Whelen Engineering drivers Pipo Derani (Brazil) and Olivier Pla (France) finished fourth in Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Belle Isle.
Pla qualified the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R fifth to start today’s 100-minute race. At the green flag, he dropped one spot after a side-by-side battle for position with the No. 5 Cadillac. Pla recovered nicely and had his sights set on getting that spot back before he made the team’s first pit stop on lap 9, just 15 minutes into the race. This is when Derani took over in the No. 31 Cadillac.
Early on, the team elected to go with a two pit stop strategy instead of a one stop strategy. So, when Derani started his first stint, he was more than 55 seconds behind the DPi leaders. It did not take him long to get up to speed and start moving forward. In fact, Derani set a torrid pace. Throughout both stints, he turned lap times that were three seconds faster per lap than the front runners. In fact, he set the fastest lap of the race six times, including a lap time of 1:18.877 under race conditions (by comparison the pole-winning qualifying time was 1:18.818).
This pace allowed him to catch and pass the No. 02 Cadillac for third place on lap 59. And, with just under six minutes remaining, Derani cut the race lead down to just under one second on lap 67.
On lap 70, Derani tried to pass the No. 60 Acura for second on the inside of Turn 2, but he could not make it stick. His lost momentum allowed the No. 02 Cadillac to catch up to the No. 31 and get a run on him heading into Turn 3. Just before the corner, the two cars made side contact. Derani had to lift, as he got pushed wide, and this allowed the No. 02 to take third with three minutes remaining.
Derani was undeterred by what had just happened. He was determined to get that final podium spot back with only a couple of laps remaining. In fact, he challenged the No. 02 Cadillac for position all the way through to the checkered flag and finished fourth.
“We didn’t have track position, so we went to a different strategy to go flat out to the end,” Derani said. “We did [go flat out], but it’s hard when you don’t have track position and you have to race so much. I sure was risking it a lot. I got myself up to third. Tried a gap to get past the 60 but had a bad exit and unfortunately lost third position again. The car was on rails. We were pushing, pushing and the Cadillac was running really well. Thanks to the team. It’s unfortunate that we pushed that much but came home fourth. But we showed why we are here. Hopefully, we can push ourselves up higher in qualifying, which would help us, especially on a racetrack like this one where it’s nearly impossible to pass.”
“I was trying to gain a position at the start and overtake the No. 02 in the outside of Turn 3, but it didn’t pay off,” Pla said. “So, I got stuck behind the No. 5 car. We decided to change the strategy and the team did an amazing job to give Pipo some good laps with little traffic. He pushed really hard and was able to make up a lot of time. He drove a fantastic race. It’s the first time for me; starting in Detroit wasn’t easy. The team did a fantastic job this weekend. We know we have the car and we have good expectations for the next one.”
Note – in post race inspection the car was moved to sixth in the DPi Class due to being under weight.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship travels to central New York June 23-26 for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International.