RPW Column: Whelen Engineering Play Strategy Right To Win IMSA WeatherTech 240 At Watkins Glen

Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – WATKINS GLEN, NY – It took pitting earlier than usual, and hot tires as the advantage for Pipo Derani, Felipe Nasr, and the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac to get to victory lane for the first time this season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship WeatherTech 240.

Derani would start the drive first as Ricky Taylor (WTR Acura) and Harry Tincknell (Mazda) had the early lead. The first spin of the day quickly occurred in the first turn as Olivier Pla spun in the Meyer Shank Acura DPi (no caution). A regular service would bring Derani in earlier than the window of the top two, giving him warmer tire advantage than the other two as Derani jumped the leaders 40 minutes in. Harry Tincknell would then make his way up to get the lead back at 7:04pm before the first full course yellow came out for a stalled #19 Lamborghini GTD of Franck Perera in the bus stop.

Immediately, the skies opened up with a shower of rain and a lightning strike leading to a 45 minute delay. The track dried up, and drivers pitted and made changes. The 31 team, now with Felipe Nasr in the lead, won the race off pit road and wouldn’t look back as the battle mid-pack in the DPi class heated up. Renger van der Zande would try to close in on the final minutes to Nasr, but couldn’t as Nasr took the win by 1.5 seconds.

“From the beginning we knew we needed to do something different to jump the Acuras and it was part of the strategy to possibly come in early and do what we did. But in those situations, you never really know if it’s going to play out your way. You’re gambling and possibly adding an extra stop, but we said it’s better to try and gamble and go for a win than being here and finishing third or fourth. We did that with a tremendous amount of confidence. The team as whole, with a lot of confidence in each other that we were going to pull out,” Derani said on the strategy.

The win is Derani’s 8th in IMSA competition, and the 5th for Nasr.

“When the race was about to go green everybody had to go into the pits, we just topped off the fuel and we shuffled to the lead because of that. The second worry was are we going to get to the end, do we have enough fuel to go to the end. That’s when the race went green and it was all about hitting the numbers and making sure I had enough of a gap to control. But at the same time the track was still wet in some of the corners,” Nasr said on being close on fuel.

On if weather was a factor in stopping early, Derani told RPW, “Initially, we just thought it was an opportunity to jump the Acuras before the race. I think the team then made a decision. On that first one was really for the fuel when it got lower. Honestly, we just hoped with the fact that it could rain, we would try and hope to use it to our advantage. Today was one of those days where it’s either going to work for you and help you win the race or it’s going to destroy your day. Since we were third or fourth and had no chance to fight over the Acura on pure pace we just said we’ll go for it and it worked out.”

Van der Zande/Kevin Magnussen in the 01 Ganassi Cadillac finished 2nd while Ricky Taylor and Filip Albuquerque in the 10 Wayne Taylor Acura took 3rd.

Unofficially, the WTR #10 team increase their lead in the Teams standings by 81 over Mazda.

LMP2: PR1 goes home P1

It was a dominant race for the #52 Wynn’s PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team of Ben Keating and Mikkel Jensen. The duo drove to over a 20 second victory and Keating claimed this was a race of strategy.

“There are three cars in our class but they were all on very different strategies,” Keating said. “We talked about doing all three of them. But for us, we decided to go hard from the beginning. When you do the recon lap and then two pace laps you’re already burning some fuel. In a full stint in our cars, for us its about 36 minutes. And the minimum drive time for me is 45 minutes. So the other two drivers tried to stretch their fuel mileage enough to make it to the 45 minute window. We didn’t think we could do that. So we decided to hard and build as much of a gap that we could afford to do a stop, and keep the lead, which is exactly what we did.”

On if the red flag changed anything on the strategy, Jensen explained to RPW “I don’t think it affected much because we had the more fuel in the car, we lost our lead but pitted later so we had more fuel so it looked pretty good. But then we had the yellows after and that kind of made it difficult. But without the yellows and just the green race towards the end or a yellow later it would have been better for us.”

Keating scored his 16th career IMSA win and Jensen took home his 3rd career.

Tristan Nunez finished 2nd for WIN Autosport and was able to get by Gabriel Aubry in the final laps by pulling off three straight best laps in class to take the runner-up home.

The win increases the gap for the PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team by 35 markers over the #11 WIN team.

LMP3: Riley Motorsport wins close battle to end

It was a one stop race for Riley Motorsport, but it paid off as Felipe Fraga and Gar Robinson swept the week in Watkins Glen.

After the red flag, the team made a gamble to stay out on the current slicks the #74 car had on and it paid off indeed.

Robinson scored his 4th career win and remains in the drivers championship points lead while Fraga tallied his 3rd.

The team held off Dylan Murry in the sister car #91 by a quarter of a second.

“The team did an awesome job. We won the race when they decided to not pit after the red flag. We only did one pit stop in the whole race. So it put us in front of them because we didn’t stop for the fuel and tires, of course. But that was a little bad for the tires because they already had one cycle of temperature before the red flag, and its not so good for go racing and go hot again. So at the end of my stint (end of the race) I was suffering a little bit to drive. But at the same time the car was great to drive, so today I would like to congratulate the whole team,” Fraga commenting on the win.

Riley increases their points lead on the #54 Core Autosport by 94. Robinson, competing solo for the drivers championship, leads over Colin Braun and Jonathan Bennett.

