After a five-month hiatus, due to the worldwide pandemic, the Whelen Engineering team was excited and set to return to racing. But, a 51-minute rain delay forced the team to wait a bit longer before the green flag dropped on the two hour and 40-minute sprint race. Chaves, who replaced full-season driver Felipe Nasr due to testing positive for COVID-19, started sixth in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R on slick tires.
“It’s never easy,” Chaves said of being a last-minute replacement for Nasr. “I haven’t been in the prototype for two years. But the team has been really helpful. Pipo’s been really helpful. Even Felipe [Nasr], back at home, has been really helpful. I’m just getting up to speed more and more every time.”
The strategy to start the race on slick tires paid early dividends as Chaves drove the No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R to the DPi race lead by lap 12, while the cars in front of him made pit stops to change from dry tires to slicks.
“It was pretty tough,” Chaves said regarding starting the race on slick tires. “The car was real slick on the exit with power down and we had some issues. We started on slicks. We knew we’d make up for it when the other guys had to pit [to change from dry tires to slick tires]. We just had to keep the car underneath us and have a good pace.”
Chaves pitted out of the DPi race lead on lap 22 for a driver change, fuel and tires. This is when Derani got in with two hours remaining. From there, Derani kept the No. 31 Cadillac in the top three through his first two pit stops. In fact, he was running third and had a shot at the podium with about 36 minutes remaining. Unfortunately, he came up a bit short, but still delivered a solid top five finish.
“The Whelen Engineering team had a good day at the track,” Derani said. “It was a good race. In the end, it was all about a different strategy that we tried from the beginning starting with slicks. From those cars, we came out ahead. The No. 10 car had the same strategy and finished behind us. It was a shame because, at one point, we were looking really good to do a three-stop race instead of four. But, it just didn’t work out for us in the end. We had to save so much more fuel than the others, which cost us in the middle stint.
“Nevertheless, it’s great to be back with my team. Unfortunately, Felipe wasn’t with us this weekend. I hope he can be with us at Sebring. All in all, it was a positive race. Gabby Chaves did a really good job for his first time with the team in a year and a half and we’re happy with that. So, we took a few points home and the Whelen Engineering team is already looking forward to the next race.”
“I had a great time and can’t say how grateful I am for the opportunity to fill in for Felipe in Daytona,” Chaves said. “The car was very fast in the mixed and drying track conditions, and I enjoyed leading the race. At the end, the strategy just didn’t work out to keep the lead. But, I enjoyed being back with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Action Express car and crew.
The IMSA WeatherTech Championship next heads to Sebring International Raceway July 16-18 for the Cadillac Grand Prix of Sebring. The team won the 12 Hours of Sebring last year with drivers Pipo Derani, Eric Curran, and Felipe Nasr. The team hopes Nasr can return to racing that weekend to help the team capture another Sebring win.
Source. Sunday Group/Photo. Brian Cleary