DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Action Express Racing drivers Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani conquered and then called out the competition, accusing their Acura and Mazda competition of sandbagging ahead of the 59th Rolex 24 at Daytona.
After winning the Motul 100 qualifying race Sunday to take the pole position for the sports car endurance classic Jan. 30-31 at Daytona International Speedway, Nasr was simultaneously overjoyed about the No. 31 Cadillac’s victory and apoplectic about the circumstances.
“I think all the Cadillacs put in a great effort all week, yesterday in qualifying every Cadillac was within a 10th of each other, and the other manufacturers are just not doing their thing,” said Nasr, who started sixth Sunday and took the lead shortly before halfway. “Like come on, we have a brand new (qualifying) format for everyone to go out there and race. We’re going after points, we’re going after what we’re here for, to go and race and expect the best out of the maximum of the car.
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“For me it’s a joke that you see drivers have a great Sector 1 and Sector 2 and then come Sector 3, which is just one corner, just the Bus Stop, and you’re going to be half a second off? Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me. Just do the damn lap. Show what you got. It makes the whole life of the series easier. It makes everybody’s life easier.”
Derani, who took the checkered flag, said he was “a little upset that we know some other guys are not showing everything they have.
“At least on our side, we’re going to do the best we can,” he said. “The whole reason for the new format, which I love, is to give an incentive for teams to push considering there’s points available for qualifying. On our side, I have to say that we did that. Maybe the incentive wasn’t big enough for other teams to come and show their hands, which is a shame. On our side, a race win is a race win, whether 35 points or 350 points. That’s how we go racing, we always try our best to go win every race.
“One thing you can be sure, we are always going to give our maximum and go for that win, and that’s what happened today. No matter what others did, we’re trying to do our part and our best all the time.”
The race marked the conclusion of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test session, in which teams frequently accuse each other of sandbagging to avoid being penalized via aerodynamic, horsepower and weight adjustments made by IMSA as part of its Balance of Performance policy.
The Roar normally takes place three weeks ahead of the race, but IMSA still could react with BoP changes despite the main event only being a week later this year.
Asked for a response to the drivers’ comments, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series vice president of competition Simon Hodgson said, “The checkered flag has just fallen on a successful Motul Pole Award 100 and the start of the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
“Post-race, the IMSA Technical Scrutineering Department impounded many cars across all five classes to diligently inspect and assess compliance to the class-specific technical regulations. The IMSA Technical Committee will then reconvene and evaluate all pertinent BoP technical data before drawing any conclusions in advance of the 59th running of the Rolex At Daytona event.”
Action Express Racing, which is fielding NASCAR Cup Series champions Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson across its two Cadillacs for the Rolex 24, dominated the speed charts during the three-day Roar before the Rolex 24 test session.
Kamui Kobayashi paced the opening practice Friday and the Sunday morning warmup. Mike Conway led the second session Friday, and Nasr qualified first for the Motul 100 before an inspection failure.
The other two practice sessions were led by Cadillac drivers Tristan Vautier and Kevin Magnussen.
Nasr said he felt the competition was intentionally laying back to make the Cadillacs a potential target of IMSA performance restrictions.
“Yeah, in a way, they’re going to look at the results and say ‘Oh, the Cadillacs are winning, so what are we going to do with them next weekend?’ ” Nasr said. “That’s how they’re going to walk away from here and say, ‘Oh they got pole, but they’re much quicker, which is a joke for me.
“From my racing experience, every time we hit the track at Action Express we show what we got. that makes everybody’s life easier to analyze that. I’ve seen that all weekend and today in the race again.”
GTD winner Bill Auberlen also believed other cars were holding back in his division and expressed concern that IMSA might react by penalizing his Turner Motorsport BMW. “It would be a travesty,” he said.
Auberlen said his BMW had been penalized for the past five years on BoP before the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but “this year they wanted us to race, so we just put our heads down and race. I drafted, I passed, we did our pit strategies. We did everything.
“I hope (IMSA) don’t react the wrong way, and they see through some of the fraud that was going on. … I hope they can see it. Or if they don’t quite see it, just leave it alone (for the Rolex 24).”
Auberlen suggested that IMSA should make the new qualifying race pay full points (instead of 10% of the main event) to incentivize more competition. “Then there’s a lot more skin in the game and you get people to pony up and show what they got,” he said. “I don’t think there’s enough on the table to flush everyone out.”
Nasr also believed awarding more points would convince teams running for the championship to try harder.
“I think one thing to say is we’re being crystal clear with what we have, trying to be very honest and expecting that honesty will pay off with a fair balance for a very important race,” Derani said. “We wouldn’t like to see otherwise being penalized for being honest. It’s not the way we should go. We always go for the race win, the maximum that we have.”
The non-Cadillac teams in the DPi division for the Rolex 24 are the No. 55 Mazda of Harry Tincknell and Oliver Jarvis, the Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Acura of Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque, Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi and the Meyer Shank Racing No. 60 Acura of Dane Cameron, Olivier Pla, Juan Pablo Montoya and AJ Allmendinger.
Nasr declined to single out competitors that he felt were laying back.
“I know there are competitors, all the competitors,” he said. “I ain’t going to name them. They’re not showing their hands. We’re working flat out to show what we’ve got. They just don’t seem to be doing their thing. They could go much quicker than what they’re doing.
“It’s not my job to look at that, but I hope whoever is looking after it can understand that.”
Derani and Nasr were the No. 31 drivers for Sunday, but the Brazilians will be teamed with Mike Conway and Elliott when the car starts first in the Rolex 24.