Brazilian Duo in No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Cuts Points Deficit in ‘Important’ Session
By John Oreovicz
LONG BEACH, Calif. – There are certain racetracks where qualifying matters more than others. Put the Long Beach Street Course in that group.
With 11 corners packed into a narrow, concrete-lined course less than two miles in length, passing is difficult under the best of circumstances. Factor traffic into the equation, and it’s clear that the best way to stay up front at Long Beach is to start up front.
That’s why Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani were a joyous duo following IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Nasr qualified the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R fielded by Action Express Racing on pole position for Saturday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Nasr’s lap timed at 1 minute, 11.620 seconds edged the No. 01 V Performance Academy Cadillac DPi, out of the Chip Ganassi Racing stable and driven by Kevin Magnussen, by just over a tenth of a second. Loic Duval (No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports) completed a 1-2-3 qualifying sweep for Cadillac with a lap at 1:11.827.
Cadillac was victorious in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class in the WeatherTech Championship’s last two visits to Long Beach in 2018 and ’19, and Nasr and Derani each paced a practice session earlier in the day on Friday.
But winning the pole on a challenging street course wasn’t the only reason Derani and Nasr were happy Friday evening. Chasing the pairing of Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque (No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura DPi) in the battle for the DPi championship, the Long Beach pole cut their deficit from 98 to 89 points. Albuquerque qualified the WTR Acura fifth with a lap of 1:12.461.
It was Nasr’s fifth career pole in IMSA competition.
“It feels amazing whenever you get a pole position, and doing it here is even better,” Nasr remarked. “I love street racing, and we’ve worked hard every session on getting the car set up right. We knew coming here that we had to maximize the points. That starts in qualifying, so I’m very happy for the whole team achieving that and making that lap when it mattered. Finding the extra tenths (of a second) in qualifying can be very risky, but that’s the challenge I love.
“It was super important to get pole position to keep the fight alive,” he added. “I would say that’s part of the job done, but the main focus is on tomorrow’s race.”
Nasr was unable to put his finger on why Cadillac has enjoyed such success at Long Beach and other street courses.
“Good question,” he said. “We just seem to roll off the truck, and our Cadillac is ready to go. We’ve seen that before at Detroit, and we see it again here. I’m glad we have those races on the calendar because it plays a little bit into our hands. It’s important to catch those opportunities when they come, because there are other tracks that play into the hands of the other cars too.
“We still have a long way to the championship and that final race (the November 12 Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta). We’ve given ourselves a good chance for the weekend and I want to get that race win tomorrow.”
Two teams entered qualifying at a disadvantage after encountering difficulties in the first of two practices. The No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi suffered a braking issue before Oliver Jarvis could complete a flying lap, while Olivier Pla crashed the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura DPi, bringing the session to an early conclusion.
Despite qualifying sixth, Mazda driver Harry Tincknell remained positive that he and co-driver Jarvis can contend for victory Saturday.
“It’s all going to come down to strategy,” Tincknell said. “The guys on the pit wall are the ones who can win the race with the right calls. Timing the pit stops correctly will be critical.”
NBCSN’s live coverage of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach begins Saturday at 5 p.m. ET. The race also will be streamed live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold, with IMSA Radio also available on IMSA.com and SiriusXM Radio.