Photo courtesy of IMSA

Cadillac look to end dominant IMSA season with Petit Le Mans win

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To say that the new Cadillac DPi-V.R has been dominant in its first season would be somewhat of an understatement. The fastest and most tested DPi effort out of the box, its teams (Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express Racing) won the first seven races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, so were not headed until the second half of the season.

Wayne Taylor Racing, under the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R banner, is poised to clinch the team and driver’s championships with drivers Ricky and Jordan Taylor. They also still have a chance to win the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup as well.

At Action Express, both of its entries, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac and the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac, have visited victory lane this year. Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi won at Watkins Glen in the No. 5 with third driver Filipe Albuquerque, with teammates Eric Curran and Dane Cameron doing so in the No. 31 at the very next race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Further, Barbosa, Fittipaldi, and Albuquerque enter Saturday’s Petit Le Mans currently leading the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.

As a result, all of the Cadillac teams are in position to clinch championships this weekend. For Wayne Taylor Racing, this means having a smooth start to the race, as completing the first 45 minutes of Saturday’s race will see them lock up both the team and driver’s titles.

“I would like to get the first 45-minutes out of the way cleanly, then we can race with nothing to lose for the final 9 hours and 15 minutes,” said Ricky Taylor, the elder of the two Taylor brothers. “It is a unique position because we can truly take risks and enjoy the race instead of being on eggshells for the championship. Petit Le Mans is a classic event and one of the biggest races on our calendar. Although we won the first five races of the season, winning at Petit Le Mans would be the cherry on the cake.”

Teammate and younger brother Jordan shared identical thoughts, a win here meaning the No. 10 car would have won Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans in the same season – three of the four Patron Endurance Cup rounds.

“The number one goal heading into the race is getting to the 45-minute mark to clinch both championships,” Jordan asserted. “Once that is done, we can switch to treating the race like we treated the races early in the year, being aggressive and taking risks we need to, to win the race. It’s one of our biggest races of the year, plus it’s an important race for the TPNAEC, so we’ll be fighting hard.”

For Action Express and its No. 5 entry, while an overall championship may not be in the cards, securing the Patron Endurance Cup would serve as a consolation prize, and a race win would be a nice boost of momentum heading into the offseason.

The No. 5 Mustang Sampling entry from Action Express currently leads the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“We are leading the (Patron Endurance Cup) so that is our goal on Saturday and the best way to achieve that is to have a clean and good race and finish first. It would be great to finish the year on a high to get ready for 2018,” Fittipaldi said of the team’s goals entering the weekend.

For third driver Albuquerque, it’s also a chance to again get acclimated with the team before he becomes a full-time driver in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling machine next year. And, as he described, he hopes to make up for a disappointment last year.

“We were in a good position last year but we had a puncture with three hours to go and that lost us a lap,” Albuquerque explained. “We will have to stay away from problems, and Road Atlanta is a narrow track so that can be a challenge! I am really enjoying racing the Cadillac Dpi-V.R, it is a very sophisticated car with good grip and power so it is a very good car to drive and hopefully it will help us navigate the traffic and stay out of trouble this weekend.”

Finally, the race will also be the swan song for Cameron, who will leave the team for Team Penske and its new Acura DPi program at race’s end. And he would like nothing more than to end his tenure with the team with his first victory at Petit Le Mans.

Saturday’s Petit Le Mans will be Dane Cameron’s final race in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“It is a great event but the race is hard with the traffic and with the car count making it pretty tricky to make up time while also being smart. I’ve not got a Petit win, so that is a very big box that I’d like to check off this weekend!”

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April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994