Many Twists & Turns On Path To IMSA Title For Whelen Engineering Racing

Story By: WHELEN ENGINEERING RACING – DENVER, NC – With a well-established credo of “Expect to Win,” Action Express Racing has demonstrated the ability to make the most of every IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship race, even when the win doesn’t go their way.

That tenacious focus on preparation to earn results saw the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R deliver its second IMSA WeatherTech championship in three years this season as Eric Curran and new co-driver Felipe Nasr claimed the 2018 Driver Championship while the Whelen squad also netted the 2018 IMSA Team Championship.

The championships are the second in three years for Whelen Engineering Racing, as well as the fourth in five years for Action Express Racing.

To ice the cake, the pair also won the North American Endurance Cup, giving Action Express Racing its fifth consecutive title in the unique competition showcasing IMSA’s four endurance classics—the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Sebring 12 Hour, Sahlen’s 6 Hour and the Road Atlanta’s Petit Le Mans.

But the title, which came down to the very closing moments of the year as IMSA delivered another thrilling championship battle, wasn’t earned with one big result for the Whelen Engineering squad. Instead it came down to scoring every point that was possible at every race, especially on days that saw the team missing out on the podium celebrations. The strategy, team execution, and outstanding driver performance all combined to earn the team the top honors at Road Atlanta.

“This is definitely the best yet,” said Action Express Racing Owner, Bob Johnson. “This was so exciting, I don’t know how you top this. Thank goodness we’ve got these young drivers like Felipe (Nasr) who can do the endurance events and spend three hours in the car there at the end! It was a great job up on the top of the box, a phenomenal strategy. The entire team did a great job and this feels fantastic!”

2018 showed that the IMSA WeatherTech ranks are some of the most competitive in motorsport, and Whelen Engineering had to maximize its opportunity every time out, clocking 2346 of a possible 2348 laps on the way to the title including a quick victory dip in the fountain in Detroit…

Rolex 24 At Daytona: Second-Place Finish in Record-Setting Race

The Whelen Engineering team opened the year with a solid second in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, coming up only one minute short in a record-setting race that saw only four brief caution periods. Curran and Nasr were joined by Mike Conway and 18-year-old Sunoco Challenge winner Stuart Middleton, who became the youngest driver to achieve the overall podium in the endurance classic. Sharing the podium with his teammates, Middleton bested the record set by his teammate Nasr in 2012, when Nasr won the Sunoco Whelen challenge in 2012.

The quartet covered 808 laps, 2,876 miles, finishing behind the winning No. 5 Action Express entry for a team 1-2 result.

Despite taking the overall victory, Whelen Engineering Racing set the mark for the season as the team captured the opening round of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup with 17 points, earning nine bonus points over the four segments in a competition which has a premium for every point.

Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring: Another Podium in Florida Endurance Classic

The Whelen Engineering team followed up its strong showing at Daytona with a third-place finish in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, giving the team its third consecutive podium finish in the classic event. Curran, Nasr and Conway used a race-leading pace, well-executed strategy and swift pit stops to remain in contention throughout the event. They also earned four bonus points in the North American Endurance Cup, extending their lead in that unique competition.

Long Beach: Late-Race Contact Results in Seventh-Place Finish

The Whelen Engineering team took to the streets of Long Beach with impressive pace, only to finish seventh following contact from another competitor late in the race. Nasr started on the front row and hounded the leader for the opening 20 circuits before making a convincing pass for the lead. Nasr later broke the existing track record during the 100-minute race, building up a 10-second lead before turning the car over to Curran. Shortly after exiting the pits, Curran was tagged from behind by a GTLM competitor, forcing him into the wall and damaging the front end of the Whelen machine. That dropped him to 17th overall, but he fought back to claim seventh at the finish.

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course: Eighth-Place Finish at Technical Road Course

With every position a premium on the technical road course, Curran and Nasr combined for eighth on the grid and eighth at the checkered flag at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The race featured long green-flag runs, with the Whelen Engineering pit crew producing three well-executed stops to maintain track position in the tight battle.

“I worked very hard today,” said Nasr. “It was a difficult weekend for us in general. I felt like I did everything I could today. This track is a lot more difficult to overtake even compared to Long Beach because of the loss of downforce. Looking at the positive, we still scored a few points and I am ready for the next race already to make up some ground.”

Detroit: Breakthrough Victory in GM’s Showcase Event

Curran and Nasr gave team supporter Sonny Whelen a birthday to remember, using teamwork, strategy and great race pace to win the prestigious Chevrolet Grand Prix in Detroit’s Belle Isle Park and capture the lead in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Series standings. The pair’s victory celebration included a jump into the Victory Circle fountain after Nasr dominated the event following his final fuel stop.

