Daytona Beach, Fla. (27 January 2019) – Whelen Engineering Racing took its second consecutive Rolex 24 At Daytona runner-up finish on Sunday, with Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Eric Curran fighting at the front with the red and white No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R but was unable to clinch the win after the race was called early.
Treacherous conditions led to the race going to caution with just over two hours remaining, leading to a second red flag that eventually ended the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener after 23 hours, 50 minutes.
Unfortunately for the team, the caution came only four minutes after Nasr had slid through a pool of standing water and lost the lead in Turn 1, handing the lead – and victory – to the No. 10 Cadillac entry. Nasr quickly recovered and continued, but ran out of time in a bid to challenge the race-winning Cadillac as IMSA once again moved the race to a caution period before calling a red flag and then early checkers.
“This race was totally insane, one of the most challenging races I’ve done here,” Curran said. “The weather was key. Early on, it was dry, there was some really good racing, I had a lot of fun in the car both during the day and at night. There were a lot of good battles with some good people, good teams, and we ran in the top three most of the race.
“But I was in the car at 5 a.m. and it was pitch black out, raining like crazy and the windshield was fogging up,” Curran explained. “We couldn’t get the wiper working right and it was really miserable, really hard to drive. It was really challenging from that point on. But we kept charging forward from fourth place to where we ended up, with Felipe battling with Alonso. I felt we had a strong Whelen Cadillac, enough to win the race, but we’ll take second place – though it is a bit disappointing after finishing second last year! You can’t complain about second at Daytona, but you want to be on the top step of the podium. We were so close.”
All three drivers had turns in the lead, with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac out front 10 times for 97 laps.
“I thought we had a good car in both dry and wet conditions, and it was looking good until the rain really poured down,” said Nasr, who battled two-time World Champion Alonso throughout the final hour of race. “There was nothing I could do: I was the first car coming through and I just aquaplaned all the way and lost the lead. But I wanted to go back racing. We had a good car, we did a good job all race, and everything we did went to plan. I think we had a winning car in our hands and I wanted to get the job done if I could. It was amazing, the hard work the team did in every single pit stop to handle all the tire changes, the work the mechanics did, and getting the fastest lap of the race – everything was perfect. Eric and Pipo did great, the team made great calls keeping us up front the whole time, it was great. But I wanted to finish a better place than second.”
Derani made his first start for the team, with the 2016 Rolex 24 winner leading twice for 26 circuits.
“It was a hell of a race,” Derani said. “We had such a difficult day, with so much rain. It was sad not to be fighting for the win at the end, but we’re happy as well to be able to finish in such a difficult race. Anything could have happened. Thank you to the team for an amazing job, it was a first race for me with Whelen Engineering and I’m really happy for what we did. We’re second in the championship and we’re going to keep fighting.”
Strong Start to Michelin Endurance Cup title Defense
The team made the call to keep Nasr out on track while the other contenders pitted prior to the six-hour mark. That gave the team five points towards the Michelin Endurance Cup, which Action Express Racing is seeking to win for the sixth consecutive year – including the 2018 cup title for Whelen Engineering. The four bonus points at the finish gave the team 13 points, a good start heading into the endurance classics at Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta.
“The cards just didn’t fall our way today, but we’ll leave here with our heads held high because I think they knew we were here,” said Nelson after the race. “I am very proud of everybody at Action Express. It seemed like we were getting curve balls every time we turned around. The No. 31 car set the fastest lap of the race so that shows they had speed, and the drivers did a heck of a job, to be leading late in the race and many times in the middle of the race. The cards just didn’t fall our way today, but we’ll leave here with our heads held high because I think they knew we were here.”