IMSA Detroit GP Preview

Can anyone stop the #10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac?
Can anyone stop the #10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac?

Cadillac DPi-V.R Teams Ready for Street Fight in Detroit

Cadillac V-Performance racing teams Konica Minolta, Mustang Sampling and Whelen Engineering are heading to Detroit for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Chevrolet Sports Car Classic of Detroit to run on the Belle Isle Circuit, June 2-3.

The No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi team comes into Detroit undefeated in IMSA competition for the 2017 season. Ricky and Jordan Taylor have posted wins at Daytona, Sebring, Long Beach and the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Having won on all three types of tracks, modified oval, closed street course and a natural terrain road course the team has been able to come to grips with the handling characteristics of the new Cadillac DPi car early in the IMSA season. For Detroit, IMSA has put further balance of performance (BOP) restrictions on the car including engine air restrictor, aero dynamic restrictions and a further fuel tank capacity reduction.

The No. 5 Mustang Sampling and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac teams are coming off of podium finishes at COTA. The 2.3-mile, 14-turn Belle Isle Circuit located in the middle of the Detroit River and within sight of General Motors headquarters is an opportunity for the Action Express prepared No. 5 and 31 to get a first win on the season. However, Ricky and Jordan Taylor are poised to keep the streak going in The D.

"Detroit is such a tough race," Ricky Taylor said. "The track is very bumpy and with three classes of cars on the track a lot can happen. I think it is going to be about unloading from the trailer with a good handling car, because there isn't much practice time. I don't think it is the kind of track where you will win on pure speed, although we took a big hit with the BOP on horsepower and downforce. We still have a good shot. We have lost power and a lot of downforce. Downforce is king at a track like Belle Isle. We will focus on being good in a couple key sections of the track so we can race well. It is also a short race, 100 minutes, it will still probably be two pit stops for our Cadillac. Pit stops are an opportunity for our team to make up track position where we may have lost it on the track."

Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa visited the circuit a week ago to give media rides in a Cadillac ATS-V. The duo have been fast on Belle Isle, but haven't been able to put a complete race together to get a win. They are ready to stand on the top step of the podium and drive their No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi into the winners circle come Saturday.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]"I'm excited to be going back to Detroit," Fittipaldi said. "Historically we have always performed well on Belle Isle, but we could never close the deal to win the race. We have led a lot of laps there, but something has always happened to keep us off the top step of the podium. We have never lacked performance. The team has been on pole the last two years. When it comes to the closing stages, for one reason or another, we just couldn't get the win. It is hard to know how the car will be affected right now with the BOP changes. I am worried it will affect us in the braking zones at the end of the straights with less downforce. It will also affect the car going through Turn 1 and Turn 2 as it is the fastest section of the track for us, going right and left. They need to just leave the Cadillac alone."

Eric Curran and Dane Cameron were fortunate to get their first big win in Detroit in 2015. The duo are looking for a first win on the season this weekend in the Motor City in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi.

"Detroit is a special place for us, Eric and I had our first big win there a couple of years ago," Cameron said. "It is also an important race being in Detroit and the hometown of GM and Cadillac. This is another short race, the 100 minute races are really just a one or two stop deal. There is a little more pressure to get it right on pit lane and upfront in qualifying. I am ready to see how the Cadillac handles the bumpy confines of the Belle Isle circuit this weekend. We took another BOP hit since COTA, we have no control over that, so we stay focused on our program and our own races. We are focused on getting the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac up front and winning races."

Barbosa, Fittipaldi Looking to Parlay Sneak Preview into Chevrolet Sports Car Classic Success
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi participated in a Media Hot Lap Day at Detroit's Belle Isle Park last Tuesday as a prelude to this Saturday's Chevrolet Sports Car Classic.

The race will be televised live on FS2 beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET, with a rebroadcast on FS1 airing at 9 a.m. ET Sunday. IMSA Radio also will have live coverage throughout the weekend, including its race broadcast airing online at IMSA.com, SiriusXM and locally in the Detroit market on WCSX FM 94.7.

The co-drivers of the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. zoomed around the track with media and sponsor executives in Cadillac ATS-V street cars, reaching speeds of up to 120 miles per hour. The Media Hot Lap Day also allowed Fittipaldi and Barbosa a glimpse of Belle Isle's new layout, featuring longer straightaways heading to Turn 3, as well as the track's new surface, which was shaved down to remove the bumpy ride that plagued drivers in years past.

