Last season, Whelen Engineering/Action Express Racing won the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This weekend, drivers Pipo Derani (Brazil), Tristan Nunez (Boynton Beach, Fla.) and Mike Conway (Great Britain) will take the first step in defending the team’s Championship title in the 60th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona Jan. 26-30.
Derani and Nunez, the team’s two full-season drivers, finished seventh in last weekend’s qualifying race. An early-race strategy call had the team just a bit off from other teams’ pit stop strategies. This early decision forced the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R to pit late in the race, pitting out of third place, for a splash of fuel to finish the race. Now, the stage is set for Whelen Engineering/Action Express to begin its season-long effort towards another title.
“In the qualifying race, we tried to get the pole,” Derani said. “But unfortunately, we came up short on fuel at the end with an aggressive strategy. It really does not change much for the 24-hour race. I think the good thing is that Tristen and I got our first race together under our belts, which makes us more prepared and ready for the big race this weekend. Of course, we wanted to get the pole for our No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac. But, the place you start the 24 doesn’t really mean anything. I think we have a great car. The car is working well. The balance is good and so we’re confident we can have a strong race.
“Coming off the Championship win last year and heading into a new season, I’ve got a new teammate, there are new things to learn and so on. Hopefully, we will have a more consistent season [this year] and not having to start with bad results in the first two races would help us. Tristan and I need to learn from each other so we can get to the end of the season with a shot at winning the IMSA Championship again and getting Tristan his first title. That would be ideal. Of course, there is a lot that goes on throughout the season. Starting this season on a strong note at Daytona would be the first step in the Championship fight.”
Last weekend, Nunez took his first laps in the Championship-winning No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac in race conditions and learned what it will take to navigate the 61-car field this weekend.
“I’m confident going into the 24 hours that I have a good feeling for the Whelen Cadillac,” Nunez said. “The qualifying race gave me valuable experience in traffic in the car and the overall racecraft of the car. Action Express is a strong team that is committed to going for the win. We went for it in the qualifying race and had to pit late for gas, but that is their mentality. The 24 is a long race. We have a good team, good drivers and I am looking forward to getting to race day.”
Conway, the two-time defending World Endurance Co-Champion, is no stranger to Whelen Engineering/Action Express Racing. This will be his fifth Rolex 24 appearance with the Championship-winning team.
“The Roar was good,” Conway said. “We got through the program and got a decent amount of laps for the drivers. We are at the sharp end of the field, which is always a good thing. We came away from the qualifying race thinking we need to improve a bit more. Decent few days on track. We will find a little bit more for the race. We are pretty happy. We are looking forward to going racing.”
Whelen Engineering/Action Express looks to win its third Rolex 24 At Daytona title (2010 and 2014), while Derani hopes to grab his second Rolex 24 win (2016).
Source. Kyle Chura Associates/Photo. Brian Cleary