Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac Cashes In on Crash and Learn in IMSA
Chip Ganassi says the main ingredient to having a winning sports car racing team is to hire people who are highly motivated.
His drivers Renger van der Zande and Sebastien Bourdais, drivers of the No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R, have been so highly motivated they’ve been crashing left and right. From Long Beach to Spa and the hills of the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, they’ve been tearing up cars. But the pace they’ve developed by overdoing it gave them the speed to handle anything thrown at them by the other GTP series teams in the sprint race at Laguna.
At Laguna Seca on Sunday, despite starting sixth after a crash in practice, the duo’s Cadillac finished 3.882 seconds ahead of the No. 6 Penske Porsche Motorsport 963 to claim their first GTP victory of IMSA’s WeatherTech Championship season.
“The car was starting to come alive and the track gripped up,” said Bourdais of his opening stint, which came after a crashing heavily in practice at Turn 6 and after crashing out before the first corner at Long Beach. At the Laguna start, the car “felt good and I could start to push and run the two leaders down. Then the yellow came out and it put us all the way back to seventh. Renger came out and did it again!”
The Dutchman had a horrendous crash at the exit of Eau Rouge in the World Endurance Championship race at Spa in April, but walked away from the shunt at the top of the hill. The elevation changes of Laguna, where he scored his third victory at the track, did not seem to phase him as he passed the leading Cadillac of Action Express Racing, then held off the oncoming Porsche in the final stint of green with apparent ease.
“Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac with all the effort they are putting in, it's days and nights of work,” said van der Zande. “They aren't sleeping much. So, it's amazing to pay it off with a win like this. Like Seb said, we cycled a few times to the front and the back. I love this place.”
"Everyone knows how challenging the last couple of months have been since our Sebring retirement,” said Bourdais referencing the 12-hour where the team’s Cadillac caught fire. “It's never fun to go through those phases, but it's part of racing. It's something you have to pull through. I think the whole group was starting to lose a little bit of their spirit, I'd say. So, it's really good that we've gotten our head out of it with a win today.”
There’s no rest for the weary. “This team has been pushing really hard, long hours, dealing with the ups and downs of racing, so congratulations on a great race victory,” said Laura Wontrop Klauser, GM sports car racing program manager. “I hope they enjoy every second of this win and they take a minute to relax because we have to get ready for the next race.”
That race, of course, will be in Le Mans, where the winning car is due to be shipped to prepare for the centenary 24-hour in June.
Double Time Paying Dividends
Is it any surprise that the Cadillac and Porsche teams had the field covered in the season’s fourth GTP round at Laguna? The two GTP factory participants have also run the first three races in the World Endurance Championship. That translates into more seat time, more on-track data and better pace.
The two Porsche Penske Motorsport cars started on the front row and then came back from brake problems due to their pace. “We had some issues at the start,” said Mathieu Jaminet, the pole winner who locked up his brakes into the Andretti Hairpin at the start. “After that, we started (working on adjusting) the brakes. The team did a good job.”
The No. 7 Porsche was still in the hunt despite a penalty for Matt Campbell’s contact with a GTD Aston Martin of Jarett Andretti. Although co-driver Felipe Nasr crashed out in the No. 7 car, possibly due to the tricky brake-by-wire system used with the LMDh hybrids, he liked his pace. “We had the pace to fight for victory,” said Nasr. “That was obvious in the qualifying and race. I’m sorry that I crashed. After the restart, I saw the chance to grab two positions at once. I gave it everything, the rear of my car got away from me. I had no chance of catching the car.”
Action Express Racing’s Pipo Derani double-stinted his Michelin tires, taking fuel only for his Cadillac V-Series.R during the day’s second caution. He made it work, leading until the second pit stop and the trade to Alexander Sims, who finished third.
"Pipo was doing a fantastic job and had really good pace,” said Sims. “I was given everything I could have been given to do the job, but ultimately, I didn’t have the same pace as Pipo and I made two costly errors in terms of the restart and getting my tires up to temperature properly and Renger driving on the outside of me and then just being too cautious in traffic and Nick (Tandy) got around me. Good points day and nice to be on the podium.”
Acuras' Tire Gamble Comes Up Short
The pace of the Cadillacs and Porsches was good enough to encourage the two Acura ARX-06 entries to risk double-stinting their Michelin tires, deciding to take fuel only during their stops with a little less than an hour to go. It didn’t work. Felipe Albuquerque, in the ARX-6 of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, finished 21 seconds behind the winner, passing only the No. 24 BMW M Hybrid V8 after restarting fifth on the final green.
“This wasn’t the strongest performance we have had this year in terms of pace on track,” said Albuquerque’s co-driver Ricky Taylor. “We need to watch the race back to learn a couple things, of what other teams did with tires,” he continued, after vowing things will be different once the track’s repaving takes place. The planned repaving was postponed by the heavy rains from the atmospheric rivers over the winter.
GTD Entries Bring out Cautions
The GTD drivers had it coming and going on the worn surface at Laguna, where two drivers (Sheena Monk and Jarett Andretti) were pushed off to bring out the first two cautions, including the frightening incident that sent the new Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Andretti Autosport into the tire barrier at the entrance to the pit road. The son of John Andretti, Jarett quickly walked away.
Four cautions during the race, three for GTD entries including the Lexus RC F GT3 of Aaron Telitz, enabled some teams to make good on their fuel mileage gambles. Leading the way thanks to strategy was the Porsche 911 GT3 R of Kellymoss with Riley driven by Alan Metni and Kay van Berlo.
The Dutch veteran was surprised to hear he was running at the front with an hour to go. “I thought we could actually go and win here,” van Berlo said. “The Aston (driven by Andy Lalley of Magnus Racing) had massive speed on the straights so it was hard to make a pass at the beginning. So, I was just waiting and waiting and waiting while defending the car behind me and I had one opportunity and went for it.”
Alec Udell won the GTD pole in the sister Porsche for the Kellymoss team that expanded into IMSA’s premier championship from the Porsche Deluxe Carrera Cup North America by combining its efforts with Riley Motorsports. The winning engineer/strategist, Chris Bohlman, is a Riley employee. The combined team got off to a slow start, but has come to grips with the new Porsche, which is beginning to look like a winner with a second straight GTD class victory after Pfaff Motorsports won at Long Beach in GTD Pro.
Vasser Sullivan Podium Streak Reaches 8
The Vasser Sullivan duo of Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat continued their remarkable podium streak by finishing second in GTD Pro. That gives them eight straight podiums, including four this year, which keeps them in the championship lead. They had some assistance after severe penalties that took the Corvette Racing and Heart of Racing teams out of contention in the five-car field due to violations of the wave around rules.
The penalties virtually insured a podium before Barnicoat gained an extra spot near the finish. “I was in third place and the opportunity opened to pass the (Pfaff Porsche),” said Barnicoat. “So, I put my Jack Hawksworth hat on and sent it and managed to get by him. To come home with a P2 finish and still leading the championship is pretty incredible. I feel a little bit heartbroken not to have the chance to fight for a win, but it was still great to come away in that position.”
The Lexus duo’s closest competitors in the championship, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, scored the victory by managing the tire degradation of their Mercedes AMG GT3—and with assistance from penalties to others. The Pfaff Motorsports entry was also penalized, because Klaus Bachler ran the red light at the pit exit.
“I had a really good start,” said Juncadella. “I was up to second already, but then the race didn’t go our way with the strategy. I was really pissed off. I left and went to have a drink and something to eat. And then suddenly we were in the lead again and I didn’t know why.”