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

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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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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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”