Race Weekend Central

Action Express Racing Caps Dominant Weekend With Petit Le Mans Victory

Action Express Racing’s No. 31 Cadillac of Eric Curran, Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr had been the dominant car for much of the weekend. However, victory was not guaranteed until teammate Filipe Albuquerque had an issue with the left front corner of the car while leading. That put Albuquerque through the gravel and Derani in the lead.

Derani held off Wayne Taylor Racing’s Jordan Taylor to win the Motul Petit Le Mans.

The beginning of the 10-hour race was much like the last couple of days, with Nasr dominating the show. From the pole, Nasr ran away and hid, opening up a 10-second lead within the first 15 minutes of the race. Traffic allowed Albuquerque to cut into the advantage, but as soon as Nasr hit clear air, he was off to the races again. The No. 31 led for the first three hours of the race.

Pit strategy resulted in a revolving door at the front after that point. First, the No. 5 Cadillac went to the front, then the No. 77 Mazda.  Eventually, a split pit strategy developed that saw Wayne Taylor Racing’s Cadillac pitting 30 minutes before the rest of the leaders. Long green-flag runs did nothing to help alleviate the issue.

It was only in the final hour, when Toni Vilander spun in the chicane after contact with Katherine Legge, that everyone was back on the same strategy. Mazda Team Joest’s Oliver Jarvis was leading overall at the time with the two Action Express Cadillacs in second and third. Everyone pitted with 32 minutes remaining. Albuquerque took fuel only and got out with the lead. Jarvis took fresh tires and came out third.

It is unclear whether the fresh tires would have benefited Jarvis over the final 25 minutes of the race because. Shortly after the final restart, the Mazda developed engine issues. The car dropped off seven or eight seconds a lap and was running off-song for the remainder of the event. Jarvis ended up finishing two laps down in sixth.

Albuquerque’s issues with 19 minutes to go were thought to be because of a flat left rear tire. Instead, it was an issue with the left front. The Action Express Racing team made repairs, but Albuquerque dropped all the way to a seventh-place finish, six laps down.

Over the closing laps, Derani had Jordan Taylor breathing down his neck. The Florida native was able to get within half a second of the No. 31 at one point, but Derani was able to hold on for the win.

Derani’s margin of victory was just under a second over Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande and Matthieu Vaxiviere. Acura Team Penske’s No. 7 for Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal and Ricky Taylor were third despite a late off-course excursion that Ricky described afterward as simply him trying too hard to keep up with the Cadillacs.

Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya entered Saturday’s race with a 12-point lead in the championship over Derani and Nasr.  While Action Express did everything it needed to do in order to win the title, Cameron and Montoya could win the DPi championship with a finish of eighth or better. It managed to keep uitself out of trouble to finish fourth, one lap down. That was good enough to give Cameron and Montoya the championship. In addition, finishing third and fourth was enough to give Acura the manufacturer’s championship.

In GT Le Mans, Risi Competizione’s James Calado started from the pole and led 60 of the 65 laps. Despite this, it appeared that Ford Chip Ganassi Racing IMSA was going to give the factory effort a proper farewell for much of the race. The two Ford GTs ran one-two for much of the race until the No. 66 with Dirk Mueller at the wheel slid off-course and hit the tires in turn 1 to bring out the third full course caution of the race. Mueller was able to continue, but repairs dropped the No. 66 down four laps that the team was unable to make up.

For much of the race, the No. 67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon and Richard Westbrook was the car to beat. The team led up to the latter part of the eighth hour, when Alessandro Pier Guidi was able to get the Risi Ferrari past Westbrook to take the class lead.

From there, Risi Competizione was not challenged en route to the team’s first victory in IMSA in three years. The margin of victory was 7.795 seconds over Briscoe, Dixon and Westbrook.  MW Team RLL’s No. 25 for Tom Blomqvist, Connor de Phillippi and Colton Herta struggled early on, but recovered to finish third. Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller were fourth in the final race for the Corvette C7.R.

Championship-wise, Porsche GT Team’s Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber entered the race with a fairly comfortable lead over teammates Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy. The Porsches, running special throwback paint schemes via a sponsorship from Coca-Cola, were not at the front of the field Saturday. Despite a spin in the closing laps, Bamber and Vanthoor, along with endurance teammate Mathieu Jaminet finished fifth in class. That was good enough to give Bamber and Vanthoor the GTLM championship. Needless to say, the teammates were overjoyed.

The GT Daytona championship was decided at the drop of the green flag. Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian’s Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman needed to take the green to clinch the title. It also wanted to win the race in order to give Acura the manufacturer’s championship. That did not happen. Teammate Justin Marks was driving when a small rock went through the front grille and punctured the radiator. That resulted in engine failure, putting the champions out just shy of the halfway point.

Paul Miller Racing’s Corey Lewis started from the pole in his Lamborghini and led early. Further back, Montaplast by Land-Motorsport’s Ricardo Feller and Turner Motorsport’s Robby Foley were on the move. Both had to start in the rear due to qualifying issues (Feller’s times were wiped due to a red flag infraction, while Foley suffered complete brake failure and buried himself in the gravel), but quickly came to the front.

Paul Miller Racing held onto the lead until the first caution, when they were beaten out of the pits by Scuderia Corsa’s Cooper MacNeil. That lead was short-lived as Felipe Fraga ran down MacNeil and took the advantage away.

In the second half of the race, Turner Motorsport came into the forefront. Having made up the deficit from the qualifying mishap, the team took the lead for the first time during the second full course caution late in the third hour and kept itself in the hunt for the remainder of the race.

The race ultimately came down to a battle between Turner Motorsport’s Bill Auberlen and Fraga. The two drivers fought hard until Fraga had issues on the final lap. The Mercedes went off course in the esses and ultimately stopped. That allowed Auberlen to move into the lead and take the class win.

Auberlen, Foley and Dillon Machavern ended up half a second in front of Feller, Daniel Morad and Christopher Mies, who had to overcome a penalty after contact with the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. PFAFF Motorsports’ Scott Hargrove, Lars Kern and Zacharie Robichon were third, while the Riley Motorsports Mercedes of Fraga, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating were credited with third, a lap down. Scuderia Corsa’s Vilander, Cooper MacNeil and Jeff Westphal ended up fifth.

The LMP2 race ended well before the finish. Performance Tech Motorsports’ Kyle Masson led from the pole and ran very well. On their first pit stop, Masson gave way to Cameron Cassels. Shortly after Cassels got in the car, he was caught out in the esses while being lapped by faster DPi traffic. Cassels was hit from behind by Castroneves and spun into the wall. Cassels was OK, but the damage put the No. 38 out of the race.

That crash gave PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports’ Gabriel Aubry, Dalton Kellett and Matt McMurry the class victory in the second hour.  McMurry also clinched the LMP2 championship by starting the race. The team continued to plug away, but was ultimately forced to retire from the race with mechanical issues in the seventh hour.


About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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