IMSA: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Friday Notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Courtesy: IMSA Wire Service


Derani Joins No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Team Alongside Nasr for Full 2019 WeatherTech Championship

Action Express Racing today confirmed its full-season driver lineups for the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The lineup for its No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R came as no surprise, as the team confirmed current drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa will continue in the car, along with Christian Fittipaldi in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in what will be his final race as a driver.

The big surprise was the addition of current Tequila Patrón ESM driver Pipo Derani, who will share the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi with incumbent driver Felipe Nasr for the full year. Eric Curran, the 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype co-champion and current Prototype class points co-leader with Nasr, will move to a Michelin Endurance Cup-only role with the No. 31 team next year.

In short, there’s going to be a lot of Portuguese being spoken under the Action Express tent next year between Portugal natives Albuquerque and Barbosa, and the pair of Brazilians in Nasr and Derani.

“I’ve told (team manager) Gary (Nelson), ‘If you have someone who speaks Portuguese on this team, you’d better not tell us who it is, because we’re going to be speaking a lot of Portuguese here, that’s for sure,” Derani said. “It’s been very nice to be able to confirm that I’ll be racing with Action Express, a team that I’ve been racing against for the past three years.

“They’re a championship-caliber team and every time I raced against them, they were so hard to beat. Most of the times, we were beaten by them, so it’s a great opportunity to join forces.”

Derani and Nasr have known each other for quite some time, but this will be their first time sharing the same race car.

“It’s another Brazilian on the team and I couldn’t be happier,” Nasr said. “It’s a great addition for the team as a teammate. He’s a winning driver. He’s proven out there that he’s able to win, able to be consistent and fast. He’s won Daytona and Sebring, so he’s a proven winner. I’ve known Pipo since our go-karting days back in Brazil when we were probably aiming to be a professional driver. Now, we are sharing a car together.”

Before next year, however, there’s still the matter of this year’s championship. Nasr and Curran currently lead the Prototype standings by seven over Albuquerque with two races remaining, and Curran would like nothing more than to finish out his full-time run in the No. 31 with another title.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of conversation and things changing here, but the main focus for Felipe and I is to win the championship,” Curran said. “We’ve got here at Laguna Seca and off to Road Atlanta and Petit Le Mans. There’s two races to go and we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing all year. It’d be amazing to come out with a championship again here in 2018. It’d be a big thing for Whelen Engineering, a big thing for Cadillac and Action Express.”

Recovering Dwyer Returns to Site of Most Recent Continental Tire Challenge Win

IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Continental Tire 120 at The Glen, Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, NY USA Saturday 1 July 2017 26, Mazda, Mazda MX-5, ST, Liam Dwyer. World Copyright: Richard Dole/LAT Images

One of the most popular drivers in the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca paddock on Friday was Liam Dwyer. Countless drivers and team members were thrilled to see the former U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant and two-time IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race-winner, who took the 2018 season off as he recovers from surgeries to both of his legs, which were lost in an explosion during a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Dwyer was just as happy to see them as well. And he was particularly pleased to be back at the site of his most recent Continental Tire Challenge victory, which came in 2015 with Sgt. Aaron Denning – the man who slowed the bleeding and carried him to safety after Dwyer’s 2011 injury in Afghanistan – in attendance at the race.

“The biggest thing about being back here at this track and something that I think about every time we’re coming to Laguna, is that race win that we had,” Dwyer reminisced. “Aaron Denning, the guy that saved my life, was here for it. He was part of the crew, he waved the green flag, but Mazda and Freedom (Autosport), we finished 1-2 that race.

“I’ll never forget that day. It’s the whole collective team atmosphere at Freedom. We brought Aaron in for the weekend and Aaron got to experience it to see what I’m doing with my life post-injury. It’s not that I’m just going out there and just driving laps around. No, this is real, true, hard-core racing.

“You think about all the drivers that have raced in the series and how many of them have wins? The most wins in Conti is, I think, 20? 22? Something like that. I think it’s Matt Plumb (Ed. Note – Plumb and Billy Johnson are tied for the all-time series lead with 23). You’re like, ‘Wow. There have been guys that have raced in the series for years and they don’t have 20 wins? It’s like, wow.’ For me to have to two under my belt, that’s huge. But to experience that win with the guy that saved my life, that’s the biggest and best memory I have here about Laguna Seca.”

