Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Derani, Patron ESM Nissan dethrone Cadillac at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – For the first time in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, it’s not a Cadillac DPi-V.R that has won overall, as the second different Daytona Prototype international (DPi) manufacturer has broken through.

Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek have pulled off the win in the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi in Sunday’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America.

The Nissan has toppled the Cadillac, courtesy of Derani’s barnstorming pass on Lap 56 around the outside of Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac on a restart into Turn 1. The No. 10 car won the first five races and Action Express Racing, with its Nos. 5 and 31 cars, have won the last two for Cadillac to open the year seven-for-seven in Prototype.

Derani, who’s been a thorn in the Wayne Taylor Racing team’s side before (notably at the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona), took over from Johannes van Overbeek and was only fractionally behind him after their last round of pit stops – stops which indirectly decided the race.

At that pit cycle, the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson opted not to pit, perhaps hoping the rest of the Prototype class field would need to come in again for a splash of fuel – so it shifted Stephen Simpson to the lead.

But the strategic hopes were dashed once the No. 3 Corvette C7.R contacted the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR going into Turn 1, which knocked Dirk Werner deep into the gravel trap and brought out another full course caution barely a lap after the last one.

Simpson would eventually need to pit, first taking on emergency service in a closed pit and then pitting again after the next restart for full service. That dropped the plucky “JDC Banana Boat” down to a season-worst eighth and last place in class, after a run that did not match its pace as Simpson set the fastest lap of the race at 1:54.095.

Performance Tech Motorsports kept up its streak in Prototype Challenge, a seventh consecutive victory in the swan song year for the class. This one, though, was harder earned than most as the No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports car got back to the lead lap and within a few seconds of Performance Tech in the final half hour, but still Pato O’Ward and polesitter James French forged ahead to ensure French finally has a professional win not far from his hometown of Sheboygan in the No. 38 Oreca FLM09.

In GT Le Mans, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing finally won with its Ford GT for the first time since this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona and in the process, became the sixth different manufacturer in as many years to do so at this race in class. Corvette won last year, Porsche in 2015, Risi Ferrari in 2014, the SRT Viper in 2013 and BMW in 2012. Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller pulled off the triumph in the No. 66 car.

Meanwhile in GT Daytona, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 got on the board with Jens Klingmann and Jesse Krohn delivering a dominant drive.

More to follow…

Chevrolet hoping it finally has edge on Honda in Indy 500

Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Chevrolet engines have powered some of IndyCar’s biggest wins over the last six years.

Their drivers have won three of the first five races this season, four straight series titles and claimed the top four starting spots in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

So why is there so much chatter about Chevy vs. Honda in Sunday’s race? It’s the one mountain Chevy continues to try and conquer.

“We have more horsepower at the top end but race running’s going to be different because you’re not going to be flat out,” 2016 series champ Simon Pagenaud said. “You’re going to have to manage your tires, you’re going to have to lift a lot and reaccelerate, and the Honda is really strong at that. So I think it’s going to equalize the race and I think there’s a good chance it will show, which is fantastic.”

Pagenaud knows both engines well.

He spent his first four seasons in the series working with Honda teams before switching to Roger Penske’s powerhouse Chevy team in 2015.

Yet as dominant as Chevy has been over the years outside Indy and as good as Penske’s team has been on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval, Honda continues to have the upper hand in the 500. Their cars have driven to victory lane 12 times over the past 14 years, including a run of nine straight (six coming when Honda was the series’ sole-engine manufacturer).

Chevy has two 500 wins since returning to the series in 2012. But the engine battle is becoming far more competitive even at Indy where the disparity from the top qualifier to the last qualifier was cut from 11.083 mph in 2017 to 5.198 mph this year.

Drivers have already noticed a difference on the track and casual fans who only watch the 500 might pick up on the changes, too.

“It’s certainly exciting for the fans, for us, for the teams,” said three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, a Chevy-powered driver for Penske. “It’s all about the end. Right now, we happen to be competitive so let’s see what happens in the race.”

Last year, Honda grabbed four of the top five spots and powered two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso to the race’s rookie of the year award. The problem: Three Honda engines blew during the second half of the race and those still on the track worried they would face the same fate.

This year, some of those same questions could return after Marco Andretti blew an engine just hours before the start of the IndyCar Grand Prix. Still, Andretti has been fast and qualified 12th for the race.

The new aero kits have drivers complaining about handling and passing on Sunday. Practice and qualifying speeds haven’t provided many hints about what to expect, either.

The practice session Monday was the first time everybody worked heavily on race setups and attempted to run in traffic.

The result: Chevy and Honda each had five cars among the top 10, in practice led by 23-year-old Sage Karam at 226.461 mph in a Chevy. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champ and 2014 Indy winner with Andretti Autosport, was third-fastest at 224.820 – and No. 1 among the Honda teams.

Chevy, however, posted the top three non-tow speeds with rookie Kyle Kaiser leading the way at 221.107. Marco Andretti wound up fourth at 220.407 and was the top Honda car the list.

Four-time series champion Scott Dixon has learned not to read too much into all these numbers. The Chip Ganassi Racing star qualified ninth and is one of only two Honda drivers starting in the first three rows Sunday.

Last year, Honda took six of the top nine starting spots and had four of the top five cars at the finish line.

“I think there’s a lot of good Honda cars. Hopefully this one is one of them,” the 2008 Indy 500 winner said. “It showed pretty good, I think, in practice. But again it doesn’t guarantee you anything. You’ve got to give it your best, put in the effort and work hard.”

And hope for the best.

“I believe, even last year, even though the Hondas were really strong, we were able to fight in the end,” Castroneves said. “It’s all about being a good, balanced car.”