Whelen Engineering drivers Pipo Derani (Brazil), Olivier Pla (France) and Mike Conway (Great Britain) finished second in Saturday’s season finale IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Derani qualified the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R and started from the fourth row in today’s 25th Petit Le Mans. Early on, Derani had the car up to second place following the race’s first full course caution and then handed the car over to Pla for the first of his four stints on the day.
From there, Pla and Conway kept the No. 31 consistently in the top four during their stints in the middle of the 10-hour classic. Derani got back behind the wheel for another double stint just under the halfway mark and quickly took the race lead on lap 209 – a position he largely held until lap 263.
With just under three hours to go, Pla brought the No. 31 Cadillac to pit lane when the race’s seventh full fourth course caution flew for tires and fuel. The team short fueled the car and Pla won the race off pit lane. This strategy not only gave Pla the race lead, but it also put the team in position to hopefully score additional Endurance Cup Championship points at the eight-hour mark.
Late in the race, it looked like Derani and the No. 31 were headed for a fifth-place finish. But, that is when things got interesting on the track. The No. 01 and No. 02 Cadillacs made side-to-side contact coming out of Turn 1, which sent both cars into the tire wall with 54 minutes to go. This brought out the race’s eighth caution and Derani inherited third place as a result
The green flag flew with 32 minutes remaining and Derani had his sights set on getting the team’s first of the season. All he needed to do was pass the No. 10 and No. 60 Acuras. Fortunately, those two cars were engaged in their own battle for the overall Championship, which meant both cars would be running flat out. With 12 minutes remaining, the No. 10 Acura made contact with a GTD car. As a result, the Acura sustained damage and was forced to pit. This allowed Derani to inherit second place.
The race went full course caution for the ninth time with five minutes to go when the No. 57 GTD car went off track. It appeared that Derani might have one last shot at the win. But unfortunately, the race ended under caution and Derani finished a season-best second place.
“We had some ups and downs, but in the end, we were there to fight for the win,” Derani said. “Unfortunately, I got really unlucky with traffic at the last restart, so I lost a lot of time and then I was catching them back. But that’s part of multi-class racing. I’m glad we had a fantastic time with the DPi car. The Cadillac was amazing. Most of my wins and the championship have been with this car. A great era that comes to an end, but I’m glad I am here to be fighting for the win.”
“It’s never over [until it’s over],” Pla said. “We had some problems on the pit stop and we lost quite a bit of time. At that time, the car was starting to come alive. It was getting colder [outside]. I think we had a really good car for the end. But, as you can see, the race is never finished until the last lap. It’s a great result for the team.”
“[My stints] were quite good,” Conway said. “Then, I went back out in the night, I just had some crap traffic for about five or six laps in a row. I thought I couldn’t do anything right out there. Then, it seemed to be OK after that. Pipo pushed really hard to the end and that was pretty cool. He brought home a good result. It was crazy with the two Cadillacs coming together somewhat and then what happened to the No. 10 Acura. It was a crazy finish.”
Source. Kyle Chura Associates/Photo. Brian Cleary
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