A crash in Friday’s practice could have been a setback; instead, the team rallied to make repairs in time to have Curran qualify on the third row. Curran worked his way to fifth before turning Cadillac car over to Nasr. The young Brazilian needed only five laps to take the lead after a final splash for fuel, and he never looked back.

“If you are going to win a race, this is the best place to win one,” Curran said. “This is the place to be, and the place to win in our Whelen Cadillac. Hats off to the engineering team who took a not so perfect weekend and turned it around.”

Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen: Seventh-Place Finish in Sizzling Six Hours

Nasr, Curran and Conway soldiered to a seventh-place finish in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, battling warm temperatures at the scenic New York Finger Lakes circuit. With the continually evolving IMSA regulations, the Cadillac DPi couldn’t produce the top speeds that some of the other Prototype machines enjoyed, but the team kept its head down and worked to maximize what was on offer with good stops and smart strategy.

Nasr worked his way up to second during the latter stages of the race, but a balky wheel nut slowed the final pit stop and resulted in lost track position.

“We were dealt the wrong hand and we knew it coming into the weekend,” Curran said. “We decided to do the best we could and try what we can and execute the best we can. The Cadillac wasn’t the car to have today, but it was still a decent result.”

Canadian Tire Motorsport Park: Pit Call Leads to Canada Podium

The Whelen Engineering team converted an 11th-place start to its third podium finish of the season at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, putting

Curran and Nasr back into the lead of the WeatherTech SportsCar championship.

Curran and Nasr rebounded from the start through shrewd strategy, outstanding pit lane execution and strong race pace to place third in an event the team won the past two seasons. Anticipating a caution early in the race, team performance engineer Tim Keene called Curran in for a stop 18 laps into the race. The timing was ideal, with the caution flag waving moments later as Nasr leapfrogged into third place. Making his first start at the former Formula One circuit, Nasr held on through five restarts to claim third at the finish.

Road America: Second Straight Podium Extends Championship Lead

Curran and Nasr extended their lead in the WeatherTech SportsCar points with a third-place finish at Road America, their second consecutive podium and fourth of the season. And that was despite Curran being hit from behind early in the race, which damaged the rear wing and affected the Cadillac DPi’s handling for the rest of the race.

Recalling the pit strategy that worked out in the most recent race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Keene again made a bold call that helped to boost the effort with a lap 15 stop to put Nasr in the lead. Fifth after his final stop, Nasr worked back to third at the checkered flag, only to see the top two finishers run out of fuel on their cool-down lap.

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca: Curran, Nasr Preserve Lead with Fifth-Place Finish

Curran and Nasr combined for a hard-fought fifth-place finish at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, preserving the championship lead entering the season finale.

Nasr ran second throughout the middle stages of the race, but fell back to ninth following his final pit stop with 46 minutes remaining. He had to fight hard to gain positions in the closing laps.

“The car felt amazing early on,” Nasr said. “I was able to recover pretty quickly and we got ourselves back into P2. But when I got the second set of new tires, it was like I was driving on ice so we lost pace in the last part of the race. All we could do was to bring it home. We’re still in the hunt for the championship and that was the point today, that if we didn’t have the car to win the race, we still got some points.”

The race was won by Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek. On Friday, Derani was announced as Whelen Engineering Racing’s co-driver with Nasr for the 2019 season, as Curran will step up to a new role with Action Express.

Road Atlanta: Fuel Strategy Pays Off With Title

Curran and Nasr, joined by Gabby Chaves, secured the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with a nail-biting seventh-place finish in the 21st Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

Curran and Nasr combined to lead 77 laps at the 2.54-mile circuit, and later ran second for 24 consecutive laps during the eighth hour. Nasr was leading at the four-hour mark – with the bonus points clinching the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

Nasr had to balance his pace with a fuel strategy as the pursuing championship squad used an alternate pit stop plan to gain track position late in the race. But with clear instructions from the Whelen Engineering Racing pit box, a disciplined drive from Nasr saw the team take exactly the result that was required to secure the title.

“It was amazing to pull it off at the end,” said Curran. “The last 20 minutes were just on the edge, and it really wasn’t looking good for us. We had Felipe (Nasr) back off on the fuel and save as much as he could, so we wouldn’t have to do one more stop. “Our Whelen Cadillac was strong the whole race long,” Curran continued. “It’s interesting to win a championship by going slow. It’s a funny way to do it. What an unbelievable teammate! Felipe and I won the Tequila Patron Endurance Cup as well, and Gabby (Chaves) did a great job in the car. It’s been an unbelievable year.”