Mazda exits with Petit Le Mans victory as Derani, Nasr claim DPi championship


On a night of fitting farewells in the IMSA Petit Le Mans season finale, Felipe Nasr said goodbye to Action Express with a championship while Harry Tincknell closed Mazda’s IMSA run in DPi with a victory Saturday at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

Tincknell took the checkered flag in the No. 55 Mazda by 3.297 seconds over the No. 31 Cadillac of Nasr, who clinched the title over third-place finisher Ricky Taylor and Wayne Taylor Racing co-driver Filipe Albuquerque.

After Nasr caught heavy GT congestion on the final lap, Taylor attempted to outbrake his rival in the last corner. The cars made contact, and Taylor skidded through the grass and finished a half-second short of the championship.

Nasr was leading and seemed in command until the final 20 minutes when he yielded the lead to Tincknell in traffic and quickly came under fire from Taylor, who made up a gap of more than 10 seconds over the final stint.

“I got really bad timing with traffic,” Nasr told NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider. “I had nothing to do but defend myself. I did it the way I thought was the best was going to be for the outcome. I saw (Taylor) go that deep, I thought, ‘He ain’t going to make it.’

“Man, so many things in my mind. So many emotions. My final race with the team. Grabbing this championship means so much. So much effort we put together. I just can’t believe it. I’m so glad. I’m so happy for these guys. I’ll be forever grateful for a huge team that I’ve been part of it. It’s so great to close the year with this championship, so thank you very much Action Express Racing and Whelen Engineering.

Nasr, who is moving to another automaker’s LMDh prototype program, won the championship with fellow Brazilian Pipo Derani. Mike Conway joined the team Saturday as its third endurance race driver.

“You can see it in my face,” a crying Derani told Snider about his emotions. “Such a difficult beginning of the year. You guys can’t imagine how I went through such a low and now to be, with a lot of belief in God, to come back this year and win it with the 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac is just fantastic. Felipe did an amazing job today and Mike as well. We made it. We made it. We’re champions.”

Petit Le Mans
Pipo Derani celebrates with the Brazilian flag after winning the IMSA DPi championship (IMSA).

By virtue of Nasr having won the pole position Friday and cutting Wayne Taylor Racing’s lead to eight points in the standings, the top two teams in DPi entered in a virtual tie that ensured the 2021 championship would go to whichever finished ahead.

The outcome was similar to the end of the 2020 Petit Le Mans when Taylor and Derani collided while racing for the lead with less than 10 minutes left. Taylor said there were no hard feelings about Saturday’s contact, which was reviewed by IMSA officials.

“We’re racing really hard, and the championship literally came down to the last corner,” Taylor told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “Especially after last year, I’m happy for those guys. They deserve it. They had a great year. I’m just so bummed for Filipe who drove an amazing stint to catch those guys.”

Taylor, who also shared the No. 10 Acura with 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, seemed in good position on strategy after his team took four tires for its last stop while Nasr took only two rear tires.

“Really bummed, but Daytona’s close,” Taylor said. “We’re a strong team, and we’ll be back. When they said they took rears only, I knew we had a chance. At this stage of the race, everyone’s being polite, everybody is moving out of the way. You don’t get as many chances to get runs like in the middle of the race.

“(Nasr) was managing the traffic really well. I gave everything I had. There’s going to be a lot of nightmares before Daytona thinking about what I could have done differently. I’m hungry to get back out there. Just can’t thank the HPD Acura Konica Minolta guys enough, expecially this weekend. It was such a trying weekend finding pace, and they gave us an amazing car in the race.”

It’s the second consecutive year that Mazda won the season finale after capturing the 2020 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The manufacturer announced in February that this would be its final season in DPi.

“It’s a Hollywood script come true,” Tincknell told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch. “It was pure hard work by everyone at Mazda. I never gave up with two stints to go, had a 5-second gap to close down, just kept telling myself, ‘Keep digging, keep digging.’ I knew (Nasr was) fighting for the championship and just gave everything. I wanted to win so much.”

In other divisions Saturday:

–The WeatherTech Racing Porsche team scored a 1-2 finish in the final GTLM race as the No. 3 Corvette of Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor clinched the title.

–The No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin won the GTD class while the championship went to the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor and Zacharie Robichon.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing

Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.