There’s something funny going on when it comes to IMSA’s spec WEC P2s beating factory DPis at WeatherTech SportsCar Championship events.
The first instance came last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. In an ode to ‘The Pass,’ where Alex Zanardi overtook Bryan Herta at the Corkscrew in 1996 for the CART win, Renger van der Zande shot down the inside of Dane Cameron to perform his own version of ‘The Pass’ and captured the first non-DPi win in IMSA.
Move ahead to Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen and Stephen Simpson authored ‘The Whoosh’ as he blasted down the inside of Juan Pablo Montoya and Jordan Taylor to capture the second WEC P2 victory since the dual prototype formula debuted in 2017.
Two WEC P2 wins, two insane passes to upset the DPi establishment, and in both cases, supreme driving was required to dislodge factory cars from the lead. If that’s the new standard for WEC P2 wins, fans might be rooting for DPi losses at every IMSA round.
Adding to the layer of fun to close the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, Simpson, co-drivers Chris Miller and Misha Goikhberg, and the JDC-Miller team also brought the No. 99 GAINSCO-sponsored ‘Red Dragon’ prototype back to Victory Lane for the first time since 2013.
The win was a heartfelt affair for Bob Stallings, the man behind the GAINSCO partnership with JDC-Miller, and whose Bob Stallings Racing/GAINASCO team left the Prototype class after Memo Gidley suffered horrific injuries during the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“First of all, it was a very exciting and very rewarding experience,” Stallings told RACER. “The win itself was pretty dramatic. Stephen did a great job getting through traffic and getting into the lead. John Church did a fantastic job strategy wise in the pits; we saved some time and gained positions that helped us to get the win.”
With a pair of Grand-Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype championships and more than a dozen wins earned in the original Red Dragon prototype by Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney, Stallings says the JDC-Miller team was eager to add to the No. 99’s reputation.
“The other thing that is satisfying is all the people on the team feel a responsibility to live up to the legend of the Red Dragon,” he continued. “I got a lot of comments from all the people on the team, the drivers included, that they got an important obstacle behind them. In fact, one of them said, ‘I feel like we’ve had a monkey on our back with the Red Dragon’s history and reputation, and I’m relieved we got the first win out of the way.’ That was enlightening for me to see how people feel in their hearts about this car.”
From inside the car, Simpson’s finest day came after the JDC-Miller team nearly won last year’s Sahlen’s Six Hour event in the yellow No. 85 ‘Banana Boat’ ORECA 07-Gibson WEC P2.
The South African ace, who recently became an American citizen, was on pace to finish third behind the DPi duo of Taylor and Montoya, but with Taylor’s Cadillac and Montoya’s Acura locked in a side-by-side battle on the final restart, Simpson couldn’t believe the opportunity playing out in front of his windshield.
“My initial restart was good, but I wasn’t right up the back of the Acura, which turned out to be a good thing,” he said. “As we exited Turn 1, I knew I was close enough to get a good draft from them, and if I was any closer, I would have caught them too soon and wouldn’t have been able to make a move. As we were going through Turn 2 and climbing the hill I saw Montoya was starting a move of his own — I sensed I was inching close and thanked them for scrubbing off speed because they were so close together and punched a huge hole in the air. If I didn’t need two hands on the wheel, I would have waved and thanked them as I went by!
“It was just one of those passes that worked out; I was fortunate to get the draft that I did, and it was possible because I made it as early as I did while they were preoccupied with each other. When I started my move, I saw [the Acura] start to try and block me, but I was far enough along where it wasn’t possible, and I wasn’t going to lift, anyways. When I was next to him, I thought I had enough speed to get both of them and was ahead enough to not worry about it. And then off I went.”
Simpson, who spent Monday at Watkins Glen helping with a tire test, credited the engineers and co-drivers on the Red Dragon and the sister No. 85 JDC-Miller ORECA 07-Gibson for putting him in a position to win.
“On the 99 our main engineer is John Hayes and Barry Mumm supports him, and we have Keith and Ian Willis on the 85 car, and between the four of them, they work closely together, which turned the car around for us,” he said.
“Before the race, I felt we were more on the back foot that we wanted, so I was at the track early Sunday morning, at 7 a.m., looking at data with the guys to see what I could do better and to make sure there weren’t any stones left unturned. Then, maybe after five or 10 laps into the race, I had a smile on my face because I was really happy with the changes the team’s engineers made. It was exactly what I was looking for after not having a very comfortable time on Friday and Saturday.
“And John Church who was making the strategy calls, and my teammates Misha and Chris, put everything together. Nobody made any mistakes, they were quick the whole race, and as I always tell them, I can’t do what I do at the end without what they do in the middle.”
On a personal note, Simpson hopes his winning pass will become a lasting impression of his capabilities.
“It was close, hard racing, I loved every minute of it, and I love racing against these guys; they’re some of the best in the world, and part of what made Sunday so special was we drove our way to victory and beat them without any special circumstances,” he said.
“Everybody makes it hard to pass, but nobody crosses the line, and once I came around to lead that lap, I had a déjà vu moment at the start/finish line to 12 months ago when we were in a similar situation. The difference is I believe I showed I can finish races, I can drive to the front, seal the deal, and win. And I’m so happy for GAINSCO so early in our relationship, which made it even more special.”