AUGUST 10, 2023
The Whelen Engineering Team Bounced Back from a Crash in Warmup to Finish Sixth and Remain in the GTP Title Hunt
By John Oreovicz
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Whelen Engineering Cadillac Racing’s weekend at Road America was as up and down as the undulating 4.048-mile road course itself. The team experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in less than 24 hours, yet it all ended pretty close to a state of equilibrium.
One of two factory teams fielding the hybrid-powered Cadillac V-Series.R in the top Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the Whelen squad arrived at Road America leading the GTP point standings with drivers Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims by 10 points over the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 shared by Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly. The gap expanded to 19 points on Saturday afternoon when Derani earned the Motul Pole Award for the IMSA SportsCar Weekend’s headline race.
Derani and the team celebrated the achievement, but the 2021 IMSA Daytona Prototype International (DPi) class champion didn’t get too carried away in his excitement.
“Obviously, at this point, despite being very important and a big step forward for us to start up front, we know how IMSA racing goes,” Derani said with a bit of foreshadowing. “Sometimes it can slip out of your hand, and sometimes you can control it from the beginning to the end. A lot can happen during the race, but the first half of the weekend has been going very well for us.”
The second half of the weekend turned sour six minutes into the Sunday morning warmup, when Sims lost control of the No. 31 Cadillac and spun into a heavy rear impact at Turn 13. “It just snapped,” Sims said.
A Race Against Time
Quick work by the track recovery crew delivered the damaged car by flatbed truck to the team’s transporter and work base within 16 minutes, where No. 31 crewmembers frantically set about replacing the modular gearbox and rear suspension, undertray and bodywork. While Sims received emotional support from team management, Derani pitched in with the repairs, running parts and tools as needed.
The situation was more urgent than normal since the warmup session at Road America ran just two hours prior to the 10:10 a.m. local race start. The gap between warmup and race is generally at least four hours. But at 9:42 – just 80 minutes after repair work commenced – the No. 31 Cadillac rolled to the grid, where IMSA rules dictated it had to start from the back of the GTP field.
“It was a great effort by the entire team, including Pipo handing off wrenches and being fully engaged, to get the car on the grid for the (race) warmup laps and take the green flag with no mechanical issues,” stated team manager Gary Nelson. “The crew worked systematically and, as always, professionally.”
Nelson also expressed appreciation to the No. 01 Cadillac Racing crew, which offered parts and assistance.
“I’m just so proud of the whole team for getting the car back together to make the start and be back in this race,” Sims told NBC Sports as Derani started the race in the car. “We’ve got everything to fight for now.
“Obviously I feel pretty terrible about the situation that I created, but I think everyone is a professional and everybody has seen these situations before,” Sims continued. “Unfortunately, it is a part of the sport. It’s fantastic that they give me all the support that they can to get past this moment.”
‘We Got the Best Points We Could’
Derani and Sims discovered quickly that the repaired No. 31’s race pace did not match what it demonstrated in qualifying, but they stuck it out to collect a sixth-place finish. They lost the championship lead to Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Racing Acura ARX-06, the third-place finishers at Road America.
Under the circumstances, it was a remarkable job of damage control, facing a deficit of just 14 points.
“We take the positives from what the crew and team did to get the car into the race after what happened in warmup to Alex on cold tires,” said Derani. “Just to have gone into the race to score some points is great.”
“The race was unfortunately not much better than the start of warmup,” Sims added. “It seemed like we really struggled for pace. It’s the way it goes in IMSA. We got the best points we could get under the circumstances, and we’ll go on to the next one. The real credit goes to the team.”
The saga of the No. 31 has continued what’s been an exciting GTP championship battle in the debut season for the class. With just two prototype races remaining in 2023 – the TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month and the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in October – seven teams are clustered within 139 points. All but the leading No. 10 Acura have won at least once.
“What we do know is that the GTP class has been very close, so you never discount anyone before the checkered flag,” Derani said. “It’s good for the championship that everyone is very close. It’s good for the fans, and it puts extra pressure on the teams to execute races, practice and qualifying at a very high level because anything can make a difference in the end.”