Date: Oct. 12, 2019
Event: Motul Petit Le Mans (Round 10 of 10)
Series: Daytona Prototype international division of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship
Location: Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta (2.54-mile, 12-turn road course)
Start/Finish: 8th / 2nd (Running, completed 465 of 465 laps)
Winner: Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran and Pipo Derani of Action Express Racing (Cadillac DPi-V.R)
Final Point Standing: 4th (274 points, 28 out of first)
It wasn’t the thrilling, last-lap pass for the victory two turns from the finish like the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R team enjoyed last year, but Saturday’s runner-up result by regulars Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande and third endurance driver Matthieu Vaxiviere in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-ending Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta closed the 2019 campaign on somewhat of high note, nonetheless.
After struggling mightily during qualifying Friday, the team and its driver hung tough through the first eight hours of the 10-hour marathon from its No. 8 grid position, then turned up the wick in the final two hours to rally for its first podium finish since it finished second with this same driver trio at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March.
Taylor, who drove the final hour and 43 minutes, stayed in the top-five the entire stint and managed to avoid trouble and pick up positions after the race’s final caution period with just over 30 minutes to go. He crossed the finish line just .996 of a second behind Felipe Nasr in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R for the team’s third podium finish of the season.
“I think our car came to life again at night, just like we usually have at Sebring and Petit,” said Taylor, who drove another clean stint earlier in the race that began just short of the four-hour mark. “We always seem very strong at the end of these races. We were able to attack a bit more and I think we might have had the car to beat at the end but it turned out to be about track position and who was able to get out front. The yellow was a bit poorly timed for us. If we would’ve been able to get out in front of those guys, I think we would’ve had a good shot at winning. But it wasn’t our day to win. We started the season on a high and almost ended on a high. We always excel in these endurance races where it’s really a team effort from start to finish with strategy and preparation. We finished in the top-two in the three biggest ones (Daytona, Sebring and this weekend), so I think we can feel pretty good about that.”
Van der Zande handled the driving duties over the opening two hours of the race, making steady forward progress from his eighth starting position, pitting from fifth at the two-hour, 15-minute mark to hand the car over to Vaxiviere. The French driver, back with the team for the first time since the runner-up finish at Sebring, saw his first stint get off to an auspicious start when he was penalized for speeding on pit road. He served a drive-through penalty that dropped him to ninth. He stayed out of trouble the rest of the way and was up to seventh when he handed the car over to Taylor just short of the four-hour mark.
“Two races and two podiums with this team, I’m really happy,” said Vaxiviere, who returned to the cockpit for a short stint just before Taylor’s final run to the finish. “I really want to thank the team because everyone works really well together. We maybe didn’t have the best car today, but we for sure didn’t give up and we have the best team. They did an incredible job. I was really glad to work with them this year. There is quite a lot of pressure to drive with a team like this when you are not one of the regular drivers. But I just focused on not making mistakes and driving at a good pace. That’s what I did and I am really happy. Jordan drove a fantastic race today, and Renger, too. It was a very satisfying podium.”
Van der Zande’s second stint, which started when he took over for Taylor just short of the six-hour mark, saw the Dutch driver holding steady in the top-five and cycling his way to the lead over several pit stop sequences. As darkness began to fall, the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R came to life.
“What a day,” van der Zande said. “Until warmup this morning we were unsure about how our car was going to handle. But during the race the car really came alive when it was getting colder. It was at that point that we really were able to drive it hard. Well done to the team on strategy and everything. It was fantastic. We won this race last year and finished second this year, I really like this place. Again, well done to the team, they made the right calls, they were really on top of everything, and on the track we were able to do the right things. It was fantastic.”
With the runner-up finish, the team jumped from sixth to fourth in the final standings, 28 points behind the championship-winning No. 6 Acura Team Penske entry of Juan Montoya, Dane Cameron and Simon Pagenaud, which finished fourth in the Petit Le Mans. The Michelin Endurance Cup championship-within-a-championship, in which teams accumulate points during the four iconic endurance events at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, and Road Atlanta, went to the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac team by a three-point margin over the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac team.
“It was a pretty frustrating weekend leading into the race, and even the early part of the race because it didn’t seem like we had the pace we thought we needed,” said team owner Wayne Taylor, whose team first won this event in 2014. “But then, all of a sudden as the track got cooler, we got more and more competitive. The team never gives up and our drivers never give up. Jordan, Renger and Matthieu were outstanding. We ended up fourth in the championship, we picked up a couple of spots with this finish tonight. That’s not exactly what this team is about. But first I have to thank Konica Minolta, CIT, Ametek, all these people who put their trust in me. It’s so hard for me when I don’t get results because I know winning is everything and our partners are all about winning. The partnerships make me want to win. And then the relationship with Cadillac and the long-term relationship I’ve had with Mark Reuss, Jim Campbell and Mark Kent at General Motors – without those things, none of this would ever work. And we have a team of people who are like family and we absolutely believe in each other.”
The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship begins Jan. 25 with the traditional Rolex 24 At Daytona endurance marathon at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.