GTLM: Corvettes have interteam battle, Garcia/J. Taylor sweep weekend

With the Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMWs not entered, and the WeatherTech Porsche off the pace, the Corvettes went to battle.

Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor would end up sweeping the week thanks to a race-winning pass of Garcia getting by their sister car of Tommy Milner with a half hour to go in turn 11.

This is the 29th IMSA win for Jordan Taylor and 25th for Garcia.

“I knew it was wet, but I had to be a little more aggressive than Tommy. He got caught out in the last corner with some of the P cars, so I had to take advantage. The grip was very, very good. I opened the gap and then just maintained because you never know… there might have been another yellow and I had to have good tires for the end. I’m very happy with the No. 3 C8.R, but obviously Team Chevy and Corvette Racing are doing a great job,” Garcia said.

“I’d say it’s fun (racing against teammates like that), but it’s stressful at the same time. There are no team orders of who will win the race. They let us race on track, but obviously any contact will be frowned upon. We had a head-to-head battle at Daytona and the last couple of weekends has been headto-head. The guys in the 4 car are professionals and two of the best in GT racing,” Taylor commented to RPW.

Corvette holds the top two spots in GTLM team standings, as Garcia and Taylor are up 156 points on Nick Tandy/Milner.

GTD: Vasser Sullivan Lexus goes 1-2, tension following red flag

A much needed 1-2 finish for the Vasser Sullivan camp as Aaron Telitz/Jack Hawksworth beat their sister car of Frankie Montecalvo/Zach Veach by seven tenths.

Montecalvo and Veach were dominant ongoing leading all the laps, however Hawksworth made a hard charge on Veach to go from 3rd to 1st on a restart in one lap with under 30 minutes remaining.

“It was big balls, really,” Hawksworth said humorously to the Media Center. “Another good thing about the car is it generates a lot of tire temperature. A big lunge into turn one which worked. Zach was just struggling a bit on the cold tires I was able to knick one from him too as well. Our car in cold conditions, we’re quite aggressive with the tire so that’s our perfect scenario it seems to be.”

There was drama for Hawksworth after the red flag was lifted. On the ensuing restart, a full course yellow came back out as debris was on the track in turn 10. Hawksworth thought a P2 car made contact with Telitz that led to it.

“The handling was not too bad, it was the top speed which was affected pretty badly. I was just hoping they wouldn’t catch me. I knew as soon as they caught me I was going to get freight-trained. Give it to the team, even with a bit of damage the car was handling perfect. I was trying to stay out of the range of the cars behind me. It was just amazing to be honest. Happy, happy day,” Hawksworth explained. Later on, he compared it to a parachute coming out the back of the car.

In the GTD Sprint Cup standings, Vasser Sullivan’s 12 and 14 teams move up to 2nd and 3rd in points with 986 and 871, respectively. Leading the way of the Heart of Racing Aston Martin team #23 with 1013 points.

Telitz gets his 4th IMSA win while Hawksworth files his 7th.

The race as a whole lasted 2:41:27, going 214.83 miles. The race was green for 1:26:31, three yellows for 29:10, and a red for 45:47.

Next race for IMSA is at Lime Rock Park on July 17th.

Watkins Glen International’s next major event is NASCAR weekend for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. Headlining is the NASCAR Cup Series’ Go Bowling at The Glen, in addition, the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (who race for the first time since 2000) and ARCA Menards Series are on the undercard.

31 Cadillac (Nasr/Derani), 2. 01 Cadillac (van der Zande/Magnussen), 3. 10 Acura (R. Taylor/Albuquerque), 4. 5 Cadillac (Vautier/Duval), 5. 55 Mazda (Jarvis/Tincknell), 6. 60 Acura (Cameron/Pla)
Fastest in Class: 55 Harry Tincknell (1:31.363)

52 PR1 (Keating/Jensen), 2. 11 WIN (Thomas/Nunez), 3. 8 Tower (Forano/Aubry)
Fastest in Class: 11 Tristan Nunez (1:33.598)

74 Riley (Robinson/Fraga), 2. 91 Riley (Cox/Murry), 3. 54 Core (Bennett/Braun), 4. 36 Andretti (Andretti/Askew), 5. 38 Performance Tech (Llorena/Lindh), 6. 84 Dawson (Olsen/Cicero)
Fastest in Class: 54 Colin Braun (1:39.967)

3 Corvette (Garcia/J. Taylor), 2. 4 Corvette (Milner/Tandy), 3. 79 Porsche (MacNeil/Campbell)
Fastest in Class: 3 Jordan Taylor (1:41.963)

14 Lexus (Telitz/Hawksworth), 2. 12 Lexus (Montecalvo/Veach), 3. 23 Aston Martin (De Angelis/Gunn), 4. 39 Audi (Heistnad/Westphal), 5. 28 Mercedes (Morad/de Quesada), 6. 66 Acura (Bechtolsheimer/Miller), 7. 32 Mercedes (Cosmo/Lewis), 8. 88 Porsche (Ferriol/Legge), 10. 1 Lamborghini (Sellers/Snow), 11. 19 Lamborghini (Goikhberg/Perera), 12. 96 BMW (Auberlen/Foley)
Fastest in Class: 28 Daniel Morad (1:46.613)