IMSA: Felipe Nasr takes No. 31 Cadillac to Sebring victory in return


After missing the IMSA return to action two weeks earlier, Felipe Nasr drove to an overall victory Saturday in the Grand Prix of Sebring as Cadillacs swept the top three at Sebring International Raceway.

After Pipo Derani started behind the wheel of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Cadillac from the pole position of the DPi class, Nasr took over midway through the 2 hour, 40-minute race and won by nearly 30 seconds over the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Ryan Briscoe and Renger Van der Zande.

The No. 5 Cadillac of Sebastien Bourdais and Jaoa Barbosa finished third after a last-lap pass of the No. 77 Mazda  of Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez, who ran out of fuel.

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix
Pipo Derani celebrates after taking the Sebring pole in the DPi division (IMSA).

Fifth went to the No. 55 Mazda of Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito, who had won July 4 at Daytona International Raceway in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series’ first race since the Rolex 24 after a layoff for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Nasr missed Daytona after a positive test for COVID-19 that he got after falling ill on his drive to Daytona from Miami.

The Brazilian underwent a two-week quarantine, and his Action Express team announced Friday that Nasr had been cleared to return (having tested negative twice in 24 hours this week under IMSA protocols).

Felipe Nasr

“I have no words, really,” Nasr said on NBCSN in victory lane. “I think God is great, first of all. To be here today was the only thing I could ask for … and I couldn’t think of a better gift.

“I’m out of words right now. We had a mega car from the first time I hit the track. I’m super pleased

Derani qualified the No. 31 on pole and now has four wins in his past five races at Sebring.

“I had to take care of the tires and save fuel,” Derani said in a team release about his stint. “The guys did a fantastic job. The Whelen Engineering/Action Express Cadillac was out in front, where it should be. A big thanks to my sponsor OYO Fitness for keeping me fit. Man, it was hot out there. It’s great to have Felipe with us again.”

This was the Action Express team’s second consecutive victory at Sebring after winning last year’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring race.

Other classes in the IMSA Sebring Grand Prix:

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix — GTLM

Corvette Racing captured the top two spots in GTLM for the second consecutive race, but it was the No. 4 Corvette C8.R of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin in victory lane this time.

Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor (who started on pole) finished second after being leap-frogged by their teammates during the final pit stop sequence.

“The Corvette Racing team did an amazing job in the pit lane,” Gavin told NBCSN. “Got us out in front of the Porsches; I don’t know what they were doing, running their own deal. But it was a good race between Jordan and I.

“It was close, nip and tuck and trying to save as much fuel as possible to hand the car off to Tommy of finishing off and leapfrogging those in pit lane. Great 1-2 for Corvette racing. Really great to follow up the win at Daytona.”

Said Milner: “Great strategy, great pit stops, just awesome job. To have this long break and have these cars as good as shape as they are is a testament to that team.”

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix
The No. 4 Corvette C8.R of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won the GTLM class at Sebring (IMSA).

Earl Bamber took third place in the No. 912 Porsches 911 RSR-19, which rebounded from with a teammate. After trying to squeeze in beside the No. 4 Corvette in the narrow pit lane, the No. 911 of Nick Tandy made contact with the No. 912 then being driven by Laurens Vanthoor, ripping off the left front bumper cover of the latter car.

Vanthoor lost a lap to repair the damage. A few laps later, Tandy nearly lost control because of a cut rear tire apparently from the collision. He was able to limp the car back to the pits but also lost a lap.

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix — GTD

Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz took AIM Vasser Sullivan to its second consecutive GTD victory with the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. Telitz, who joined the team only three weeks ago as a full-time, qualified on pole before handing off to Hawksworth.

“I mean, honestly, could it get any better than this,” Telitz said on NBCSN. “Two race wins, first two races full time. Our car was incredible today, and I just handed off to Jack, and he did an awesome job bringing it home.”

Said Hawksworth: “It feels pretty good. The Lexus RC F GT3 was brilliant today, the strategy was perfect, the decisions on pit lane made a massive difference. Yeah, the championship is on the mind for sure.

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix
The No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC-F GT3 of Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth won in GTD (IMSA).

IMSA Sebring Grand Prix — LMP2

The PR1 Motorsporsts entry of Paul Kelly and Spencer Pigot were declared the victors after IMSA penalized the No. 81 DragonSpeed entry, according to the NBCSN broadcast.

The No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 of Patrick Kelly and Spencer Pigot (IMSA).

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.