By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 2021 Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is on the books and, if I do say so myself, several observations from last week’s “What to Watch For” did, in fact, prove well worth watching.
Acura and PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports the clear favorites to win Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), respectively? Check. Pole position at such a fast and busy track vitally important? Check. (Two of the four class winners started on pole and a third, the GT Le Mans-winning Corvette C8.R, started P2).
Alternative fuel and tire strategies in play? Check. Contact, incidental and otherwise? Check. The No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 overdue for its first GT Daytona (GTD) win of the season? Close but no cigar (a P2 finish behind the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R).
So, apart from the fact that my motorsports knowledge is positively uncanny, what are some of the other takeaways from the latest round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship? Here are three takeaways:
Teams’ Focus Change as Season Draws Toward Conclusion
For one thing, and this is hardly news to seasoned race fans, there can be a world of difference in teams’ approaches to early and late-season races. In the spring, when everyone has a relatively equal shot at a championship, it’s mostly about winning races. Come September and October, though, some teams have at least one eye on a championship while those who are out of the title hunt are laser-focused on race wins.
For example, had Sunday’s race been staged in April (when originally scheduled before being pushed back for pandemic considerations), would winless Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian have tried to go the distance on two pit stops with the No. 60 Acura ARX-05? And even if they had, would the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura (the DPi championship leader heading into Sunday’s race) have more or less ignored MSR’s Hail Mary strategy to run a conventional three-stopper while focused on the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi and No. 55 Mazda Motorsports DPi (the principal championship rivals)?
Likewise, had this been a spring race, would GTD points leader Turner Motorsport have gone conservative and pitted the No. 96 BMW M6 GT3 from the lead before its title rivals, thus avoiding the chance an untimely full-course caution would put it behind the eight ball?
‘Racing’ Is Operative Word at General Motors
We also learned – or re-learned – that when it comes to General Motors’ race teams, there is little in the way of team or, more to the point, manufacturer orders. That should come as no surprise in the case of Corvette Racing, which has long cottoned to, indeed encouraged, close, (almost) no-holds-barred competition within its two-car team.
Who can forget the scintillating duel between the C7.Rs of Oliver Gavin and Antonia Garcia in the final laps of the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona? Sunday saw the two C8.Rs going fender to fender more than once before Nick Tandy pulled away from Garcia to give him, Tommy Milner and the No. 4 Corvette squad its first points-paying win on the season.
And how about that bare-knuckles confrontation between Renger van der Zande in the No. 01 V Performance Academy and Felipe Nasr in the No. 31 Whelen Cadillacs? Plenty of paint was traded as the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Caddy commandeered second place, igniting a celebration among the CGR crew; one that was matched by that in the Wayne Taylor Racing pit box seeing as how the overtake cost the No. 31 crew 20 pivotal points in their battle for the team championship.
Tip of the Cap to PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports
And, as if we needed any confirmation, we also learned that PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports is the LMP2 gold standard. Sunday’s win was its third of the season, fifth at WeatherTech Raceway and 25th in IMSA competition – not to mention that Ben Keating and Mikkel Jensen finished a lap ahead of the field. And what the LMP2 fields may lack in sheer numbers, it makes up for in quality with the likes of long-time Mazda factory driver Tristan Nunez, Rolex 24 and Motul Petit Le Mans winner Ryan Dalziel and other respected competitors.
Small wonder that, come November, PR1 Mathiasen will take a well-earned and nearly insurmountable LMP2 points lead to the Motul Petit Le Mans season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.