IMSA WeatherTech Sportscars: Visit Florida Racing Takes an Emotional Victory at Laguna Seca
Renger van der Zande wins with a carbon-copy of Alex Zanardi's "The Pass" just weeks after the team's shop was flooded in Hurricane Irma.
The 2017 IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship season is nearing the end. Sunday's race at Laguna Seca is the second to last on the calendar. Wayne Taylor Racing and its drivers Ricky and Jordan Taylor all but have the Prototype class championship wrapped up, but not because they were victorious on Sunday. The managed to finish third. The 29-point margin they hold means that all they have to do is finish the final round at Road Atlanta next month to seal the deal.
Ricky Taylor started on pole and kept the lead after the first few corners. He quickly gapped the field and seemed to have the race well under control. He handed the No. 10 Cadillac DPi over to his brother Jordan at the first pit stop and he continued the team's dominating drive. The team, while going for the win, had a conservative plan for the day, knowing that they only needed to finish in fifth place or higher to have the points margin needed going into the final race of the year. As the race progressed, Taylor got shuffled down to fourth place through pit stops. Ahead of him on the track was where the real action was happening.
The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi, driven by Eric Curran and Dane Cameron, had the lead and looked like they were a lock for the win. Their car was starting to show some signs of wear after bumping doors with some of the slower GT cars, notably hitting the GTLM leading No. 62 Ferrari twice. It was not serious contact, just some love taps that gave the carbon fiber bodywork some cracks. It's hard to say if the slight damage to the No. 31 affected the car's performance. Towards the end of the race, the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Ligier, driven by Marc Goossens and Renger Van Der Zande started closing the gap to the No. 31.
Visit Florida had a rough couple of weeks. The team's shop in Daytona, Fla. was flooded when Hurricane Irma swept through the state. Thankfully, most of the team's important stuff, like the car and the majority of what it needed for races wasn't there at the time. But the damage was substantial and it wasn't clear that the team would be able to make the Laguna Seca race. With a little help from some other teams, Visit Florida got what it needed to be ready to race. And that is exactly what it did.
With Van Der Zande behind the wheel, the No. 90 Visit Florida car was hunting down the No. 31 Wheelen. The cat and mouse game through traffic came to an end at the infamous Corkscrew. Van Der Zande was several car lengths back and late-braked to the inside at the top of the Corkscrew. The Visit Florida Ligier shot by the No. 31 and somehow managed to keep it together for the rest of the drop down the famous corner. The action starts at the 16:26 mark.
If the pass looked familiar, it's because it was virtual carbon-copy Alex Zanardi's 1996 CART heroics, simply known as "The Pass." Many have tried this same move, and it almost never ends well. Van Der Zande pulled it off perfectly. This pass should be number one on any "Best Pass" lists for 2017. Hell, this should rank near the top of best passes of all time in any form of motorsport.
The pass gave Van Der Zande the lead and the victory minutes later. Van Der Zande can spend the rest of life bragging that he pulled off the pass of all passes in racing. In fact, Van Der Zande's pass was definitely a bit cleaner and tidier than Zanardi's. We would say that Zanardi is rolling over in his grave, but he's also pulled off a similar pass on The Grim Reaper and may just live forever at this point.
The GTLM championship-leading No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE was beaten to the finish line in a drag race by the No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM. The BMW held off the Ferrari, crossing the line just 0.152 seconds in front of it. The Ferrari was by far the quickest GT on track all day, but the BMW managed to sneak ahead of the whole GTLM field as everyone else stopped for fuel.
Besides somehow saving enough fuel to avoid needing a splash at the end, the BMW did show some serious pace early on. The car was spun in turn two on the opening lap and rejoined at the very back of the field. Once the Ferrari made its third stop, the BMW was out front with enough in the tank to make it to the end. This was the year's first class win for the No. 24.
In GTD, Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen took the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 to its first victory of the year as well. Though the team hadn't reached the top step of the podium this season before this race, it went into the weekend leading the class championship. With the victory, Scuderia Corsa goes to the final round with a decent points lead and can win the GTD title without having to win at Road Atlanta. With the outright speed, the car showed at Laguna Seca, not winning won't be part of the game plan.
The Prototype Challenge class does not run at the Laguna Seca round, but it will be back for the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta to wrap up the season.
The final round of the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship goes down at Road Atlanta on Oct. 7. The Petit Le Mans' 10 hours gets underway at 10:30 a.m. and the broadcast will be split between FS1, the IMSA website, and FS2. Yes, all that hopping around isn't fun to deal with, but that's the way it is.
Don't miss the final race of the season as all four classes still have championship fights going on. Well, technically all four classes are still undecided. The Taylor brothers just need to drive around waving at the fans for 10 hours to win the Prototype class title. But rest assured that they'll be fighting for a final win of the season.