AUGUST 5, 2023
By John Oreovicz and Tony DiZinno
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – New track records were established Saturday for four of the five classes of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the newly repaved Road America, site of the IMSA SportsCar Weekend.
Pipo Derani (No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac V-Series.R) established a new benchmark of 1 minute, 47.730 seconds (135.271 mph) for the 4.048-mile road course in the first year for IMSA’s new hybrid-powered Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class. The previous lap record of 1:48.715 for the challenging 14-corner circuit in Wisconsin’s scenic Kettle Moraine district was set in 2019 by Dane Cameron in an Acura built to Daytona Prototype international (DPi) technical regulations.
Derani looked to have a comfortable edge on the 10-car GTP field until Matt Campbell clocked a lap at 1:47.798 (135.185 mph) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 with two and a half minutes remaining in the 20-minute session. But there were no late challenges to the No. 31 Cadillac as Derani earned his ninth career Motul Pole Award in IMSA competition and second of the 2023 season.
Sebastien Bourdais (No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R) and Ricky Taylor (No. 10 Konica Minolta Racing Acura ARX-06) landed second row starting spots.
“It’s been obviously a very good weekend so far for Cadillac Racing,” said Derani, whose co-driver is Alexander Sims. “We unloaded from the truck with a very good car, but with the field so tight as we have seen in every practice, we had to keep working hard for qualifying. To prove the results we had in practice with a pole position shows we were working in the right direction.”
Sims and Derani won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring from the pole earlier this year and arrived at Road America leading the GTP class championship by 10 points over the No. 25 BMW M Hybrid V8 driven by Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly. That margin grew to 19 points Saturday, as De Phillippi qualified fifth at 1:48.219 (134.659 mph).
“Back when I won the (DPi) championship in 2021 (with Felipe Nasr as teammate), it was decided on the minimum – one or two points,” Derani recalled. “So being able to take these extra points home could mean something at the end of the championship. With our position in the championship, it has a big effect.”
The focus for Derani and the other GTP competitors in Sunday’s 2-hour, 40-minute race now shifts to negotiating traffic, with a robust 45-car field. While Road America’s grippy new pavement has helped create record lap times, it is also extremely slick off the racing line, making the act of passing slower cars treacherous at times.
As the leader, Derani likened it to racing in the rain, being the first to determine how much grip exists off-line and when it is safe to try to make a pass.
“It’s definitely a bigger challenge for us,” Derani said. “Normally we just expect the GT cars to hold their line, and we go around them. By going around them, you’re putting yourself on a not-so-good part of the track. So, it’s going to be tricky, especially in the Carousel, where we have seen quite a few guys going off the track this weekend. It’s going to be interesting to see how much grip builds up during the race.”