win by 10.952 seconds over the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac driven by Kevin Magnussen and Renger van der Zande.
The Whelen Cadillac led both practice sessions on the 1.968-mile Long Beach Street Course Friday, and Nasr qualified the car on pole position. The Brazilian driver duo completed the job with authority Saturday afternoon.
“What a weekend by the Whelen Engineering Cadillac team!” Derani exclaimed in Victory Circle. “We led every session, and Felipe’s amazing pole dictated the weekend for us.
“During the race, it was more a case of trying to bring it back home without any mistakes,” he continued. “We did that with perfect execution, and I’m so happy for this team. We’ve been working so hard, and after the difficult beginning to the season, here we are just a few points from the lead.”
The No. 31 pairing started the season with a sixth-place finish in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, then was eliminated by a broken gearbox in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. Nasr and Derani finally broke through in early July for their first victory of 2021 in the WeatherTech 240 At The Glen, and they now have claimed the top spot in three of the last four races.
At Long Beach, they cut their points deficit to WeatherTech Championship DPi leaders Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 from 98 points to 19 heading into the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Nov. 13. Harry Tincknell and Oliver Jarvis, who finished fifth at Long Beach in the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports DPi, are now 189 points behind Taylor and Albuquerque.
The only source of drama for the winners was some early aggressive driving by Magnussen, whose second-place Cadillac bore scars from several collisions and brushes with the walls by the end of the race. Nasr was very unhappy with the way Magnussen raced him in the opening laps.
“I couldn’t understand why another Cadillac that isn’t even in the championship is fighting that hard,” Nasr commented. “That, for me, is unnecessary. But I’ve known Kevin through many years of racing. He hasn’t changed and I kind of expect that from him.”
Albuquerque started the race in the championship-leading No. 10 Acura, and he aggressively charged from fifth place to third on the opening lap. But the No. 10 was ultimately beaten to third place by the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac co-driven by Loic Duval and Tristan Vautier.
Cadillac DPi cars have claimed four consecutive Long Beach wins, the last two since Acura took over title sponsorship of the long-running street racing event.
This year’s race was extraordinarily clean, slowed by a single full-course caution that lasted just seven minutes. Nasr and Derani completed 78 laps of the Long Beach course, compared to the winning totals of 70 in 2018 and 73 in 2019. The 2020 event was cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the fans were back in full force at one of Southern California’s most popular sporting events.
“I love this place and I’ve got to say thanks to the fans,” Nasr said. “What a great vibe they bring to racing. It’s just awesome to get a win on the streets of Long Beach.”
With just a 19-point gap, the 2021 DPi championship boils down to a fight between the No. 10 Acura and the No. 31 Cadillac, with the team achieving the best Petit Le Mans result in position to clinch the title.
On the basis of their recent form, Derani, Nasr and the No. 31 team will enter the 10-hour endurance contest with plenty of momentum.
“It’s never over ‘til it’s over, and I feel that’s the mentality of the team,” Nasr asserted. “We came here with the mindset of maximizing the points. We did that in qualifying yesterday, and today the same thing. What an amazing car the team gave us – it was super-fast.
“It’s going to go down to the wire,” he added. “Now we are in the fight.”