Saturday’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park represented the halfway point of the 10-race season for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s flagship Prototype class and was the fourth of 11 rounds for the GT Daytona (GTD) class.
It also marked the second and final 100-minute street circuit sprint for the 2018 season. The intense battle featured five lead changes in the Prototype class and three in GTD, with Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R preserving General Motors’ IMSA win streak in Detroit going back to 2007, while Katherine Legge and Mario Farnbacher scored an important victory for Meyer Shank Racing in the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3.
Here are five key takeaways from a quick weekend in the Motor City:
1. MSR Makes History
For Meyer Shank Racing, the 2018 Chevrolet Sports Car Classic will hold a special place in the team’s illustrious history.
While the team has had several great moments over the years – the overall victory in the 2012 Rolex 24 At Daytona and last year’s breakthrough victory for the Acura NSX GT3 at Detroit immediately come to mind – Saturday’s race was the first 1-2 finish in team history. Legge and Farnbacher led the way in the No. 86, with teammates Lawson Aschenbach and Justin Marks coming home second in the No. 93 Acura NSX.
The moment was not lost on Meyer Shank team co-owner Mike Shank.
"I’m not functioning on all cylinders right now because it’s just never happened," said an emotional Shank in victory lane near Belle Isle’s iconic Scott Fountain. "It’s really about just execution of a plan. Since the moment we rolled out here Thursday and we took the cars out and we practiced fuel fill, we knew this was going to be the race, the whole race. There was no question about it, so we did it. We executed and the other people were just behind a tick and we won."
2. Tight Prototype Points Battle at Halfway
Coming out of the 2017 Chevrolet Sports Car Classic, No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R co-drivers Ricky and Jordan Taylor held a 30-point lead over second-place No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi teammates Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa after the Taylor brothers scored their fifth consecutive victory.
It’s much, much closer this year. Barbosa and his new-for-2018 co-driver Filipe Albuquerque – who won the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach – now are tied for the Prototype points lead with their Action Express teammates Nasr and Curran after the No. 31 duo’s Detroit victory. Each have 144 points.
Fourteen points behind the Action Express teammates is another tie for third in points, and it involves the Taylor brothers again. Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves, who won last month’s Acura Sports Car Classic at Mid-Ohio and finished second at Detroit in the No. 7 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi, are deadlocked with Jordan Taylor and his 2018 teammate in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi, Renger van der Zande.
Just four points in arrears of the third-place pair is the No. 6 Acura Team Penske duo of Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya. Cameron and Montoya finished second at Mid-Ohio and third at Detroit.
In fact, this year there are eight teams within the same 30-point window that separated first and second last year. If the last couple of races are any indication, chances are excellent that this year’s Prototype championship battle will be a barnburner all the way to the Motul Petit Le Mans in October.
3. Paul Miller Racing Continues Podium Streak, GTD Points Lead
The 1-2 result for Meyer Shank Racing tightened things up considerably in the GTD point standings, but Paul Miller Racing, which took the class points lead following its victory in March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, remains atop the points chart with four of 11 rounds in the books.
Reason being, the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and co-drivers Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow have finished every race so far this season on the podium. The team also finished third at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, last month’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio and at Detroit, a race that saw Sellers also take the Motul Pole Award in qualifying.
"It’s another great race weekend for us to earn another podium," said Sellers, who alongside Snow shares a three-point lead in the GTD standings over Legge. "Anytime you can get a podium, it’s a good day. I’m proud of Madison. He did a good job. It was his weekend to finish the race and his weekend to lead the team. He got to take charge and I couldn’t be prouder of the way he continues to grow and step up for us. We had a good weekend as a team."
4. Solid Weekend for Tequila Patrón ESM
It was a good couple of days in Detroit for the two-car Tequila Patrón ESM team. On Friday, Pipo Derani scored the second Motul Pole Award of his WeatherTech Championship career when he took the top starting spot in the No. 22 Nissan DPi.
Derani led the first two laps of the race before a shifting problem brought him onto pit road early for a replacement steering wheel, but he ultimately returned to the front of the field for four more laps as the team went off sequence with the rest of the Prototype field. Derani’s co-driver, Johannes van Overbeek, wound up seventh in the final race standings.
The team’s No. 2 Nissan DPi shared by Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel, meanwhile, battled back from an 11th-place starting spot to finish fourth. It was their best run since a second-place outing at the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach in April.
"Overall, it was a good weekend considering how we came here on Friday and didn’t like the cars early on," said Sharp. "We were off the pace and the engineers and team really rebounded amazingly for Pipo to get the pole, which was huge. He shined wonderfully in the race, and it was a shame to have the early shifting issue with the steering wheel. We still all showed great pace."
5. WeatherTech Ferrari Scores Top Five Result with Segal Pinch Hitting
News broke early last week that two-time defending GTD champion Alessandro Balzan would be unable to compete in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic due to a minor medical procedure, effectively ending his bid for a third-straight driver title.
However, his No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 co-driver Cooper MacNeil still has a chance to bring home Scuderia Corsa’s fourth consecutive GTD crown and the team took another positive step in that direction, as MacNeil and pinch-hitting co-driver Jeff Segal finished fifth in Detroit. It was the team’s best result since MacNeil, Balzan and Segal finished second in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
"Decent day in the WeatherTech Scuderia Corsa Ferrari," said MacNeil before jetting off to Le Mans for Sunday’s test day. "Obviously, we come here to win, so finishing P5 was not the object of the exercise this weekend. But any time you come to a street course, you risk the car. We left here with a completely clean car for Watkins Glen. We had good pace, good team camaraderie and some decent points."