Renger van der Zande, co-driver with Sebastien Bourdais of the No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R in the Grand Touring Prototype class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, met with the media via Zoom conference to preview the April 14-15 race in Long Beach, California.
Van der Zande and Bourdais will look to successfully defend their race win on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit. Cadillac has won every IMSA prototype race at Long Beach since the start of the DPi era in 2017.
Corvette Racing’s Jordan Taylor also participated in a media availability Wednesday to preview next week’s Acura Sports Car Challenge for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the Long Beach street circuit. Taylor and teammate Antonio Garcia will look to better their third-place finish last year in the No. 3 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C8.R
Q&A with van der Zande:
As you prepare for this event and look back on last year, what comes to mind?
“I think the Long Beach Grand Prix is always special. I finished second there a lot and then last year won it finally so happy to go there and defend the win. This year it’s with a new car. We haven’t raced the Cadillac LMDh on any street track. You never know what to expect. We know from the past that Long Beach is a hard track for tires; tire degradation can be hard. The DPi Cadillac was always good with that; I think it was an advantage compared to the competition. We have a weapon this year, which is Sebastien Bourdais my teammate. He was flying last year. I think it was very special to see him go. He even planted it in the wall and still drove back to first place. I had to drive it home and that’s a very comfortable position, though it’s never easy on a street track. Of course, I had to do some work. We got it done and we won that race. (This year) the car is a little heavier than the DPi, it has less downforce than a DPi, it has more power. At the same time are systems that under braking can be tricky, so what to do with all the bumps and different tarmac changes and the curbs. For example, around the fountain is something to consider. We are discussing that right now with our engineers to be best prepared. It’s an interesting street track. It’s always spectacular. It’s always something happening with that last hairpin, and it’s also a lot of stop and go, 90-degree corners that you have to deal with and, of course, the fountain. Turn 1 is always a guess on how much grip you have, flying toward that outside wall. It’s not an easy track and let’s see what we can make of it. Not much lost at Sebring, but at the same time I’m still digesting that one going to Long Beach.”
With new homologation, closer performance level and BoP rules with the GTP cars, will that open the door for other manufacturers to be on more level ground than previously at a street circuit?
“LMDh is a different platform where the weight is the same, the power is the same, the basics of the car are the same. We all have the same tires, the same weight, the same power. I do think that things are much closer. We’re all searching here and there for details and fine-tuning the setup – from the engine side, the chassis side and the aerodynamics and balance everything. What you saw at Sebring and Daytona is it’s pretty close. Going to Long Beach, I think it’s a new starting level. It have a strong feeling that it is more equal than ever before.”
Are there differences in the way the GTP cars are racing each other compared to the DPi?
“I feel it’s hard to overtake. The speeds are higher but we have to brake a bit earlier and the weight is higher as well, so the minimum speed is a lot lower. You rely on let’s brake super late and dive bomb someone and get away with it. I think if you dive bomb someone you’re going straight so you’re going to miss the corner. I feel that in traffic it makes a bigger difference. You can see the last part of Daytona, there were some faster cars in front of us and when there was traffic there were gaps and those gaps remained, so there are a few spots on track where you can overtake and you’re limited more than the DPi in those spots. I think with the DPi you could overtake someone on track because you have a bit more downforce, you had more minimum speed grip to get away with a mistake. These cars, if you out-brake yourself you’re actually going to out-brake yourself and go off the track. You have to be a bit more careful. Traffic management is super important. The GTs are really in cooperation with the GTPs.”
Talk about the Long Beach hairpin and the role it plays in the race.
“I think the steering on our Cadillac is a bit better than it was on the DPi, so I think that won’t be a problem. We’ve seen a lot of action there, some misfortune for some people stranded there. It’s one of those do-or-dies on the last corner of the last lap of the race. That makes Long Beach a difficult street track with no room for error. Around that corner there really is only one line. If you dive bomb on the inside you probably won’t get away with it. If you do, might get lucky and win that race. Also in GTP, spare parts are at a premium, we don’t have that much stock. If you keep on taking off bits of the car in the first practice, second practice and then qualifying, it’s something to keep in mind. That last corner is special, and the corner before that – the long left-hander with all the drifting rubber – it’s easy to screw it up a well.”
About cold tires on the GTP car.
“Our cold tires are super tricky. I had an LMP2 driver to come me and ask if we were still charging our hybrid system when we were coming out of the pits because why are you so slow. I said nothing like that, it’s just no grip at all. If you’re coming out of the pits and you’re racing each other you have zero grip. The GTP drivers must think we have a problem, but really trying to get a read on the tires, temperature and grip. So, that’s another element in this championship.”
PREVIEWING THIS YEAR’S RACE AND FIRST SPRINT EVENT OF THE SEASON.
“It’s always nice to go back to Long Beach. It’s the first sprint race of the year. We’ve settled in with Daytona and Sebring with endurance races, and the end of those races gets pretty intense. But Long Beach, the whole event is intense, right from the start with practice. Last year we had a great car. We were on the pole and led for the whole first stint and then had a that crazy fluke incident on pitlane which kind of put us out of contention for the win. It would be nice to go back there and be as competitive as we were and execute as well as we did last year. Having a year under our belt with this car and this class, we learned a lot throughout last season that already has been beneficial this year. I’m looking forward to getting back there and seeing what we learned throughout 2022 and be able to put that to good use once the sprint races start.”
