Action Express Racing will not be changing its approach to qualifying for Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans despite extra points being up for grabs that could close Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr’s gap in the tight title race.
Team manager Gary Nelson said AXR, which sits 19 points behind DPi championship leaders Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque, said they will not be placing any specific focus on a producing qualifying setup for its Cadillac DPi-V.R.
Derani and Nasr have combined to score four Motul Pole Awards this year, including the qualifying race win for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, compared to Taylor and Albuquerque’s three poles out of the nine races so far this season.
A maximum of 35 points are on offer for qualifying in the new-for-2021 points system, with race points multiplied by ten.
“Since they’ve added [qualifying] points this year, it’s really changed up our strategy going into an event,” Nelson said.
“Winning the pole at Long Beach was huge because you can start up front and then you just protect your lead through the race.
“Taking the points out of it, qualifying up front is a really good way to start any race.
“But when you add 35 points for winning the pole and we’re 19 points out of the lead, it really adds another element of strategy for us.”
Nelson, however, said they will not compromise the car’s race setup to just focus on going for pole.
“We’re going to do our best and run our best but we’re not going to compromise our race setup or our practice time to get the ideal [qualifying] setup because it is ten hours and our real goal is to win the race,” he said.
“If we can get the maximum out of qualifying we will do that as well but not to compromise our race setup.
“That’s how we go every race. We do our best in qualifying, we try to set up our car to qualify but if it’s taken away from our race setup we always have to lean towards the race setup.
“Leading the lap of the checkered flag is why we race, to get the trophy. We want the trophy at Road Atlanta.”
Derani and Nasr will be rejoined by Toyota Le Mans Hypercar driver Mike Conway, who wrapped up the FIA World Endurance Championship title in last weekend’s 8 Hours of Bahrain.
The Brazilian pairing are coming off the heels of three wins in the last four DPi races that has narrowed the points gap after a challenging start to their year.
“Heading to the last race of the season with a real shot of winning the championship is something we’ve always believed in but considering the beginning of the season it comes as a good surprise for us,” Derani said.
“The second half of the season has been extremely competitive on our side. Coming from a difficult beginning shows the strength of this team.
“We’re nearly tied on points. That’s a statement that we’ve managed to turn around from the beginning and go into this final race with a real shot of winning this championship.
“I think it’s going to be a fantastic show for the fans, having two of the leading cars so close in the championship makes it an even better show for who’s watching.”
Derani: New Challenge With Later Race Date
An added challenge for all WeatherTech Championship competitors this year is the date change for Petit Le Mans, which is roughly 40 days later than its traditional early October running due to a reshuffle in the calendar because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With temperatures cooler and an extra hour of night-time driving due to a change in Daylight Saving Time, Derani believes it adds extra variable to the race.
“It’s a very long race,” he said. “This year it’s going to be a little bit different because we’re doing it a little bit later into the year.
“Everything we’ve actually learned from the past in terms of what time we start transiting from day to night and temperature and so-on, it’s going to be a touch different.
“That’s going to be a challenge for everyone, for all of the teams, trying to put together the best setup for the car and longevity of the race.
“You want to have a good car in the first half but also a good car in the end and trying to balance that with the difference in weather is going to be a challenge, just because it’s a different time of the year that we’ve been used to.”