Vautier Leads Opening Chevrolet Sports Car Classic Practice
By Jeff Olson
DETROIT, Mich. – Cadillac has a reputation for success at Detroit. Both car and track hold fond places in Felipe Nasr’s heart.
Nasr scored his first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory with Cadillac at Detroit in 2018. He’ll try to relive that success this weekend with Action Express Racing in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.
“There’s no doubt it’s a place where Action Express has a great history,” Nasr said. “It was my first win at Detroit, so I have such a unique feeling about that place. I love driving at street tracks. But (when) we turn up there, I’m sure the competition is going to be super tight.”
Cadillac has won two of the last three races at Detroit and finished second in 2019, the last event held at the 14-turn, 2.35-mile course on Belle Isle.
“Looking at history, the Cadillacs had good results, so we are hopeful and confident that we’re going to be good there,” said Tristan Vautier, who will co-drive the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R with Loic Duval. “But the series is so tight that it takes such little details for one car or the other to take advantage. It’s really hard to predict.”
If Friday morning’s opening practice is any indication, Cadillac is in a good position. Vautier turned the fastest lap (1 minute, 21.588 seconds, 103.691 mph) in the No. 5 and Cadillac owned three of the top four spots in Daytona Prototype international (DPi). Nick Tandy led in GT Le Mans, with a lap of 1:28.980 (95.077 mph) in the No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R. Mario Farnbacher led GT Daytona (GTD) at 1:30.932 (93.036 mph) in the No. 76 Compass Racing Acura NSX GT3.
After his initial win with Eric Curran at Detroit in 2018 in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi V.R, Nasr finished second at Detroit in 2019 with co-driver Pipo Derani. It was the third consecutive time among the top two for Cadillac at Detroit; in 2017, Ricky and Jordan Taylor teamed to win in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. WTR has switched to running the Acura ARX-05 in DPi competition this year.
Aside from the Cadillac’s ability to master difficult surfaces, the car also has a knack for the race’s 100-minute time limit.
“A sprint race at Detroit is very different to sprint races in different tracks,” Nasr said. “You just don’t have the time to recover, so any decisions you make on track, you have to make them stick. I really hope that plays into our hands, and I feel as a team we’re ready to put that (No.) 31 in contention again.”
Most recently, Vautier, Duval and Sebastien Bourdais claimed victory in the 69th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. Before that, the No. 31 Cadillac won at Sebring in 2019 with Nasr, Derani and Curran.
Bumps, it seems, are Cadillac’s thing.
“Looking at data, you could say so,” Vautier said. “But I think the way the balance of performance from IMSA has been, and the fact that every team has been getting more and more competitive every year and closer to each other. It makes it where it’s kind of like every team can win every weekend. It’s up for grabs and you start from zero.”
So far in 2021, that seems to be the case. After Wayne Taylor Racing’s Acura win in January in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and JDC-Miller’s win at Sebring in March, WTR returned to win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor.
The top four in the team standings – an Acura, a Mazda and two Cadillacs – are separated by just 150 points heading into the weekend.
“So far this year has been every race down to the wire and different cars fighting to the victory,” Nasr said. “I’m expecting the same as the weekend goes on.”
A second practice is set for noon ET Friday, ahead of qualifying at 3:30 p.m. that streams live on IMSA.com. The 100-minute race airs live at 5 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN and IMSA Radio.
De Angelis Finally Gets to Race on ‘Home Track’
Roman De Angelis is only 20, but he’s been coming to the Belle Isle track for about 10 years. It’s a short trip. He can literally see his home in the Lakeshore suburb of Windsor, Canada, across the Detroit River from Belle Isle.
This weekend, though, is the first time the No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 driver will race here. The experience is quite different from inside the cockpit.
“When I used to come here, I would mostly hang with friends and have fun,” De Angelis said following Friday morning’s first WeatherTech Championship practice. “Now it’s different being here and having to focus on doing what I need to do to learn the track and how the car works around here. When we were on the track walk (Thursday), I could look over and see where I live. It’s just a couple minutes through the (border) tunnel.
“It’s really cool to be here racing. It’s the first time for either of us here (De Angelis and co-driver Ross Gunn) and for the Aston Martin as well. We’re learning as we go and we’ll see how we can do. But it’s a lot of fun.”