IMSA: Pipo Derani, Whelen Engineering win explosive Petit Le Mans

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Pipo Derani (Whelen Engineering Racing, Cadillac DPi) inherited the lead with 20 minutes remaining after a brake rotor exploded on leader Felipe Albuquerque’s (Mustang Sampling Racing) Cadillac. Derani held the advantage until the checkers waved over the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road America.

With fireworks exploding overhead, there were fireworks on track as well.

On the final lap, with Jordan Taylor (Konica Minolta, Cadillac DPi-V.R) putting pressure on the leader, Derani slammed into the No. 912 Porsche GT with Earl Bamber at the  wheel.

“I flashed a few times,” Derani said in Victory Lane after climbing from his car. “I was flashing every car and I though he saw me, so I went for the dive. I wanted to keep my three-second gap.”

The contact cost Derani a second of time as Taylor closed the gap.

While Derani and the No. 31 team won the battle, Acura Team Penske and the No. 6 won the war. Finishing fourth, one lap behind the leader, Juan Pablo Montoya brought the Acura home high enough in the standings to give him and Dane Cameron the championship.

“It was really a tremendous day,” Cameron said after the race. “It was a little close for comfort there for a couple of hours, but we did exactly what we needed to. We came here with a plan and didn’t have a ton of pace for the first time all year, but we executed perfectly.”

Ricky Taylor and the No. 7 Acura Team Penske team finished third.

“This race is so tough,” race winner Derani said. “I finished second my first time here, was about to win the last two years; it didn’t happen. And today it almost didn’t happen again. But man, it’s fantastic.”

After almost nine and a half hours contact between Toni Vilander (Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GT3) and Katherine Legge (Meyer Shank Racing, Acura NSX GT3) set up a 25-minute shootout to the end of the 10-hour endurance event. The full course caution came after a green flag period of four hours, 38 minutes.

At 8:26 ET, Joao Barbosa brought his Cadillac into the pits from the lead and climbed out of it to face an uncertain future.

“It’s very emotional,” Barbosa said on NBCSN after climbing from his car.  “We’ve been at Action Express for more than 10 years and this will be my last race with them. Definitely, when I got out of the car, everything started to feel more real.”

The broken brake rotor sent the team home seventh in class, five laps off the lead.

At 464 laps, this year’s Petit Le Mans set a record for the longest distance, bettering a mark of 443 laps set last year.

GTLM: James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi, and Daniel Serra win Le Mans and Petit Le Mans

“We came into this race with a huge unknown,” Calado said after the race. “We didn’t test. We struggled with tires the whole race; we had huge blisters, temperatures were really hurting us and it wasn’t until the end when luckily the temperatures came down and we just got away with it.”

This was the second time the driver lineup of Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra raced together. They won Le Mans.

Ryan Briscoe finished second in the Ford Chip Ganassi No. 67 with Tom Blomqvist in the BMW Team RLL No. 25 finishing third.

Bamber survived the last-lap contact to bring his Porsche GT 912 RSR home with the championship by 13 points over the No. 3 Corvette Racing team and the No. 911 Porsche GT Team.

GTD: Bill Auberlen ties Scott Pruett for most IMSA wins

Bill Auberlen got around Felipe Fraga on the last lap of the Petit Le Mans to score his 60th IMSA victory and tie Scott Pruett for the most.

The final 20 minutes of the Petit Le Mans featured a blistering battle between Fraga and Auberlen. In heavy traffic Fraga fought off a determined charge from Auberlen, who was destined to win on his 51st birthday. Auberlen pressed; Fraga fended off every challenge until he ran out of gas on the final lap just at the driver of the No. 96 was pouncing.

“I wasn’t going to be aggressive for a while,” Auberlen said in Victory Lane. “I was going to wait until he made a mistake. And he didn’t make a big one, so I had to get more and more aggressive and then all of a sudden he got out of the way for me right at the end. Someone was looking down on us.”

Christopher Mies and the No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 finished second with Scott Hargrove and the PFAFF Motorsports Porsche 911 rounded out the top three.

The GTD championship went to the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing, Acura NSX GT. They needed only to start the race to wrap up the title, which was fortuitous because they were forced to retire with a broken radiator four hours from the end.

“It’s bittersweet to say the least,” Trent Hindman said. “Going into this final round of the season, we knew all we needed to do was cross the start-finish line and we’d have driver and team championship wrapped up. Which I think is both an accomplishment, for Mario (Farnbacher) and [me], for Mike (Shank), for the entire Meyer-Shank Racing team and crew.”

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Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500