Fast but unlucky in the most recent IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Long Beach, Whelen Engineering Racing looks to return to the top of the podium in the Acura Sports Car Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday, May 5.
Whelen Engineering Racing drivers Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani finished second in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona before winning the Twelve Hours of Sebring in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R.
At Long Beach, Nasr quickly took the lead early and led 17 laps, building up a five-second advantage prior to a caution midway through the 100-minute sprint. However, the run to possible victory was compromised after a wheel came detached following a pit stop. The team rallied to fight back to sixth at the checkered flag but will look to put that behind them this weekend in Ohio.
“We had a tough outing at Long Beach but the car was quick,” Nasr said. “We were heading for a victory, but motor racing is always full of surprises. We are still on top of the point standings and will want to continue that after Mid-Ohio.”
Last year was the first IMSA race at Mid-Ohio. Nasr finished eighth in his first visit to the circuit, finishing one position ahead of new co-driver Derani, who was also making his first ever visit to the track set in rural Ohio.
“This is a very different track from Long Beach, as it is a proper road course with some very fast corners but there are still some places where you are right up against a wall,” said Derani. “It is a smoother track than what we’ve raced on so far this year, but there is always a challenge with having enough grip so that will be the focus for us.”
Nasr and former co-driver Eric Curran went on to capture their second IMSA title in three years in 2018, in addition to winning the Michelin Endurance Cup.
“Mid-Ohio is a fantastic, fast-flowing track,” Nasr said of the 13-turn, 2.258-mile circuit. “It’s a pleasure to drive, but it has a very low grip level. That means it’s a tricky balance-finding a good balance between the aero grip for the fast sectors and the mechanical grip for the slow parts. We’ll plan to continue doing our step-by-step approach to the race.”
Nasr explained that nominating the qualifying driver – who then starts the race – is part of the team’s “Expect to Win” strategy.
“We decide at each race if it is Pipo or myself who will start the race as part of the strategy,” Nasr said. “The good part about qualifying is that you get to push the car to its limits. As a driver, it’s a great zone to be in.”
The Mid-Ohio circuit provides a different challenge for the IMSA competitors. Coming from a 100-minute race on a temporary circuit lined with concrete walls, the WeatherTech Championship visits a traditional layout for a two-hour, 40-minute test.
“The balance between so many different types of tracks is what makes the IMSA championship so good, so interesting,” Nasr said. “I like both types of tracks. Each has its own dynamics and situations. The bottom line is that they all present a whole bag of challenges for the teams, cars and drivers, which is part of the excitement and the magic.”
In his first season carrying the Whelen Engineering colors, Derani has made a rapid acclimatization to the new team and Cadillac Prototype, something he is looking to continue to do this weekend.
“We want to continue this fight for the championship and we know that the competition will be very tight again this weekend as it always is in IMSA,” said Derani.
Nasr is looking to a personal getaway prior to the race weekend.
“There is an enormous lake less than a mile away from the track at Mid-Ohio,” he said. “I foresee another bass-dedicated afternoon, because you know – when the bass are calling, you’ve got to go!”
Qualifying for the Acura Sports Car Challenge lead Prototype class is set for Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (all times ET). The race takes the green flag at 1:40 p.m.
Source. Sunday Group