Van der Zande, Cameron Relive Last Year’s ‘The Pass’, Run 1-2 in Opening Practice Session

Dane Cameron and Renger Van der Zande meet at the site of last year’s famous Corkscrew pass. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Renger van der Zande and Dane Cameron picked up right where they left off one year ago at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, posting the two fastest times Friday in the opening IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice. This comes one year after the two delivered an instant classic in the closing minutes of last year’s America’s Tire 250.

In that race, van der Zande made a daring move from nearly five car lengths back, outbraking Cameron at the top of WeatherTech Raceway’s famed Corkscrew with three laps remaining. Van der Zande went on to win by 2.248 seconds in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Ligier LMP2 car started by co-driver Marc Goossens.

Both are driving for different teams this year, but van der Zande and Cameron again were 1-2 in the morning session. Van der Zande’s No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. set the fastest time of the session with a lap of one minute, 16.828 seconds (104.794 mph). Cameron, who last year drove a Cadillac DPi-V.R. for Action Express Racing, but this year joins Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 6 Acura DPi for Acura Team Penske, was second with a lap of 1:17.553 (103.914 mph).

Late in Friday’s second practice and final WeatherTech Championship practice session of the day, Cameron improved his best time with a lap of 1:16.865 (104.817 mph). He led the afternoon session and wound up second on the day.

Prior to on-track activity, the two drivers met Thursday evening at the top of the Corkscrew to relive ‘The Pass’ and share their thoughts from the closing minutes of their epic battle.

“Somewhere at the top of the hill I told myself ‘This is the moment, let’s do it,’ and I just braked super late and all the way to the inside,” said van der Zande. “We touched a little, but it was all safe and clean.”

Mueller Paces Friday GTLM Practice in No. 66 Ford GT

Dirk Mueller at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Photo courtesy of IMSA

With nine points separating first from third in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) standings and two races to go, teams are pulling out all the stops in their final push for the championship.

No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT co-drivers Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand – who come into the weekend third in the standings – had the upper hand on Friday at WeatherTech Raceway. Mueller posted the fastest lap of the day in the second and final session at one minute, 23.265 seconds (96.760 mph).

“First of all, to be here at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, it’s always something special,” Mueller said. “It’s a really challenging place. It’s a lot of fun, but secondly, you have so many different corners, which recommends a trick setup on the car. I’m really happy to have all the smart brains behind us. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, our engineers, they’re doing a really great job. Being on top of the charts at the end of Day 1 is fine, but we know it’s a long way to go. It’s definitely a good step.”

Ryan Briscoe was second quickest in the No. 67 Ford GT was second at 1:23.427 (96.572 mph). Briscoe and co-driver Richard Westbrook come into the weekend second in the GTLM standings, four points behind the lead.

GTLM points leaders and defending champions Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia were third Friday n the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. Magnussen posted a best lap of 1:23.605 (96.367 mph).

Park Place’s Lindsey, Bergmeister Hoping Final Drive of 2018 Brings Good Result at Home Track

Patrick Lindsey. Photo courtesy of IMSA

While the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca marks the penultimate round of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, it’ll be the final drive of the year for co-drivers Patrick Lindsey and Joerg Bergmeister.

Piloting the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, the pair has contested four previous races this season and the car will be on the grid at the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 10 – 12, albeit with different drivers as Lindsey and Bergmeister are tapped for the conflicting 6 Hours of Fuji in the World Endurance Championship.

For Lindsey, however, there’s no place like WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to finish off the season for the team based in Santa Barbara, California, which is just under four hours from the 2.238-mile road course in Monterey.

“Monterey is the closest geographically for where our team is racing this year,” said Lindsey. “Laguna in the past has been a tricky track for everybody. We’ve had strong results here especially when we moved from May to September races and I feel like our team generally grooves and closes the season a little stronger.

“The guys are amped up. They haven’t skipped a beat even though we haven’t been full season participants. They’ve been really on it at Watkins Glen, Road America and of course the start of this race week. The guys have been really strong. Even though we haven’t been here the whole year, it’s nice to unload and be competitive no matter where we are.”

And the team has been competitive, despite what the results may show. While the No. 73 Porsche recorded top-10 finishes at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March and the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in July, it hasn’t been a season without challenges. The car was involved in a qualifying incident at Watkins Glen that required significant damage repair before the race and in August at the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America, was closing in on the lead before being involved in a race-ending incident.

“To be able to close one out from the standpoint of getting a result before Joerg and I pack it up for the year, it would mean a lot,” Lindsey said. “It would also mean a lot because going forward, Park Place is looking to grow next year in some of its client programs. Having strong results always helps sell the program.

