Smart strategy ruled Saturday afternoon in Detroit as the presumptive winners in IMSA’s Prototype and GT Daytona classes found themselves watching the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R and the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 drive into Victory Lane.
The 100-minute WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Belle Isle looked like the Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPis would take another 1-2 finish. That was, until, AXR spoiled their plans with a fuel-only pit stop the moment the window opened on Lap 39 (of 68) to complete their final service.
Skipping fresh tires, Felipe Nasr tore out of pit lane and used beneficial track position to lap without heavy traffic impacting his pace. The Acuras, with Dane Cameron first up, followed in for service on Lap 42 and opted for a similar fuel-only stop. Ricky Taylor was next in on Lap 43 and went for four new tires. In both instances, having stopped three to four laps after the Cadillac and needing less fuel to get to the finish line, it appeared both ARX-05s were held until their fuel tanks were filled.
Considering the Acuras have boasted superb fuel mileage, and the ARX-05s went longer than Nasr’s Cadillac before pitting, pulling the fuel probes and sending the cars a second or two earlier would have made a world of difference. The choice to keep the cars sitting stationary to receive every drop of fuel made the race for Nasr and co-driver Eric Curran. Despite Taylor’s extreme pace on track, the time surrendered on the final stop allowed Nasr’s Cadillac to sweep past the Acura while Taylor exited the pits.
Cameron was well adrift at that point, and with 24 laps left to run, the only question was whether Taylor’s new tires would provide a late advantage when Nasr’s older rubber started to fade. It got close in the final minutes, but not enough to undo the time lost on pit lane as Nasr’s Cadillac crossed the finish line 1.016s ahead of Taylor’s Acura and 14.127s clear of Cameron’s ARX-05.
“This is amazing. It’s so great to win here,” Curran told IMSA Radio from the circuit located in the shadow of General Motors’ global headquarters. “This car was top-notch all day long. My teammate Felipe Nasr did an amazing job. We pulled it all together and I’m so happy to win for Cadillac and Cadillac Racing.”
The victory was a first for Nasr in IMSA and moves Curran, the 2016 Prototype champion, out to six.
A variety of strong finishes were lost by other Prototype contenders at the beginning and the end of the race. Tequila Patron ESM polesitter Pipo Derani, who briefly led in his Nissan Onroak DPi until pitting to have a power steering issue rectified, was seventh. Mazda Team Joest’s Oliver Jarvis, who was hot on the heels of Cameron’s Acura for third, ran out of fuel with three corners to go and took ninth. JDC-GAINSCO’s Stephen Simpson had plans to capture a top five, but contact while trying to pass the second AXR Cadillac dropped his ORECA 07-Gibson to 11th. A broken driveshaft knocked Jonathan Bomarito’s Mazda RT24-P out of the race six laps in.
Altogether, Prototype was a bit of a mess, barring the strategy plays up front. Strategy also dictated the outcome in GTD, but there was no mess to report –only ferocious driving by the three fastest qualifiers.
The best battle of the race took place in GT Daytona as the polesitting Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 driven by Bryan Sellers spent the first 40 minutes of the event with Katherine Legge waging an almighty war for the lead. Legge’s Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 flew through the air — all four wheels clear of the track surface on occasion — as she and Sellers delivered thrilling images during their relentless scrap. The second MSR Acura of Justin Marks ran a steady third.
The Lamborghini-Acura-Acura train was finally separated while driver changes took place during the one and only round of GTD pit stops.
The MSR team stole the march on the PMR crew as they saved time by skipping right-side tires on the predominantly right-hand circuit and focusing on new left-side tires during refueling. Madison Snow, who took the Huracan’s controls from Sellers, spent more time in his pit box as four new tires were installed. The Lamborghini emerged in third behind the Acuras. Like AXR for the overall win, MSR turned the tables on its rivals with brains, rather than brawn.
With Legge handing over her NSX GT3 to Mario Farnbacher, and Lawson Aschenbach climbing into the sister Acura after Marks completed his stint, the MSR duo took command of GTD and cruised home to back-to-back victories for Legge and Acura at Detroit.
“The team, I can’t thank MSR enough. They got us here. It was a last-minute deal,” said Legge, who put in the star performance of the race. “So stoked and over the moon. Mario, he did an awesome job. I’m so happy — I don’t know what to say.”
Legge’s part-time Acura entry almost tied the PMR Lamborghini outfit for the GTD points lead with the victory. Finding more sponsorship to keep the car in action for the rest of the season is a top priority with the next round at Watkins Glen coming up on July 1.