In the fourth IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of the season, GTP has its fourth different winner and first repeat victory for a manufacturer as Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande yo-yoed through the field to claim victory for the No. 01 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R and Chip Ganassi Racing.
Through a rough start and ill-timed yellows, both Bourdais and van der Zande ended up deep in the field and had to work their way forward while completing 100 laps around the 2.238-mile, 11-turn WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca during the 2h40m Motul Course de Monterey. On the final restart, with 40 minutes left and Alexander Sims freshly installed in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac in the lead, van der Zande drove around the outside of Sims in Turn 3 to take the point. Sims hung on for a while, but would eventually also fall victim to Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsports 963.
“I felt sorry for the guy because I’ve been in that situation, in Ohio last year, where you’re coming cold into the car and into a restart,” said van der Zande of the pass on Sims. “It’s so easy to lock up your front tires in Turn 1. It’s really easily done and those cold tires are not easy at all. So for him to do that restart, after basically he woke up this morning, then he was mine. So I’ve been in this situation and I feel sorry for Alex because it’s not how good I was, it was a bad situation for him to get that restart. He followed me really well after that. He was on the pace doing a lot of pressuring me in traffic as well.”
It was generally not a good day to be a polesitter, as the best any of them could manage was third. Overall pole winner Matt Campbell had a major brake lockup into Turn 1 at the very start, and almost everybody joined him, but Campbell in the No. 7 PPM Porsche got the worst of it, sliding well wide and dropping back into the field. Colin Braun assumed the lead in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura ARX-06. The No. 60 was looking strong, but putting a second stint on the Michelin tires early in the race left the MSR Acura sliding backward through the field and into a position from which Braun and Tom Blomqvist could never really recover.
Campbell continued to be his own worst enemy, as after having mostly passed Jarrett Andretti in the new Andretti Autosport GTD Aston Martin Vantage, he moved over to try to get inside the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura heading into Turn 11. But having not cleared the Aston, he hit it, sending Andretti into the tires that protected the beginning of the pit wall and crashing into pit lane. Andretti was uninjured in the incident. Campbell was given a drive-through penalty for incident responsibility. Felipe Nasr would later exit the course in Turn 9 and make impact with the wall, requiring some rear bodywork changes for the No. 7 and effectively ending any opportunity for a good result.
Throughout the middle of the race, the No. 31 AXR Cadillac looked unbeatable and the team clearly had the best tire strategy for that point in the race as Derani drove away from the field. When during a yellow he handed over to Sims with fresh tires, though, Sims had no luck holding off the hard charging van der Zande, who had belted into the No. 01 earlier in the race.
“Pipo was doing a fantastic job; he had really good pace,” said Sims. “I was given everything I could have been given to do the job but ultimately I didn’t have the same pace as Pipo and I made two pretty costly errors in terms of the restart not getting my tires up to temperature properly. Renger just drove around the outside of me. Then I was just being too cautious in traffic and Nick got past me. Still, we didn’t do any stupid mistakes. So good points today and nice to be on the podium.”
Tandy was charging forward at the end, but couldn’t get up to the No. 01 to mount any challenge for victory. He and Mathieu Jaminet came into the race with a one-point lead over the AXR squad, and they still left Monterey at the head of the championship.
“Honestly, on the restart, I’m in fourth; I thought I was going to win it,” declared Tandy. “Because you know our car had pace. I knew that our restart wasn’t the best. But you know, Renger just drove well and he got the track position early, he got the gap whilst I was getting past the other guys. I think the two cars at the end were the class of the field.”
Bourdais was starting sixth, so victory looked unlikely. It had already been a rough weekend for the team. Bourdais crashed early in the first practice due to the hybrid and braking system acting up, costing the team that session. A bit of good fortune, solid strategy and driving got them toward the front, twice.
“We were a bit stuck after that kind of shaky start with the Porsches lighting it up, and I was kind of caught in the in the smoke,” Bourdais explained. “I didn’t know really where I was going after that. And then went with it because I was so…scared that somebody was going to do the same down the inside and taking me with them. So I kind of shied away from turning and kind of drove myself with them way out there. And then a bunch of guys had lockups, so we gained track position and got to third. The track started to warm up and it really started to work pretty well for us. So the car kind of came to life.
“We get the tires, and we’re looking really good with a big gap and run down the two leaders and (at) that point, I was like, ‘Man, this is looking really good.’ And then the yellow came out and then it was all to be done again. And thankfully, Renger’s really, really good at it. So we kind of had to do it twice, and that was not an easy day but you know that makes those wins that much better.”
It was a nice redemption from Long Beach, where Bourdais crashed at the start, and the pair’s first win since Canadian Tire Motorsports Park last July. The victory made Cadillac the first manufacturer to repeat as a winner in the new era of GTP, and gave Cadillac the lead in the manufacturers’ championship.
The LMP2 fight came to a head with only 23 minutes left as the top six were all fighting for the lead. Ryan Dalziel in the No. 18 Era Motorsports ORECA got a run on Ben Hanley in the No. 04 Crowdstrike Racing by APR entry, going side by side through Turn 11. But contact at the exit sent Dalziel spinning. Hanley lost enough momentum that Paul Loup Chatin got a run in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA, but it was Mikkel Jensen that eventually emerged with the lead in the No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA that he held to the end for a win for he and Steven Thomas.
“That was a crazy race,” said Jensen. “First there was a miscommunication with Steven in the beginning, so we lost track position. I think I got in third or fourth and drove up to first. And then there was a miscommunication when the pits opened to prototypes, I was the only guy that stayed out and came out in seventh. But just an awesome race. It shows what IMSA is, it’s never finished. I was shouting on the radio when we got back seventh, I thought it was over, but the team team told me to stay calm and just to do my job and all of a sudden I was in first.”
Defending LMP2 champion John Farano crashed hard in Turn 5 during the race. He was transported to a local hospital, awake and alert, for observation.