Ambitions - and emotions - running high for AXR ahead of Petit

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Ambitions - and emotions - running high for AXR ahead of Petit

IMSA

Ambitions - and emotions - running high for AXR ahead of Petit

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With an IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship title on the line, an extra hour of darkness, and rain on the forecast, Pipo Derani predicts this year’s Motul Petit Le Mans will be one of the most exciting renditions of the classic season finale.

“We’re going have an extra hour or so of darkness with more cars on track and maybe even rain,” he said. “When you talk about that, and you think of the track itself, the nature of the track and how we race – it’s such a fantastic event – 10 hours is going to be amazing if you add all these extras. It’s a great event, and I’m pretty sure that the darkness is not going to make it any easier.”

The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R. is coming off wins in three of the last four races, but with a 19-point deficit to the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-05c. Given the small margins, the champion will likely be the team that finishes ahead of the other. That, however, is not a mindset that Action Express Racing team manager Gary Nelson wants his team to take.

“In my role as a team manager, I really don’t look at the points until we get down to the end,” he said. “We go to win every race. We’re kind of looking at the points now and saying, ‘just beat the No. 10 car.’ But why not go and try to win the race and everything takes care of itself? We’re doing what we’ve been doing, which is going to win and expecting to win.”

This will be the final race for Felipe Nasr with Action Express Racing. The Brazilian has been with the team since 2018 and has racked up seven wins, including a win in 2019 at Petit Le Mans and a championship in 2018. He will be replaced by Tristan Nunez next season.

“I really feel like I have been added to a family,” Nasr said of the Action Express team. “Each one (in the team) has their own personality and character, but we all share the same values and I’ve learned a lot there. Things that I will carry on over my career,” said Nasr, who reiterated that his immediate focus is on securing the title before letting the emotions of his final race crowd his mind.

Nelson compared Nasr and Derani to his own kids, explaining that when he started in racing there was always someone more mature and experienced to look up to and learn from.

“Hopefully, I’ve been not only able to share champagne with these guys when we win races but also share a way to approach the sport when you don’t win,” he said. “I think that’s been the most rewarding part of it. It’s getting the trophies but also dealing with the adversity that comes along in some situations.”

Ricky Taylor, who is now back in the No. 10 Acura, collided with Derani in the final hour of last year’s Petit Le Mans when battling for the win. The contact cost the No. 31 Cadillac dearly and ushered in a tussle between the No. 31 and the No. 7 Acura Team Penske that played out in the final races of the season.

Derani, however, downplayed the idea that a rivalry existed between the No. 10 Acura and the No. 31 Cadillac.

“We don’t treat them any different than we treat any other race team or any other driver,” he said. “I think for the fans is going to be exciting… mostly because the points are so tight and not because we’ve had any rivalries with them in the past. It would be as exciting if we were fighting for the championship with someone else.”

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