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.


Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”

Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”

Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).