With the Next Race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Looming, Drivers Acknowledge It’s Still Anyone’s Game
By Holly Cain
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Three races into the 2022 season and the six fulltime Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship are separated by 81 points – less than the difference between a first- and fifth-place finish at any race.
There’s been a different winner in each race and a highly motivated group of near-miss contenders as the series prepares for the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship Presented by Motul on May 1 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, co-driven by Alex Lynn and Earl Bamber, holds a mere three-point advantage over Tristan Vautier and Richard Westbrook in the No. 5 JDC Miller MotorSports Cadillac and a 32-point edge over Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-05 at the top of the standings.
It’s especially encouraging for the 28-year-old Lynn. The Brit, in his first full season in the DPi ranks and through only four career DPi races (three this season), has three finishes of first or second. That includes “back-to-back” wins in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts – in 2017 when he made his series debut with Wayne Taylor Racing and this year in the Ganassi Cadillac. He and Bamber followed that latest win with a runner-up finish to the sister No. 01 CGR Cadillac in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9.
“I’d say the vibe on the team is very motivated because you’ve now got two cars that are really starting to push each other whether it’s the pit crew, the drivers, the engineering teams. It’s a competitive team,’’ Lynn said Tuesday.
“I’d say we are very motivated because you’ve got two cars that want to perform all the time and be right at the front, so that’s keeping all the drivers, all the engineers, all the pit crews to stay on top of their game to try and be better than one another. How I feel at the moment still is very motivated to continue to get better.’’
The veteran Vautier, 32, whose JDC-Miller team boasts the only perfect 3-for-3 podium record so far, prefers to manage expectations and temper title talk with the bulk of the schedule still ahead. The podium finishes are encouraging, but this team wants to both win and finesse the championship.
“I think it’s a bit early in the season to be monitoring your closest rival in the championship,’’ Vautier said. “We are three races down; there are seven races to go.
“You just try to maximize every race, obviously keeping in mind that you are in a championship approach and you have to be points-focused and points-oriented. If you spend your time worrying about where the competition is, especially the way these races play out, things just happen so quickly and races can flip one way or another just on a pit strategy decision.
“If you start worrying about what those other guys are doing three races into the championship, it’s not the right approach.’’
Both Cadillac drivers acknowledged that history shows the Acuras from Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing enter the WeatherTech Raceway weekend as favorites. Acura has won the last three years at the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course. WTR’s No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura driven by Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque won last year and Taylor was part of the winning team with Acura Team Penske in 2020.
“Obviously, some tracks favor some cars, some cars are better on certain tracks,” Vautier said. “The Cadillac is better on certain tracks than the Acura and vice versa. But overall, it seems like the way the races play out with the yellows and the nature of IMSA racing, it’s kind of ‘anyone can win any weekend.’
“I think that’s why for the last few years, every time we’ve seen a tight battle to the end (of the season) because it’s so easy to be last, but you can turn things around very quickly and win at the same time. It’s just the way the races play out, and considering how tight the competition is, I think that’s why we’re seeing that.”
Practice for the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship begins Friday, April 29. Qualifying for the four competing classes streams live at 3:45 p.m. ET Saturday, April 30 on IMSA.com/TVLive. The two-hour, 40-minute race airs live starting at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 1 on NBC.