“Everybody in this paddock is in the same boat and that’s why we like racing. It’s very objective, you get to live and die by your results. For this year, it would mean a lot to have a result here. And if not, so be it. Racing is not the easiest sport out there, especially with the competitive field that IMSA has here, but that’s why we’re drawn to it because we’re competitive people and we want to race against the best. That’s why we do it.”

For good measure, Bergmeister was quickest of the day Friday in GTD practice at WeatherTech Raceway, posting a best lap of one minute, 25.148 seconds (94.620 mph).

Wilson Continues Automatic Racing’s Momentum at WeatherTech Raceway with Fastest Continental Tire Challenge Time of the Day

Kris Wilson at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Photo courtesy of IMSA

It was one year ago that Automatic Racing took the underdog victory during the four-hour IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with Al Carter and Steven Phillips in the No. 99 Aston Martin Vantage.

Following Friday’s on-track activity at WeatherTech Raceway, the No. 99 was once again on top of the leaderboard, topping the day’s two Grand Sport (GS) practice sessions with a best time of one minute, 33.123 seconds (86.517 mph). It’ll be a different duo behind the wheel though this weekend, with Kris Wilson and newcomer Gary Ferrera piloting the Aston Martin.

Wilson, who posted the day’s fastest lap and owns 75 starts in the Continental Tire Challenge, will be guiding Ferrera, who is making his first series start and also competing at WeatherTech Raceway this weekend in the GT3 Trophy series.

Yet while the day started strong for the No. 99, the afternoon practice session didn’t go quite as planned.

“We showed what we had and the first session was awesome,” said Wilson. “But we opened up the fuel tank between sessions just to get the capacity right and something didn’t get plugged back in correctly so we didn’t make the second session. We were planning on doing our pit stop practice with driver changes and all that. Gary’s new this weekend, he’s never done this before, so we were going to go through stuff and we missed out on that. But it’s all good, this is the winning car from last year so there’s big pressure.”

After winning the most recent Continental Tire Challenge race at VIRginia International Raceway two weeks ago with co-driver Kenton Koch, Tom O’Gorman continued to top the TCR class charts in the No. 12 Racing Audi RS3 LMS, with a fastest time of the day at 1:34.671 (85.102 mph) set during Practice 2.

In the Street Tuner (ST) class, it was Mat Pombo in the No. 73 MINI JCW leading the way. His time of 1:39.853 (80.686 mph) was set during Practice 1 and he’ll be co-driving this weekend with Mike LaMarra. The IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge has a brief 15-minute practice session on Saturday before qualifying begins at 10:15 a.m. PT. The WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120 goes green on with IMSA Radio commentary at 3:15 p.m.


With fierce racing, IndyCar found redemption and rebirth on the streets of downtown Detroit


DETROIT – A lap in the IndyCar Grand Prix had yet to be turned on the streets of Detroit, and race drivers were doing what they sometimes do best – expecting the worst of a new race course.

It was the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, and some of the top drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series, including pole winner Alex Palou, were questioning the nine-turn, 1.645-mile street course in downtown Detroit. Even after he won the pole on Saturday, Palou had said the Indy cars were too big, the race course was too small, too tight and too bumpy for the series to put on a competitive race.

It was Sunday morning, five hours before the race, and the IndyCar morning warmup session just had ended. Penske Corp. president Bud Denker, the Detroit GP chairman, was talking to NBC Sports as the Indy cars were being wheeled back to the paddock following the warmup session.

Instead of his trademark smile and optimism, Denker was determined and stern. As Palou’s No. 10 Honda was being pulled by the team’s tire wagon into the paddock, Denker expressed his feelings.

“I’m really not happy with some of the comments that driver has been making,” Denker said.

Denker’s team had spent the better part of two years envisioning and developing a street course that could create a major racing event without shutting down the Detroit business community.

Jefferson Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the city’s business district, remained open thanks to some creative track design (because the race course crossed Jefferson over a bridge and also couldn’t impede the adjacent tunnel that was an international crossing to Windsor, Canada).

From an event standpoint, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was already electric with a vibe that brought tens of thousands daily to this revitalized urban center known as “Motor City.”

But would the actual race prove to be worthy?

Fast forward to Sunday late afternoon and – wouldn’t you know it – the winner of the race was its most vocal critic leading up to the green flag.

Alex Palou.

It was a chance for Denker and Palou to speak.

“Alex and I actually had a conversation after the race on the way to pit lane,” Denker told NBC Sports. “I congratulated him because he was a worthy champion, did a great job, great win, great run, pole qualifying also.

“His comment to me was, ‘This track proved very worthy.’

“I’ll take that from him.”

