IMSA.com Contributor Enjoys Seeing David Beat Goliath in WeatherTech Championship Races
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – What racing fan doesn’t root for the underdog? Some of the most legendary victories in motorsports history have featured racing’s Davids triumphing over their Goliath counterparts.
Take, for example, when John Cannon humbled McLaren’s all-conquering “Bruce and Denny Show” in 1968 at the track now known as WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca or, more recently, when Michael McDowell scored one of racing’s great upsets at the Daytona 500 for the unheralded Front Row Motorsports team in February.
But upset aficionados will have to think long and hard to match the “double underdog” wins delivered by the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R and No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19 in the 2021 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Although the Mustang Sampling entry boasted a potent driver lineup featuring Sebastien Bourdais, Tristan Vautier and Loic Duval, the team works on a limited budget compared to its Daytona Prototype international (DPi) competitors. Meanwhile, Sebring was but the second GT Le Mans (GTLM) class race for a WeatherTech Racing team that has fielded GT Daytona (GTD) entries in recent years.
What’s more, the No. 79 was a singleton, privateer entry (albeit with customer support from Porsche) compared to the factory-backed, two-car efforts from Corvette Racing and BMW Team RLL. And, in contrast to the full complement of factory drivers at the wheels of the Corvettes and BMWs, the cast of WeatherTech drivers included accomplished privateer Cooper MacNeil alongside Porsche works pilots Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet.
Although the No. 5 Cadillac and No. 79 Porsche were in contention throughout the race, as the final hour approached the best either could seemingly hope for was a podium finish. But that was before the DPi and GTLM class leaders struck trouble or, rather, trouble struck them in the form of other competitors. Consequently, each was promoted to a respective class victory – but not until the wily Bourdais overcame a dramatic loss of downforce following the sudden departure of a rear wing element to keep the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports DPi at bay.
The winners agreed victory is all the more meaningful when it comes in the role of underdog.
“I’ve become accustomed to being the underdog with not the most resources in a lot of series,” said Bourdais, who in truth has seen both sides of the resource coin – driving to four IndyCar titles for powerful Newman/Haas Racing and more recently scoring a couple of wins for perennial underdog Dale Coyne Racing. “So, when you bring the fight to the big ones, it’s that much sweeter.”
“I don’t think anyone would have predicted (this),” MacNeil said of the No. 79’s win, “but that’s what hard work, perseverance and an amazing group of guys can do.
“To get the win, especially at Sebring against some of the best drivers in the world, against the top manufacturers’ factory-backed efforts. We show up with a non-factory effort and Silver driver in the car – I could not be more thrilled to get the win.”
Odds are, Sebring will not be the last “day of the underdog” during the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Two events and 36 hours of racing into the season have produced different winners in all five classes.
Indeed, only the No. 55 Mazda DPi, No. 24 BMW and No. 74 Riley Motorsport Ligier JS P320 finished on the podium in DPi, GTLM and Le Mans Prototype 3, respectively, at both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Twelve Hours of Sebring. The cast of characters on the GTD podiums for each of the two events was completely different. Though the No. 18 Era Motorsport and No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07s each boasts a pair of Le Mans Prototype 2 podium finishes, the races produced different winners.
All of which is to suggest the competition is wide open in all five classes this year. And while there is no substitute for resources, “hard work, perseverance and amazing groups of guys” – coupled with a little racing luck and a lot of driving skill – will continue to enable IMSA’s underdogs to fight (and sometimes beat) the big ones.