Whelen Engineering Racing ended up being “lucky on a very unlucky day” according to Pipo Derani, who salvaged a sixth place finish in Saturday’s Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach despite a trouble-filled race.
Having taken over the lead on Lap 8, the No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R of Felipe Nasr controlled the the field through his stint until the first round of pit stops when Derani emerged with a loose right-front tire, which came off on his out lap.
The Brazilian was forced to return to the pits for a new tire, which then the Action Express Racing-run team added fuel in what was to only be an emergency service stop, resulting in a stop-and-hold penalty once the race went back to green.
Rejoining in 14th overall, Derani carved his way through the field and benefited from the green flag run to the end and late incident from the No. 50 Juncos Racing Cadillac DPi of Will Owen to finish sixth.
“First off I have to say that we ended up being lucky on a very unlucky day today,” Derani said.
“We need to regroup as a team to understand what happened.
“I felt like the race was ours today. We had a fantastic car all weekend, but it was damage limitation today once we had the problem.”
Derani said he immediately knew something was wrong with the car when it came out of the pits with an unfastened right-front wheel while under the race’s second full course caution.
“It was just about surviving and getting back to the pits,” he said.
“And then when we got back into the pits it was the wrong time because the GT cars were in there. Then we had to take a penalty.”
Both Nasr and Derani repeatedly set the race’s quickest laps, with Derani’s 1:11.932-second time standing as the best of the race in a challenging day for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring winners.
While leaving Long Beach as the sole points leaders, the Brazilian duo now hold only a two-point margin over the Acura Team Penske pairing of Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves.
“I know championships are done with good and bad days; today we had ours,” Nasr said.
“We were still able to recover and score a few points. That’s racing. I still believe we’ve got a strong car and team behind us, and we’re still going to push hard for the next races.”