Whelen Engineering drivers Pipo Derani (Brazil), Tristan Nunez (Boynton Beach, Fla.) and Mike Conway (Great Britain) captured their first podium finish of the season in Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Twelve Hours Sebring at Sebring International Raceway.
Derani started the 12-hour classic second on the DPi grid after turning a qualifying lap time of 1:45.192, which was just 0.026-second off the pole winning time. Derani got a great start and took the race lead on the first lap as the No. 01 Cadillac had some mechanical issues. From there, Derani held the race lead throughout his initial double stint before handing the car over to Nunez.
Nunez and Conway both led the race during their respective double stints. In fact, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac led the race at the halfway mark. At that point, the team looked strong and poised to win its second 12 hours of Sebring, but there was still plenty of race left. Unfortunately, a couple of minor on-track mistakes put the No. 31 car near the rear of the DPi field with three hours remaining. All three drivers needed to drive nearly flawlessly in the waning hours if they wanted a shot at the podium and they did just that, notching their first podium of the season.
“It was a tough day at the office, but it was a good points day,” Derani said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t win. We didn’t get a yellow at the end so we could try to catch the front runners. It was a Cadillac 1-2-3 [finish]. We’ll take the points. It’s a long Championship. I wanted my fourth [Sebring 12-Hour] win, but I will have to wait a little longer.”
“It was a long hot day,” Nunez said. “It was a tough one from start to finish. The heat did not help with that. We had a great car all race. We just had a couple of bad luck moments throughout the race that affected us from taking the win. But no doubt, a podium is good. It was a Cadillac sweep. So, it’s good for the brand. Now we move onto Long Beach.”
“We were up there all day,” Conway said of the team’s performance. “We were going for the win, but we came up short at the end. It was a great job by the whole team. The car was really solid all day long. I think we had the car to win. But, it just didn’t quite work out.”
Conway drove a solid race considering his dad, Michael, passed away just a few days ago and he really wanted a win to honour his day.
“It would have been nice to win this one,” Conway said thinking of his dad. “It was hard, the first few stints, thinking of him out there. I was just trying to do him proud.”
Through two races, Derani, Nunez and Conway are fifth in the DPi Driver’s Points Standings with 636 points, just 40 points behind the DPi leaders.
Up next, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship takes to the streets of Long Beach for the 100-minute Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach April 8-9. Derani and former co-driver Felipe Nasr won last year’s race at Long Beach from the pole position.
Source. Kyle Chura Associates/Photo. Brian Cleary