Sebring earns shoutout for Danielle Shepherd, lead engineer on Ganassi’s No. 02 Cadillac

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Exhausted after closing out the win in the Twelve Hours of Sebring, Chip Ganassi Racing driver Earl Bamber gave the shoutout heard around racing when engineer Danielle Shepherd was one of the first he acknowledged.

Shepherd became just the second woman in at least two decades to lead an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship team to victory last weekend. Leena Gade, also an engineer, led an Audi win in 2013.

Shepherd, 29, earned her victory at the prestigious endurance race at Sebring in just her second time leading her new team. She was promoted during the offseason from Alex Palou’s IndyCar championship-winning team to her dream job of lead engineer.

She is now in charge of the startup No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing. A year ago, she became the first woman to go over the wall on pit stops.

Shepherd was atop the timing stand during an October test at Atlanta as Ganassi was building a crew for Bamber and co-driver Alex Lynn.

“I remember them asking at the time, `What do you think?’ And I said, `We have to have her,’ ” Bamber said this week. “For us inside the car, we’re an important part, but I’m a big believer in that if you don’t have the best people behind you, the best engineers, the best team, then you also can’t win the race. You need both to go hand in hand.

“I really believe that we’ve got one of the best in the paddock with Danielle on the timing stand. I was a big believer just from that first day.”

Danielle Shepherd Ganassi Sebring
Danielle Shepherd (Richard Prince/Cadillac Racing).

Shepherd, an Ohio native and engineering graduate of Wooster College, began her career at KV Racing working for childhood hero Jimmy Vasser, the driver she screamed for each year from her seats in the Keyhole section at Mid-Ohio Sports Course. At Sebring, they were side-by-side in the pits.

The full-circle moment was not lost on Shepherd after Saturday’s win.

“It’s interesting and weird emotionally because it’s like the thing you achieve for, the thing you’ve worked so hard for, is kind of there,” Shepherd said. “You can always strive for more, but it is exciting.”

She has had a successful career at Ganassi and was part of two IndyCar championships, her first coming in 2018 with Scott Dixon. Shepherd steadily moved through the ranks chasing the IndyCar job equivalent to a NASCAR crew chief. All those jobs are held by men.

The expansion to two IMSA cars this year opened an opportunity that Shepherd went for, even though it was in a different series.

“It’s always been my goal to be the lead engineer, so the opportunity came and I told them I was interested in doing it,” Shepherd said.

She was tested quite a bit at Sebring, on and off the track. Kevin Magnussen was the scheduled third driver but the team had to scramble for a replacement when he was unexpectedly offered his old job in Formula One and took it.

Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn, and Neel Jani celebrate their victory in the No. 02 Cadillac at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring (Richard Prince/Cadillac Photo).

Neel Jani had just about a week’s notice he was racing at Sebring with Bamber and Lynn. And then Bamber really tested the team’s nerves with an overly eventful final stint. He overcame two incidents and a penalty in his final 75-minute drive that could have cost the No. 02 team the victory.

Bamber, a former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner who also won the 2019 IMSA GTLM championship with Porsche, inherited a lead of more than 30 seconds, but he collided with another car exiting pit lane and was given a drive-through penalty. Seconds after making the pass he needed to reclaim the lead, Bamber spun in yet another collision.

He had to chase down Richard Westbrook for a second time to reclaim the lead, and he at last grabbed control of the race with 45 minutes remaining. Bamber joked about the stress his gaffes created, but Shepherd runs an aggressive program.

“She definitely likes to push the limits and I like that she’s not afraid of making some bold moves,” Bamber said.

“That’s what is important in racing is to test the extremes, and she doesn’t leave any stone unturned before going to the race to make sure she gives us the best car, and I think that’s what makes her strong.

“She wants to continuously improve, and that’s what I like about her character on that. And she does keep us on the straight and narrow.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III