This IMSA.com Contributor Is Eager to See the Upcoming Rapid-Fire Series of Races
By Holly Cain
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In many ways, the start of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship “sprint” race portion of the 2021 schedule feels as if it’s an entirely new season.
As the series prepares to head to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Acura Sports Car Challenge Presented by the TLX Type S on May 16, the vibes are different, the preparations are different and after a nearly two-month break following the series’ legendary endurance events at Daytona and Sebring to open the season, it’s now time to roll fast and furiously through the summer. There are five races in a nine-week window from May to July.
On the surface, the next round of races – whose lengths vary from one hour, 40 minutes to two hours, 40 minutes surrounding the June 27 Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen, N.Y. – are relatively quick jaunts compared to the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts classics.
However, as the sport has evolved – more reliable cars and more fit drivers – there is a legitimate case to be made that the endurance races are becoming akin to a sprint contest, too.
So what does this do to the already intense sprint competitions?
“If you would have asked before Daytona, maybe I would have said it was a different approach,” Wayne Taylor Racing driver Ricky Taylor said Wednesday. “But man, this year at Daytona, every stint was a sprint race and we were wiped out after each double (stint). It didn’t feel anything like an endurance race.
“But,” he allowed, “the mindset is a little different (for the shorter races) – the amount of risk you’re willing to take in traffic and especially somewhere like Mid-Ohio. You really have to switch that mindset. Track position is really the most important thing. And more than the race itself, you put a lot more emphasis on qualifying because there aren’t as many pit stops to make something happen to kind of fight your way back.
“I think those things are a little different, whereas the intensity, I wouldn’t say that it is any easier or any more difficult than the longer races.”
Taylor’s co-driver in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Racing Acura ARX-05 DPi, Filipe Albuquerque, agreed, saying there is essentially no difference now for drivers between the famed daylong Daytona endurance race and the 100-minute run on the streets of Detroit’s Belle Isle on June 12, for example.
A couple decades ago, it was rare for two cars to finish on the lead lap in the Rolex 24. This January, the top four cars were on the same lap and the winning margin of victory was less than five seconds.
Last year at Mid-Ohio, the top six Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars finished on the same lap and the margin of victory between Taylor and former co-driver Helio Castroneves’ Acura and the second-place Cadillac was 0.607 seconds.
Half of the sprint races in 2020 were decided by less than a second.
“To be honest, the preparation is always the same,” Albuquerque said, adding with a smile, “Actually, I’m wrong because I lost in the last race (at Sebring), and I come back and train harder when I lose something. I try to prepare more for the next one.
“My thinking at Mid-Ohio will be knowing that the last race in Sebring we didn’t win and I want it so badly, that win. I always think I need to be better.
“So I think the preparation is the same. With the sprint or endurance – the difference between the 24 hours and racing 20 minutes, which sometimes it can be, the important thing is when you come to the pits, your cup is completely empty. It means that you gave everything on track.
“So that’s my approach all the time. I give everything whether it’s 24 hours or 15 minutes.”
The biggest winner in all this is ultimately the sports car fan. This kind of competitive spirit is echoed throughout the paddock – showcasing the product, the drivers and bringing legitimate and invigorated interest to the sport. There have been different winners in every classification for the opening two races of 2021. This is racing evolution at its best. And the season has really just begun.
“Anyone can win,” Albuquerque insisted. “Really, it’s a sprint race all the time.”