Story By: MATT CLEARY / WHELEN ENGINEERING RACING – LONG BEACH, CA – After taking two podium results in the grueling 36 hours of endurance racing that open the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the Whelen Engineering Racing team now shifts into sprint mode for Round 3 of the 2019 campaign for Saturday’s Bubba Burger Grand Prix on the streets of Long Beach.
Pipo Derani, Eric Curran, and Felipe Nasr wheeled the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R to a dominant victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, after finishing second in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The Whelen Cadillac entry will be co-driven by Derani and Nasr as IMSA makes a dramatic shift in race format as it returns to the hugely popular California venue. Saturday’s race is 100 minutes in duration on the demanding 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary layout.
The Whelen Engineering team has a history of being fast at Long Beach – turning the fastest race lap on three occasions – with its best finish being third during its 2016 championship campaign. The Whelen Engineering team also finished fourth at Long Beach in 2015 and eighth in 2017.
Last year saw the team show strength with Curran and Nasr, starting from the front row and leading 16 laps before Curran suffered a hit from a GT car, damaging the front end of the Whelen machine. The incident dropped the team back to seventeenth overall, with Curran fighting back to take seventh at the finish.
The duo earned some street redemption with a victory in Detroit’s Grand Prix on their way to the 2018 championship as the Whelen squad looks for more trophies this weekend.
“The team and I are focused on continuing our consistency and I believe that’s key for every race going forward,” said Derani. “We’ll just continue to do what we’re doing, stay focused on our own job and pushing for the best result possible.”
Derani has one previous start at Long Beach in IMSA WeatherTech competition, and is looking forward to the experience that the concrete-lined circuit has to offer.
“As any street track, Long Beach always brings another challenge to the game with the walls being so close and zero room for error but despite all that there’s still some good opportunities for passing, especially when we are in traffic with the GT cars,” said Derani. “That makes the race interesting from the beginning to the end. I think we’ll have a good car to start the weekend with and we’ll work from there on.
Last year’s outing left Nasr wanting more from his visit to California, something he’s eager to make up for this year.
“Last year was just some bad luck—we had an awesome car, the team did perfect with the stop and strategy, but it just didn’t work out for us, and it just shows how incredible the racing in IMSA really is,” said Nasr. “We were able to get a win (in Detroit) on a similar track, and I really love the challenge of the street courses so hopefully we can have a race like that in Long Beach—I love this circuit and this event!”
Entering the weekend with the team tied atop the championship standings doesn’t mean anything will change for Nasr and his approach.
“We have to keep working in the details, the IMSA Championship is full of very strong contenders that do not stop in their search for speed,” said Nasr. “We can only continue to work even harder to continue to have results. The balance between longer and shorter circuits is something that is so special about the IMSA championship. For drivers, longer races are always better as we have more time to do what we love, drive a superb car in an awesome atmosphere.”
Saturday’s sprint takes the green flag at 1:40 p.m. PT. The race will be televised with a slight delay on NBCSN, with a two-hour program beginning at 5 p.m. ET.