Cadillac Triumphs at IMSA Laguna Seca Ahead of Le Mans Spectacular
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Race day is the day that counts, as the old adage goes. Cadillac Racing proved that once again Sunday at the Motul Course de Monterey Powered By Hyundai N at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
After a slow start to the weekend with Sebastien Bourdais suffering a braking issue that sent the No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R into a crash at Turn 6 during Friday’s practice session, Bourdais, co-driver Renger van der Zande and their Chip Ganassi Racing crew regrouped and put together a perfect race day to take their first win of the 2023 season in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition.
Van der Zande ran second when racing resumed with 41 minutes remaining following the final full-course caution of the two-hour, 40-minute contest. He powered to the outside of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac driven by Alexander Sims through Turns 3 and 4 before edging ahead up the hill leading to the Rahal Straight.
The bright yellow No. 01 Cadillac was never again headed as the final segment of the race ran green to the finish. Van der Zande built a lead as large as 5.5 seconds before Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 cut it in half as the two GTP class prototypes negotiated traffic. But he was never seriously challenged, crossing the line 3.882 seconds ahead of the Porsche shared by Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet.
The win culminated a tumultuous start to the ’23 campaign for Bourdais and van der Zande. After opening the season on the podium at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the duo failed to finish the last two races in the WeatherTech Championship. In addition, van der Zande’s Cadillac suffered a heavy crash on April 29 at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium during an FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) event that Cadillac Racing was using as a warm-up in preparation for participation in next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
So, it’s no surprise that the Ganassi crew erupted with joy as the No. 01 claimed its first top-class IMSA race win in nearly eleven months.
“Coming from a big shunt in Spa to win this race, that’s what you call highs and lows, or lows and highs,” said van der Zande after his 19th career victory in IMSA competition. “Our guys have been putting in so much effort. It’s days and nights – they’re not sleeping much.
“It’s amazing to pay it off with a win like this.”
Sometimes, two wrongs can make a right. TDS Racing made it work out to capture the team’s first WeatherTech Championship victory in Sunday’s Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) portion of the Motul Course de Monterey.
Steven Thomas and Mikkel Jensen overcame a pair of pit stop miscues in the No. 11 ORECA LMP2 07 to win and take the LMP2 championship lead in the process. They finished 5.095 seconds ahead of Ben Keating and Paul-Loup Chatin in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA, but not without drama leading to the checkered flag.
“It shows what IMSA is; it’s never finished,” Jensen said. “I was shouting on the radio when we were in seventh (place), I thought it’s over. The team told me to stay calm and just do my job, and all of a sudden I was in first. … It was a crazy race for us.”
Running third when a full-course caution came out 20 minutes into the race, Thomas lost track position when he entered pit lane before it was open. He escaped penalty by driving through without stopping but the No. 11 lost valuable track position.
Another pit-stop miscommunication during the final caution set the No. 11 back again. Jensen was the LMP2 leader but didn’t come to the pits when they were first opened for prototypes. Forced to stop two laps later, Jensen sat seventh in class when racing resumed with 41 minutes remaining.
The Dutchman’s charge to the front was aided when three LMP2 cars ahead had to serve drive-through penalties for various pit-lane infringements. He punctuated a race-long battle of car-to-car contact by muscling the No. 11 past Keating’s No. 52 and Ben Hanley’s No. 04 Crowdstrike Racing by APR ORECA on the same lap with 25 minutes to go. From there, Jensen pulled away to earn his seventh WeatherTech Championship win and second at WeatherTech Raceway.
Jules Gounon took advantage of others’ missteps to claim victory in GTD Pro.
Gounon moved into first place with 37 minutes left when Ross Gunn in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD were issued penalties of stop plus two minutes and 50 seconds for taking improper wave-bys during the race’s final full-course caution period.
The penalties pushed Gounon and the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 he co-drove with Daniel Juncadella into the lead.
“We knew we would have difficulty on pace this weekend,” Gounon said. “We know we were not the fastest car, so we focused on what we could control. It was not one fast lap, but the entire race.
“The WeatherTech and Proton (Competition) guys did a great job with strategy and car prep. I am proud of the team. We had a tough race at Long Beach and were able to come back and get the win today. I think we just drove and took the mistakes of our competition and were able to get the win.”
Ben Barnicoat held on for second place with co-driver Jack Hawksworth, keeping the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 atop the GTD Pro standings with its 14th consecutive podium finish. The No. 79 Mercedes teammates are second, 41 points behind the leaders.
Kay van Berlo used patience to his advantage Sunday.
Van Berlo caught and passed Andy Lally for the lead with 23 minutes remaining and went on to win the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class Sunday in the Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N, the fourth race of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
With 45 minutes remaining in the two-hour, 40-minute race, van Berlo and the No. 91 Kellymoss with Riley Porsche 911 GT3 R (992) he co-drove with Alan Metni emerged from the pits behind Lally in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 he shared with John Potter.
Shortly after that, van Berlo passed Lally for the lead.
“With one hour to go, everything settled and I was like, ‘Oh, we’re in P2 and the car in front of us is on slightly older tires,’” van Berlo said. "I thought we could actually go and win here. … I was just waiting and waiting and waiting while defending the car behind me. I had one opportunity and went for it.”
Bill Auberlen eventually passed Lally to finish second in the No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 he co-drove with Chandler Hull.