The race itself exceeded expectations. It may have been the best street race of the season on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

The racing was fierce, the competition phenomenal, and the restarts brought even the most jaded motorsports observers to their feet.

“Oh yeah, myself included,” Palou admitted to NBC Sports. “The event was amazing. The crowd we had was unbelievable. The energy was great. It was a really great race.”

Palou’s complaints entering the race were from his frustrations in finding a clean lap during qualification sims in practice and the actual qualifications on Saturday.

With 27 cars on a 1.645-mile street circuit, just do the math – it’s hard to get a gap.

But the race course proved to be a much better “race” track than a qualifying layout.

“Yes, 100 percent,” Palou said. “I like to go fast. I like to race. When you have traffic every single lap, you don’t like it that much, but for the race, it was great. It was a great event for the fans, for the teams and for the drivers.

“The energy we had here was amazing.”

The drivers’ worst fears never developed in the race. There were no blocked corners. No red flags. Plenty of passing zones.

Denker and his team could feel vindication and a strong sense of redemption.

“It is ironic,” Denker said of Palou winning the race. “I think a lot of the comments early on was because of the first practice. There was no rubber on the track. A new track for them. A lot of cars going into the runoff and stalling their cars in the runoff, not turning the cars around fast enough. I think a lot of perceptions were created in that first practice.

“Some of our turns look tight. Turn 1 for instance, the apex is 27 feet, much larger than some other tracks where it is tight. The issue going into the race was, are you going to have two cars block the entire track and then you have to go Red Flag.

“We never had that situation today where you had a car block the track, even in the tightest turns. We never had an issue where cars could not get around you.

“The corners were wide enough to support the fact that when you had an issue, cars could get around and continue moving around without having a red flag.”

It also proved that in an actual competition, the teams and drivers in IndyCar can figure out how to adapt and put on a good race.

“We saw them figure it out in the Indy NXT race on Saturday,” Denker said. “It was a great race. We saw so many IndyCar drivers go off into the runoff on Friday that there were concerns. Many of them were stalling their cars and couldn’t get them spun around.

“That led to, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have caution after caution after caution because we aren’t going to be able to get our cars stopped to make a turn, or slowed down to make a turn, and the runoff will happen continuously.’ “Guess what? We had seven cautions for 32 laps and very few of those were for a stalled car in the runoff. It was for a mistake on the race track made by a driver.

“We proved the thoughts that came out on Friday, we proved them very, very wrong in the race on Sunday.”

As the president of the Penske Corp., Denker is a man who understands business and decorum. He is one of Roger Penske’s most valued executives, practically his right-hand man.

The impeccably dressed Denker is never rattled, and he backs up his style with substance.

IndyCar racing, however, is a highly competitive game and in the heat of battle, the energy level tends to increase.

That is why Denker was more emphatic than usual once the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix had concluded.

“Eighteen months ago, it was an idea that Michael Montri had after the success of the Nashville Grand Prix and what it did for that city,” Denker said. “The businesses coming together, the community coming together and the city just glowing.

“We came back in August of 2021 and asked if that could ever happen in downtown Detroit and off Belle Isle. We found a great circuit that was worthy of that, that wouldn’t compromise business or the international tunnel in the middle of our race track. That was a dream at the time.

“It’s a cliché, but dreams really came true this weekend. We saw the success of great racing, competitive racing, safe racing and very importantly, fans that we haven’t seen came out in a very diverse way and enjoy this sport.”

It was certainly a major weekend for Detroit as the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was the lead story on seemingly every TV newscast in the city. The business community of the city flourished – something that didn’t happen when the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix was held 4 miles up Jefferson at Belle Isle Park from 1992-2022.

“One hundred percent,” Denker agreed. “The fact of the matter is most of the people that come to our race are within a four-county area. Just like Indianapolis, one state for them.

“I think the fact is Belle Isle you came down, you parked in the same parking deck where the sponsors parked that had been there for 13 years, get in a bus, come back, get in their car, they go home.

“Here you had to park somewhere. You had to come downtown. Took the People Mover, the Q Line, all these different places and you came downtown. That was the difference for us.

“Belle Isle in my mind, it’s 50 miles away from Detroit in some respects because we didn’t see the benefit the city would get. We saw the benefit this time because of how busy it was. You saw it. You were staying here at a hotel somewhere and saw it.

“We know we made a big impact on the city. Why? Because the hotels were all filled up. They weren’t filled up when Belle Isle was there.”

Already on its way to have a dramatic economic impact to Detroit, on Sunday, the competitive level of IndyCar was on full display.

