Fresh off his signing for the Action Express Racing team in 2019, Tequila Patron ESM’s Pipo Derani put in one of the patented drives that drew AXR’s attention on the way to an unexpected win at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Teeming with aggression and determination, the Brazilian worked his usual magic to move forward in the field, passing Acura ARX-05s, Cadillac DPi-V.Rs, Mazda RT24-Ps, and ORECA 07s in his Nissan Onroak DPi. Despite a strong qualifying performance, the ESM team chose to start Derani’s teammate Johannes van Overbeek, who was ill on Saturday, which relegated the No. 22 to the back of the Prototype field at the start.
Although the Nissan teammates captured an impressive amount of ground, and even recovered from a spin, Derani appeared ready to settle for a runner-up finish behind Mazda’s long-gone Harry Tincknell as the 2h40m race wound toward its conclusion.
Mazda had its first DPi win in hand with ease until Tincknell spun the opportunity away in Turn 5 with just over 30 minutes remaining. While attempting a late pass on the lapped AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports LMP2 car driven by Gustavo Yacaman, Tincknell’s unnecessary maneuver — while dealing with no pressure from behind — send the RT24-P to the inside at the corner’s apex, where he was hit and spun by a driver who is often treated with kid gloves.
Gifted the lead, Derani streaked by and beat the charging CORE autosport ORECA 07-Gibson driven by Colin Braun to the finish line by 10.9s. Acura Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya banged wheels with teammate Ricky Taylor in the closing stages and was rewarded with a distant third.
“What a weekend,” van Overbeek told IMSA Radio. “I really have to thank ESM Patron for putting together such a great car today. I got really sick yesterday and came back today. This is great.”
“Today was a very special day,” Derani added. “We’ve had a difficult season with a lot of DNFs. This team is incredible. They never give up. Today showed how hard we worked, even when we spun and went to the back. What a day for Tequila Patron ESM.”
Derani wasn’t the only Prototype star on Sunday in Monterey. Recovering from a stalled car on entry to pit lane with co-driver Jon Bennett behind the wheel, Braun ripped through the field until he had all but one contender in his rearview mirrors. And thanks to wild dramas at the start of the race, the CORE drivers moved into second in the Prototype championship as the AXR team experienced a day to forget.
“It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be,” Braun said of catching and passing the No. 31 AXR team for the Prototype title. “We’re just going to keep our heads down. We were able to be smart and make good pit stops and we end up bubbling up to the top. We’ll go to Road Atlanta and see what we can do.”
If race-long blitzes told the tale of the Prototype leaders, smarts and a soft right foot sealed the deal for BMW Team RLL as it took its second straight GT Le Mans win at Laguna Seca. Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi also secured BMW’s second consecutive win of the season with the No. 25 M8 GTE after coming out on top at the recent GT-only event at VIR.
The key to victory came from Sims’ cool efforts to open the race and De Phillippi’s remarkable fuel-saving job to close.
“It was certainly an eventful race,” De Phillippi said. “At the end, we made it on fuel strategy from the moment we left pit lane. The car had good pace, and there wasn’t a big difference in pushing or saving, and we had just enough to coast across the line. Two in a row, we knew the car was hooked up.”
Porsche GT Team’s Laurens Vanthoor (+2.4s) was second in his 911 RSR and Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia rounded out the top three in his C7.R (+13.1s).
And GT Daytona only added to the spectacle as the polesitting Meyer Shank Racing Acura driven by Katherine Legge and Alvaro Parente were in a similar situation to Derani late in the contest. But their win, which cut the team’s points deficit to the Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini in half entering Petit Le Mans, did not involve a gift. Parente’s relentless pursuit of Jorg Bergmeister’s Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R concluded with a swift pass in the final minutes, and with the move, Legge has a stronger shot at winning the GTD title.
“It feels great,” Parente said. “I think we did the perfect job this weekend. We sorted out the setup, big congratulations to the team. Really happy, and we really deserved this one. We had to win this race.”
Bergmeister (+5.5s) and Riley Motorsports Jeroen Bleekemolen in his Mercedes-AMG GT (+5.8s) completed the GTD podium.
The field had yet to complete a single turn before mayhem broke out on the front straight that had significant championship implications for two teams. JDC-Miller/GAINSCO Motorsports’ Misha Goikhberg charged the start in his LMP2 car, striking the No. 5 Action Express Racing Cadillac from behind.
Launched into a spin, Joao Barbosa was helpless as his Cadillac was struck by Dirk Muller’s No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT. Nick Tandy’s No. 911 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR was also ravaged by the multi-car contact that battered the DPi, ripped a wheel off the Ford GT, and smashed the 911’s front end.
Second in the Prototype standings at the start of the race, the No. 5 Cadillac failed to cross the start/finish line, which meant it did not meet the minimum requirement to earn last-place points. The No. 5 left the circuit having fallen four spots in the championship, and with IMSA’s miserly points payouts, it lost any realistic chance of vying for the title with the sister No. 31 entry.
Muller’s Ford was more fortunate as it crossed under the green flag before parking. Only Tandy’s Porsche was capable of limping across the line to take the start and complete most of the lap before retiring to the pits.
Once the cars were cleared, the restart featured more contact — this time in GT Daytona — that triggered another caution as a spun Lexus RC F GT3 and a damaged Acura NSX GT3 kept fans waiting for the real action to begin. As multiple leaders soon rose and fell across all three classes, Monterey delivered once the initial silliness subsided. Perfect weather, a decent crowd, and absolutely unpredictable racing was on display under the California sun.
Petit Le Mans is just over a month away and the Prototype battle is far from settled as AXR’s No. 31 (254 points) is barely ahead of CORE’s No. 54 (250). A bad day for the Fords saw the No. 3 Corvette team (299 points) more than double its lead over the No. 67 GT (290), and in GTD, the 13-point margin held by PMR’s No. 48 Lamborghini squad was drawn down (303-297) by the winning No. 86 Acura.
Nothing’s settled. Everything’s left to play for. Ten hours of racing in Georgia can’t get here fast enough.