Heading into the WeatherTech Championship's fifth race of the season, the No. 5 Cadillac duo currently ranks second in the Prototype standings, 22 points behind brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor who are undefeated so far in 2017 in their own No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R.

"We've had a couple good races, but not an excellent race this year," Fittipaldi said. "Obviously, we're looking for an excellent race. We're going to come here and by all means, try to win the race. It would not be only really important for the team, but also really important for Cadillac, being their home city here."

Cadillac is one of 76 sponsors for next week's Detroit Grand Prix, an all-time high for the event weekend which prides itself on contributing to the city's rebuilding process. Before the hot lap session, Barbosa and Fittipaldi took in the sights of "new Detroit" via the new QLINE, a trolley system which opened in the city earlier this month. According to the drivers, the landscape "without a doubt" has changed dramatically since they first began racing in Detroit.

For now though, the sights of new Detroit will have to wait for the drivers, as their focus turns to this weekend's event and an opportunity to gain ground in the point standings.

"We were on pole the last two years and we're going to try and duplicate that performance, but definitely try to finish on the top spot," Fittipaldi said. "I'm pretty sure all the other teams are thinking the same thing right now, so it is what it is, but we just have to worry with our stuff and do our job in the best way possible."

Breaking the Taylors' undefeated streak will not be easy for the drivers of the No. 5, nor any of the other pairings in the Prototype ranks. As was the case for the previous two WeatherTech Championship races – the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach in April and the Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Grand Prix earlier this month at Austin's Circuit of The Americas – the No. 10 enters Detroit as the defending race winner.

Joining Fittipaldi and Barbosa in pursuit of the Taylors are 2015 Belle Isle winners Dane Cameron & Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac, a pair of DPi entries from both Tequila Patrón ESM and Mazda Motorsports as well as the global LM P2 cars of Visit Florida Racing and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports.

In the Prototype Challenge (PC) category, Performance Tech Motorsports will attempt to continue its own domination of 2017. The team has won from the pole in all three races completed by PC this season.

Driver James French finished last year's race at Belle Isle in third with then-teammate Kyle Marcelli, and qualified on the class pole at Detroit in 2015. Now paired up with Patricio O'Ward, he and the team are looking forward to getting another go at Motown.

"We'd like to see James win pole again," said Performance Tech Motorsports owner Brent O'Neill. "As young as Pato is, he's a really talented driver so I don't think he'll have any problems learning the track. It's only a 100-minute race so there isn't room for error. Your pit strategy has to be perfect and the lap times have to be consistent. You need to be on it the whole race."

Performance Tech will be challenged in PC by a pair of ORECA FLM09s from BAR1 Motorsports, with Ryan Lewis joining Don Yount in the No. 20 and a pair of yet to be announced drivers slotted for the No. 26.

IMSA Newcomer Habul Off to Quick Start as WeatherTech Championship Owner/Driver
Australian IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship rookie Kenny Habul readily admits his knowledge of the series was somewhat limited prior to the 2017 season in which his No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 made its debut.

Habul is both team owner and driver, and will share the GT Daytona (GTD)-class ride in Saturday's Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit's Belle Isle Park with Tristan Vautier, as part of a 15-car GTD field. The 100-minute race featuring the WeatherTech Championship's Prototype, Prototype Challenge (PC) and GTD classes will be televised live on FS2 at 12:30 p.m. ET, with a rebroadcast set for 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday on FS1.

Through the team's first four races as full-time WeatherTech Championship competitors, the No. 75 Mercedes-AMG squad has performed quite well, with a pair of third-place race results, including the most recent round at Circuit of The Americas earlier this month. Vautier also made IMSA history for Mercedes, bringing the manufacturer its first series pole position in qualifying for the prestigious Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida in March.

"It's encouraging," says Habul of his team's solid start. "It's not easy starting a new team. I don't have a lot of knowledge of this series, so we really started from scratch.

"We got a lot of help from AMG, which is good, and we have some people here that work with us that are former race people, so they've been helpful putting everything together and buying everything we need. Starting from scratch, we were careful and we selected really experienced people and took our time instead of rushing."

Among those really experienced people were Vautier and sports car racing veteran Boris Said, who rotates in and out of the driver lineup for the No. 75 as well. Said offered a helping hand to Habul as the team was being constructed, while Vautier – a former IndyCar racer – does more than just drive for SunEnergy1.