“The facts are there were 189 on-track passes at Detroit, 142 of them were for position,” Denker said proudly. “At St. Pete, great race this year, 170 on-track passes versus Detroit’s 189 and 128 for position versus Detroit’s 142.

“Long Beach, great race this year, had the same for position passes as Detroit had. I think we had a pretty good race.”

Although Palou won the race, it was Team Penske’s Will Power that put on the show. He was a master on the restarts, going full throttle into the end of the long straightaway, pulling out from behind Palou and taking the lead by diving to the inside in the turn.

That move worked throughout the race until the final restart, when Palou was able to protect the inside line and make Power go to the outside.

The Team Penske driver (whose race weekend highlight was hanging out with Flavor Flav) was unable to use the high line and then proceeded to get into a street fight with Scott Dixon and others for second place in the closing laps.

“The restarts were great because we have this long straightaway,” Denker said. “We started the restart between coming out of Turn 1. Those that got a good jump, like Will Power did on Alex Palou on the second-to-last restart, could make a good pass. Those that had push-to-passes left later on could make a good pass.

“The fact we had this seven-eighths of a mile straightaway where the restarts were coming into was a great place to start the race versus an area not as long. We had the benefit of having a straightway as long as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and speeds that were just unbelievable going down through this track.

“I thought the restarts were great because of the positions Kyle Novak (IndyCar Race Director) and his team made for that.

“The other thing was the dual pit lane. This was really interesting because it hasn’t been done before to have 13 cars pitted on one side and 14 cars pitting on the other side and have six lanes merging to one in 315 feet. How is that going to happen?

“This time, because of the yellows, we never had a situation with 27 cars coming in at the same time. It was sporadic. That issue we thought would happen to create a calamity on pit lane never happened.”

Two of the Arrow McLaren drivers got into their own shoving match on the track with Felix Rosenqvist getting the best of Alexander Rossi for third place.

But none of the Chevrolet drivers were able to catch Palou at the end as the No. 10 Honda took the checkered flag.

“When you have Chevrolet as the backdrop, and them being the key partner and sponsor of this thing, you want to keep them happy,” Denker said. “They also know competition drives this sport. We saw some great action. Will Power made a great move late, some great action there. The competition between the Arrow McLaren cars were unbelievable the last 10 laps. Will Power made a great pass of Alexander Rossi to get position to take over second place. I loved the competition.

“We saw some passes late between Turns 8 and 9 and Turns 1 and 2 that I don’t think anybody thought would happen. This turned into a very, very competitive race track.

“Once this track rubbered up, the drivers said this track was very worthy.

“It’s a new place. They have to learn new things. There are some bumps in certain corners. Guess what? We’ll fix those things.

“No one got to test here because we couldn’t close the roads down a week ahead of time or a month ahead of time or two days ahead of time. I got some feedback from drivers who did simulation. I ground some track areas they wanted fixed. I put new pavement in Turn 3 to drivers right because of feedback.

“I got no feedback to repaving drivers left. If I had, I would have repaved that, also. It shows that I will make those changes because I made those changes to driver right, but I never got that feedback.

“It goes both ways. Provide me the feedback, I’ll make those changes. But now that we’ve had the race, we have a lot more opportunity to make changes based off of what actually happened.”

There were accolades and plaudits from some of IndyCar’s most accomplished drivers afterwards, including six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon.

“It was wild,” Dixon said. “I had a lot of fun. The car was super difficult. The track was difficult. It had a lot of character. It was interesting but very difficult on the restarts.

“These things aren’t meant to be easy. I had a lot of fun, just frustrated with how my day went and not getting the most out of a really good car.”

From both an event and race standpoint, team owner Dale Coyne believed it was a blockbuster.

“This is a really big event,” Coyne said. “We’ve brought Long Beach to a major city like Detroit. This is the type of event that we should be doing in IndyCar.

“I would rather be in Detroit than in Milwaukee. Events like this one in Detroit are IndyCar’s future. Milwaukee is IndyCar’s past.”

While that comment may not resonate with some of IndyCar’s older fan base who long for the days of The Milwaukee Mile as the first race after the Indianapolis 500, that distinction has belonged to Detroit since it returned to the IndyCar schedule in 2012.

Now that it’s back on the streets of downtown Detroit for the first time since 1991, Denker predicts even bigger events to come for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

“Our city was showcased to the world in ways that people had probably never thought,” Denker said proudly. “The riverfront, you couldn’t tell if you were in San Diego, or even Monaco, these boats that were out there harbored. We couldn’t be more proud of our team.

“We are already planning for next year.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500