Knowing Car’s Capabilities Builds Anticipation for Sebring 12 Hours
By Jeff Olson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Renger van der Zande hadn’t even crossed the finish line at Daytona before he was on his way to Sebring.
That’s how professional racers deal with devastating losses.
Van der Zande was chasing down Filipe Albuquerque for the lead during the final laps of the 59th Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 31 when a punctured right rear tire sent him to the pits and ended any chance of his third consecutive victory in the famous endurance race.
Instead, he returned to the track to finish fifth, then immediately turned his focus to another famous endurance race – the 69th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on March 20. It’s the next event on the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule.
"When I finished the race, I was already over it," van der Zande said Wednesday. "At the moment we crossed the finish line, the only thing I took out of it was that we were in a chance to win that race – and we were in a really good chance to win that race."
That’s what van der Zande and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates, including full-time co-driver Kevin Magnussen and endurance co-driver Scott Dixon, are taking from Daytona: Their No. 01 Cadillac DPi-V.R is fast enough to contend for the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) championship.
"You look to the positive in what people would perceive to be the most negative situation," said Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi Racing’s managing director. "Your mindset is totally different. I think that probably represents people in business or people in other sports situations. I mean, there was only one team that won the Super Bowl. What’s every team in the NFL doing today? They’re working on next year’s Super Bowl right now."
The impetus for looking forward with enthusiasm lies in what happened before the tire went down at Daytona. Throughout the race, van der Zande, Magnussen and Dixon had the car in contention, even recording the fastest lap of the 24-hour, 807-lap marathon on Daytona International Speedway’s road course.
"It just shows that we had a really fast car," van der Zande said. "I hate finishing fifth when I can’t fight for the win, but I was fighting for the win and finished fifth. That’s a whole different story between those two ways of finishing fifth. It just shows that the potential for the rest of the year is huge. That’s what I’m looking forward to."
He’s doing it with a team that – while in its first season with the Cadillac DPi – is hardly inexperienced with the car or the series. CGR has seven IMSA championships and 64 victories to its credit, including eight Rolex 24 wins.
"The people the team attracts are people that want to be with the best. They want to be at Chip Ganassi Racing," van der Zande said. "The people who are new to the team are very high-end people, as well. I always feel it starts with the philosophy at the top – Mike Hull and Chip and Mike O’Gara (CGR’s IMSA team manager). They are really in it to go racing and race for the wins."
It also has a stellar driver lineup suited for the car, which Hull says favors open-wheel drivers. Van der Zande has an extensive history in Formula 3 in his background, Magnussen spent the previous seven years in Formula One, and Dixon is, well, Dixon – the owner of six IndyCar championships and 50 race wins, which rank third all-time in Indy car racing, trailing only A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.
Dixon and van der Zande had previous experience in the Cadillac, with van der Zande winning the Rolex 24 for Wayne Taylor Racing the previous two seasons. Dixon joined him with WTR for last year’s victory.
"The (Cadillac) is more suited to a fire-breathing, open-wheel race driver," Hull said. "With a single-seater driver, the drive style it takes is much more so than it’s ever been before. That’s our opinion. We have three really good single-seater drivers – with different backgrounds, obviously, but they have that in common."
The trick of moving forward after disappointment, though, could be persistent positivity. The core group around the No. 01 car – Hull, O’Gara, lead engineer John Hennek and crew chief Phil Binks – knew they were on to something good at Daytona in spite of the bad result.
"They’re not finger-pointing," van der Zande said. "They’re only very critical about what happened in order to become better. They’re not focused on fault; they’re just focused on moving forward and getting better. That’s why they’re so good at swallowing these kinds of losses."
Mostly, team members say, it’s because they’ve been through the wringer of racing. What appears to be victory can turn to disappointment in an instant. Sometimes, though, disappointment hides potential.
"Did the result measure up to what we were doing?" Hull asked. "Yes, it did. In order to finish first, you have to have a car that’s capable of finishing first. We certainly showed that we were able to create that opportunity for us as a team. Just like Renger, I’m thinking Sebring’s coming pretty quick here."
Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts action runs March 17-20 at Sebring International Raceway, with tickets available at SebringRaceway.com. The WeatherTech Championship schedule calls for three practices on March 18, qualifying on March 19 and the green flag for the 12-hour race at 10:30 a.m. ET Saturday, March 20. Live flag-to-flag coverage is available on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold, with the final dramatic hours also airing on NBCSN beginning at 7 p.m.
IMSA Radio also will have all the action live on IMSA.com and SiriusXM Radio.