"He's a brilliant talent," said Habul of Vautier. "He actually works at my solar energy company part time and drives with us. He drives in Europe and sort of helps me also. It's a good combination. Everybody gets along."

If Habul's name was somewhat familiar to race fans prior to this season, it was likely because he previously competed in NASCAR road course races. Habul, whose business is based in the Charlotte, North Carolina-area counts championship-winning NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick among his friends.

In fact, the relationship with Hendrick played a central role in putting Habul and Said together.

"Boris has some business interests with Rick Hendrick, and we did some things together," Habul explained. "That's kind of how we met. I think it was 2015 and Boris was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Monster Energy car and I was driving there also in the road courses, so we were kind of teammates. He helped me out and gave me some tips, so we sort of became friends."

So, how does an Australian find his way to Charlotte, start a company, make friends with Rick Hendrick and ultimately form a WeatherTech Championship race team?

"It's been a huge success story," Habul said. "We started here approximately 10 years ago with three people. I was in the construction industry (in Australia) and moved to the U.S. about 2007; probably not a good time to come here.

"It was difficult, obviously, for the construction industry and it got worse in 2008 and '09, so I really had to reinvent myself and find something new to do. I had a knowledge of solar from back in Australia on the residential side. I didn't really want to do that here, so I focused more on the commercial side and what they call, ‘utility scale.'

"I went to Germany in 2008 and sort of learned from the industry over there, because they were pretty much – and probably still are – the leaders in the world. That gave me a lot of good knowledge on how they build live systems and how they connect them and things like that, so I came back after that stint. I started SunEnergy1 and just ended up going from strength to strength.

"We started building rooftops and we built the largest solar system on a rooftop – that was about a million square feet – here in Charlotte. From there, we sort of moved to the ground and have just grown every year and broken a number of records, to where we now have built the largest solar system east of the Mississippi here at 112 megawatts, which is somewhere around 1,200 acres. That was in 2015 in North Carolina.

"We've built larger systems again. Our average systems size is somewhere around two-and-a-half thousand acres, and we've just filed recently for the largest solar system in the United States at 6,000 acres. It's been a great ride."

Habul and Vautier are hoping for another great ride this weekend in Detroit. On-track activity for the WeatherTech Championship begins Friday with a 90-minute practice session at 8:30 a.m. ET, followed by a second practice from 1 to 2:30 p.m. ET. Qualifying runs from 4:55 to 6 p.m. local. IMSA.com will offer live streaming of qualifying in addition to IMSA Radio coverage from all on-track sessions.

IMSA Radio also will have live coverage throughout the weekend, including the race broadcast, which airs online at IMSA.com, SiriusXM and locally in the Detroit market on WCSX FM 94.7.

The green flag flies on the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic Saturday at 12:40 p.m. ET.

#63 Ferrari
#63 Ferrari

Ferrari Championship Chase Goes Through Detroit
Scuderia Corsa drivers Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen have this year demonstrated the consistency and speed that earned them the 2016 IMSA GT-Daytona championship.

After an early end to the season-opening 24 Hours of Daytona, Balzan and Nielsen have had three straight podiums – second place at Sebring and third places at Long Beach and Circuit of The Americas. This podium streak has bolstered their aspirations of a repeat title as they are now second in the drivers' championship, and have enabled Ferrari to climb to second place in the manufacturer standings.

This weekend's race venue of The Raceway at Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan brought Balzan and Nielsen a podium in 2016 and has brought Ferrari two victories previously (Risi Competizione in 2007 and Scuderia Corsa in 2014). With three podium finishes in four attempts at Detroit, including one victory, Scuderia Corsa has demonstrated a mastery of the challenging temporary circuit and it's shorter-than-normal race distance of one hour and 40 minutes.

The IMSA race in Belle Isle will have only one GT class, with most of the GT-LeMans teams – including Risi Competizione – participating in this weekend's test for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, Risi Competizione drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander will be joined by Pierre Kaffer.

Both Balzan and Nielsen will depart Detroit immediately following Saturday's race to take part in testing Sunday at Le Mans. Balzan will be taking part in his first Le Mans this year, while Nielsen will take part in her second.

Saturday's IMSA Sports Car Championship race from The Raceway at Belle Isle will be broadcast live on FOX Sports 2 on Saturday, June 3 at 12:30 PMET on FOX Sports 2. Qualifying will be streamed on Friday, June 2 at 4:45 PM ET on IMSA.tv. Live radio coverage of the race will be available on IMSA Radio at imsa.com.

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