With Four Races in Six Weeks, This IMSA.com Contributor Says Now’s the Time to Bust a Move
By Holly Cain
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Fans will be in the stands again as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship kicks off its annual high-gear summer run of show – a robust four-race schedule in the next six weeks – beginning with the always-important Chevrolet Sports Car Classic this weekend on the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit – America’s automotive capital.
There are lots of reasons for optimism and good feels. The race teams genuinely welcome and feed off the energy created from having enthusiastic fans at the track. And this particular run of races – from Detroit this week to a pair of events at the iconic Watkins Glen road course in upstate New York (the traditional six-hour race followed by a two-hour, 40-minute sprint the following week), before a return to the venerable Lime Rock Park in Connecticut in mid-July are the real meat and potatoes of the racing season.
A good run these next couple months can revive a team that may not have had a great start to the 2021 season at Daytona or Sebring – or both. And with green flags coming this quickly, there is opportunity to get on a successful summer roll that may make the difference in propelling a team to a season title.
“I kind of enjoy when we get into the real meat of the season here and start to roll off a little quicker,’’ said Dane Cameron, who drives the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-05 DPi and is the defending race winner this weekend – taking the trophy the last time IMSA raced at Detroit in 2019.
“We only have 10 races, but having a few more in succession you get into a little bit more of a groove, everyone gets more settled in. It gets a little hectic, but you much prefer being in the car every week or every other week as opposed to six to eight weeks off.”
Getting back into a competitive rhythm is key to success. There were six weeks off between the Rolex 24 twice-around-the-clock season opener at Daytona and the historic Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts that followed. The series raced a month ago at Mid-Ohio – nearly two months after Sebring. So this next round of rapid competition will require a more sustained level of energy – something the drivers welcome; something the fans will enjoy watching.
“I think it’s a cool period for us drivers and obviously the fans,’’ said Felipe Nasr, driver of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi V.R. “Sometimes I feel like there’s too much downtime.”
While the drivers haven’t been competing on track, they have been virtually, studying the upcoming courses and reviewing past races. It’s essential to get back in sync as soon as possible – the re-acclimation that’s key to a serious title charge.
“Everything happens so quickly,’’ Nasr said of this portion of the schedule. “You have to make decisions quickly for the car setup, your track time and making the most of every opportunity you have on track. So, starting at Detroit puts us drivers and teams into that ‘racing mode’ where you have to extract everything pretty quick and make decisions real quick.
“Plus, we have some pretty cool venues coming up as well. Watkins Glen, needless to say, is an awesome track for the DPi cars and having the long race and sprint race will be two different dynamics.”
The upcoming venues and varied race lengths – from the sprint races at Detroit and Lime Rock Park (the latter for GT classes only) to the six-hour race at Watkins Glen – not only set up the championship push but challenge drivers and teams in new ways.
Tristan Vautier, who co-drove the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi to victory at Sebring in March, joked that the downtime has been good in one way – the chance to let that big Sebring win set in. He and teammate Loic Duval are ranked third in the Daytona Prototype international championship – behind leaders Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing and Harry Tincknell and Oliver Jarvis from Mazda Motorsports.
“I think as drivers we are not the kind of people to look back, we always look forward to the next race,’’ Vautier said. “It will be cool to finish a race and be already looking forward to the next one coming up so soon, so it’s exciting.
“These weekends are more intense because there is less time for recovery. You cannot get off track. Everything that happens really matters. We like that as drivers. The more intense it is, the more we like it. And especially those sprint races on the street courses, the way the weekends play out, it’s really cool.
“You get in and out very quick,” Vautier continued. “You have to be on it very quickly and do everything right to get the win. I’m looking forward to that and happy that we have this stretch.”
As Chip Ganassi Racing’s Renger van der Zande put it, “It’s the time we have been waiting for. … I’m in this world to go racing, so let’s go racing.’’