The Decision to Pit Early for Dry-Condition Tires Pays off in Race 1 at NOLA
By Mark Robinson
AVONDALE La. – Nelson Piquet Jr. was the first to take the gamble Saturday at NOLA Motorsports Park. It paid off with his first Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America victory.
The former Formula One driver and 2015 Formula E champion was the first driver to pit for dry-condition tires in the 50-minute race whose start was delayed nearly two hours by heavy rain and standing water on the 2.75-mile, 16-turn road course outside New Orleans. The decision proved genius. Piquet went on to take the overall and Pro class win in the No. 30 Ansa Motorsports, Lamborghini Broward Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo Evo2 as the race finished under its only full-course caution.
“The pit stop call was a bit of a risk with me coming in early, but I really felt that the wet tires were degrading so quickly,” Piquet explained. “So I just pitted and it worked out, and yeah, we’re here in victory lane.”
IMSA officials declared a wet start to the race, mandating all teams begin on rain tires even though it had stopped raining. Piquet started third and moved quickly into second place on the opening lap but came to the pits for the change to dry tires on Lap 2. He still had to make the compulsory pit stop within the 10-minute window that opened later in the race, but the time gained on his dry-condition Pirellis while others stayed longer on wets was more than enough to overcome the two-stop strategy.
Piquet was leading by more than 25 seconds when Caesar Bacarella (No. 45 TR3 Racing, Lamborghini Miami Huracán) slid into a gravel trap with just over five minutes remaining, bringing out the only yellow. Bacarella’s car couldn’t be cleared before the clock ran out.
“The whole weekend since we arrived here on Thursday, we seemed to be much more competitive than we were last year,” said Piquet, who drove in eight 2021 races with Ansa. “We had a bit more experience with the car and with everybody being (at NOLA) for the first time, I think it made it a bit more fair. The car was great, the whole team did a great job.
“Lamborghini was one of the series where I hadn’t won yet, so glad to tick that box.”
The ProAm and Am classes saw remarkable drives by the second drivers in their cars lead to wins. John Dubets took over from Bryson Lew in the No. 46 Precision Performance Motorsports, Lamborghini Palm Beach Huracán and passed Tom Long (No. 25 Harrison Contracting with Wayne Taylor Racing, Lamborghini Paramus Huracán) with nine minutes left to secure the ProAm victory. Two minutes before that, Caleb Bacon wheeled the No. 7 Forty7 Motorsports, Lamborghini Greenwich Huracán past Wesley Slimp (No. 9 TPC Racing, Lamborghini Washington Huracán) for the Am win.
“What a car, right?” Dubets asked rhetorically. “We came back; I didn’t think we’d make that happen, but as soon as we saw Tom up there, we put our heads down and started digging. It was nothing but fun out there and the conditions were all over the place. We really didn’t know what we were going into but it sure worked out in our favor in the end.”
Bacon and AJ Muss were both making their series debut and had no wet-condition laps in the Huracán before the race.
“I was really nervous to drive this thing in the wet,” Muss admitted. “I had maybe 15 laps in a race car ever in the wet, and then (to get in) this big, high-horsepower car. But the team set it up really well, made a really good setup change right before the race. First race, first win ever for me, first-ever podium, and to do it with Caleb is amazing.”
Muss lauded his teammate’s effort in tracking down Slimp for the class lead in the treacherous conditions.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” he told Bacon. “You hunted down the leader and you passed him. You were five seconds a lap faster!”
Bacon, the grandson of four-time Rolex 24 At Daytona class winner Al Bacon, kept his cool under the stress.
“Once I got past that last car, I just knew that I had to manage my tires because the track was drying,” he said. “I didn’t think we were going to be able to get a win but we set ourselves up right and we had the car to do it. First race, first place. Let’s go.”
Like Lew and Dubets in ProAm, Slade Stewart became a two-time winner this season in LB Cup. Starting from the class pole position, Stewart controlled the pace in the No. 14 Flying Lizard Motorsports, Lamborghini Newport Beach Huracán and avoided trouble in the messy conditions to claim the LB Cup victory.
“It was very difficult conditions … but when that green flag dropped, it was time to go,” Stewart said. “It was just about being patient with the car, being patient with the turns and trying to find where the maximum amount of traction was throughout the race. I decided to stay on the wets (for the entire race) just because of the back side and the lack of traction that I was feeling.”
Race 2 starts at 10:45 a.m. ET Sunday and streams live on IMSA.com/TVLive and Peacock. Kyle Marcelli starts on the overall pole in the No. 1 Prestige Performance with Wayne Taylor Racing, Lamborghini Paramus Huracán he shares with Danny Formal.