Detroit — A night of hard work before a race with just the right judgment about pit and tire strategies gave Cadillac a victory over Roger Penske’s new sportscar racers in an International Motor Sports Association race on Belle Isle Saturday.
After driver Felipe Nasr wrecked in a second practice Friday, the Whelan International Team managed to get the Cadillac DPi back into shape for qualifying.
In the race, sticking with the Continental Tires for the last 50 laps of the 100-minute race proved a worthy risk.
Timing of a pit stop helped edge the Penske Acuras, which finished second and third.
“Amazing pit strategy today,” said driver Ed Curran, who started the race before yielding to Nasr, who drove it to the checkered flag. “The guys really worked like crazy to get the car back in shape.
“If you are going to win a race in a Cadillac, this is the place to do it,” Curran said, sitting in a media center in view of GM world headquarters along the Detroit River.
“All the guys with the program, it’s so much fun to shake their hands at the end of the race when we win.”
A corrected race report showed Curran and Nasr moving into a tie for the series lead with Joao Barbosa and Felipe Albuquerque, who also drive a Cadillac DPi, for Mustang Sampling Racing, for the series lead.
Helio Castroneves and a defending IMSA champion, Ricky Taylor, now trail the top two teams by 14 points, 144-130.
Castroneves and Taylor finished second, Saturday, closing the gap late, but seeming to struggle for pace, with plenty of open track in front of them, for portions of the race, formally known as the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic.
The second Penske Acura DPi, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron, have 126 points and are in fifth place in the series.
Nasr, a former Formula One race, headed off to France, immediately after the race, and he had never driven the Raceway on Belle Isle before.
“I think the car was pretty good right at the beginning, as we hit the ground right there in Detroit,” he said. “It’s a pretty difficult track.
“I didn’t know this place before.
“It’s pretty challenging, the track. I had a mistake in practice two and damaged the car. and the guys put it back in great shape for qualifying.”
Nasr described the pit and tire strategies that helped achieve victory.
“We were always in the hunt for the top five, and when we got the first caution we did tires and driver change. From there, I knew we had a shot to do it.
“The track was getting pretty tricky at the end with all the marbles, and the car ran out a bit.”
The Whelan team kept the last Continental tires they used in the race on the car for about 50 laps at the end of the race, and they held.
“To do that amount of laps, the Continental tires were pretty good today, and it was the right call to make the win.
“The Cadillac was flying today, again.”
It is Curran’s sixth win in the series, and he has victories in the last four seasons.
“It’s so much fun to win in Detroit, especially when you are in a GM product, the Cadillac.”
Curran said the win came on an especially appropriate day, with team sponsor Sonny Whelan celebrating his 65th birthday.
Penske’s Acura DPi did not have enough for the Cadillac, on a day when all racers and teams are grappling with track conditions that are vastly different from Friday.
The track temperature dropped 15 degrees overnight.
Penske’s successful entrance into sportscar racing this season continued, however, despite being edged out for the win.
Early in the race, Castroneves vaulted to the lead and Montoya to second when a Nissan DPi driven by Pipo Derani, of the Tequila Patron ESM slowed dramatically, after starting from the pole and running in first.
Derani experienced problems with the bushelful of controls that are on the steering wheel of the sports cars in the IMSA series.
Castroneves and Montoya, who has started second and third, were suddenly first and second.
But the Penske Acura team failed to negotiate a round of pit stops in a position favorable enough to maintain the lead.
After returning to the race in seventh and 11th place, when they had stopped for fuel, tires and to change drivers, the two Acuras, could only climb as high as their finishing positions in the last hour of the race.
Nasr’s team, Whelan Engineering plotted a more successful pit strategy.
Meanwhile, Taylor clipped a wall coming out of Turn 12 at the Raceway on Belle Isle.
The incident and some damage to the front right side of the car delayed any rally until the final moments when the Continental tires on the Cadillac finally started to give way.