HOW HAS THE CORVETTE EVOLVED AFTER A YEAR IN GTD PRO?
“The car last year honestly was great to drive all year. We’d leave sessions and be nitpicking things to work on here and there… little bit of understeer, little bit of oversteer. We were just off the pace. It was hard to kind of exploit the pace of the car without taking huge measures. At some tracks we went to, we had big setup swings to try things, but for the most part it never really worked. I feel like we have our car in a great working window. It was competitive in GTLM (GT Le Mans); last year we had some competitive weekends but it depends on the track and the event to where we stack up. We still do a lot of work in the simulator prepping for each event. We always go into the weekends with a strong car. We saw last year that we’d go in with our sim setup and we’d be pretty much right in the window of where we wanted to be. Last year at Long Beach we had a great car there. We were on pole and led the whole first stint. When things are going well, they’re going very well. Last year we put ourselves in a lot of positions to win races. At Watkins Glen we were leading up until the last couple of stops and things out of our control put us out of contention. I have a lot of confidence going to Long Beach. We had a good car last year and have made strides since then. We should be right at the front of the pack.”
LOOKING AT THE VARIOUS CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CARS IN GTD PRO, WHERE IS THE STIFFEST COMPETITION?
“The Porsche got a pretty big change for Sebring, and they were obviously super-fast. In Practice One, the GTD car was fastest overall and the 9 car never really showed speed until when it needed to. So I feel like they’ve got some stuff in-hand to show when they need to. The Mercedes was strong all year last year, so I’m sure they’ll be strong now that they have two proper pros in the car for the sprint races. When you look at Sebring and Daytona, a lot of different cars were competitive so our eyes are on everybody at this point.”
THE GTD AND GTD PRO CARS ARE MIXED A LOT ON-TRACK. HOW DOES THAT IMPACT YOUR FOCUS AND STRATEGY?
“Not everyone is like Bill (Auberlen, a pro driver) in that class. Most of the guys don’t move out of the way that nicely. It’s the same thing Bill said – if there’s a guy in between you and someone you’re battling against, you’re going to fight that guy pretty hard just to have that buffer in-hand. We saw at the end of the Rolex 24 where there was GTD PRO, then GTD, then GTD PRO again. That kind of separates the race especially on those last restarts where it’s going to be difficult to see a proper battle in your own class. At the end of Sebring, we got hit by a GTD car going into Turn Seven on the last restart and put us out of contention. It’s difficult when you put everyone in the same situation without a class split, but it’s just the way things are right now.”
PERFORMANCE DIFFERENCES IN BEING OVERTAKEN BY GTP CARS THIS YEAR VERSUS DPI CARS A YEAR AGO?
“It’s much different. The way they make speed seems different. They come by you a bit quicker on the straights and then their cornering speeds – especially in the medium-speed corners – is quite a bit lower than back in the DPi days. At Sebring, I had a BMW come by me and it must have been on a double-stint on the tires. It passed me into 15 and was so slow at apex that I was actually able to drive back around him. It’s a much different car, it seems, for them to learn and adapt to. It makes the style of racing a bit different because now in GT, we know that they struggle on second-stint tires and it will put us in a position to probably want to be a little more defensive in those sorts of spots to not lose lap time when they go by us. It’s definitely a learning process. They come by you a lot quicker in the straights like at Daytona before the Kink and out of the Kink. They’d arrive much quicker and when you wouldn’t expect it from years past in a DPi. When we go to different tracks, it’s going to be learning where those places are, and where they can get by us and where they can’t compared to what it was like back in DPi.”
AFTER YOUR CUP PERFORMANCE AT COTA AND THINKING ABOUT A STREET RACE FOR CUP GUYS AT CHICAGO, HOW MANY TRIES WILL IT TAKE FOR THEM TO GET A CHECKERED FLAG?
“If it’s anything like COTA, they won’t have much green-flag running! When I got out of the car, Ricky (Taylor) was the first person I saw, and I was like, ‘Holy cow. That was ridiculous, what that was like on those last restarts just getting beaten around.’ I was glad to see that at least everyone else had same opinion, even in the paddock, saying that it was an especially aggressive finish to the race. I think it was a bit of wake-up call for a lot of the regulars to start thinking about it. Having those guys never been to a street course race and how strong those cars are, I think they’re going to be bouncing off the walls and probably doing more damage to the barriers than the cars themselves.”
WITH THE NEW GTP CARS A BIT BIGGER AND BEING SLOWER THROUGH THE CORNERS, DO YOU ANTICIPATE HAVING BEING A LITTLE MORE AGGRESSIVE IN TAKING THE LINE AWAY BEFORE YOU GET TO A CORNER?
“I think so. We saw at Sebring that if you got passed in the wrong spot, you’d lose quite a bit of time. At Long Beach, especially, if they get by you at Turn One and they can’t really get away from you all the way through Four or Five, it could be a pretty big loss. I’m sure you’ll see guys getting pretty aggressive. Now there are also a lot of new drivers in GTP that are young and hungry to show what they can do. At Sebring and Daytona, some of those guys would come by you and were pretty aggressive even in endurance races and taking a line away from GT cars kind of unknowingly. We need to be a little more proactive in showing some of those guys our intentions as well entering the corner. For sure, I think you’ll see a lot of the guys near the front of the GT pack being especially aggressive, especially late in the runs, when those guys are on used tires.”