DPi Class Faces Winner-Take-All Scenario At Petit Le Mans

BRASELTON, Ga. — The drivers involved in the winner-takes-all championship battle Saturday at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta understand pressure — and they all have their own approach to it.

For some, like Tom Blomqvist, it’s part of the job of being a racer.

“To me, it doesn’t really change anything,” he said. “Every time I go in the car, I try to do anything I can to get the result. There’s a bit more on the line with this, but it’s just us and them. We need to beat them, and they need to beat us. There’s no point in putting more pressure on yourself than any other race.”

Us versus them.

That’s what it comes down to Saturday in the 25th annual Motul Petit Le Mans, the season finale for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis will attempt to chase down Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque for the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) driver and team championships. 

Blomqvist, Jarvis and their No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-05 are 19 points behind Taylor, Albuquerque and their No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05. Three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Brendon Hartley joins the No. 10 Acura as the third driver for Petit, while four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves fills the role for the No. 60 team.

Every lap will be meaningful, every pass critical.

That level of pressure could reveal the best — or the worst — of the drivers and teams involved.

“Every detail is important,” Taylor said. “It’s when you’re under the gun that you have that focus. People ask if I get nervous before races. When you’re not a little bit nervous, you let your guard down and lose that level of focus you’d have if you felt those nerves. If you’re under pressure, your eyes are on the target.” 

All four drivers involved in the championship battle have experienced similar final-race circumstances. Last year, Taylor and Albuquerque lost the championship to Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr when Nasr held on as Taylor tried to pass him on the final lap of Petit.

While they were fighting for the championship, Jarvis was winning the race for Mazda.

DPi Class Faces Winner-Take-All Scenario At Petit Le Mans

The No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing entry is 19 points behind the lead. (IMSA photo)

In 2010, Blomqvist beat Lewis Williamson for the Formula Renault 2.0 UK championship after they entered the final race tied in points. That’s where his straightforward attitude about pressure and focus was born.

“There shouldn’t be other occasions where you aren’t as focused,” Blomqvist said. “For me personally, it doesn’t change much, to be honest. There’s a bit more on the line, but we’ve got ourselves into this position over the course of the season. Obviously, we’ve both been doing something right.”

Exactly. Both teams have been strong throughout the season, with Meyer Shank Racing jumping to the early lead by winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona before the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing entry rallied with victories at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Watkins Glen International.

“The teams are both used to winning and what it takes to win and what’s at stake,” Albuquerque said. “I think everybody will be a little more sharp for the very last race. The whole year is at stake now in the very last race. The winner takes it all, but the guy who loses by a point or two isn’t really a loser.” 

So pressure really does make diamonds, then, and winners thrive on it. 

“The truly great folks are the folks that can live inside that pressure and actually take it up a notch when it comes to that time,” said Michael Shank, co-owner of Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian. “There are two different kinds of pressure — the performance kind and the team kind. You see both with our group.”

Likewise with Wayne Taylor Racing, which has won three championships and has won Petit Le Mans three times.

“It comes down to the drivers,” team owner Wayne Taylor said. “We don’t have to win the race; we just have to stay ahead of the (No.) 60. If you focus on winning the race, everything else goes out the window. The less you concentrate on beating the (No.) 60 car, the better off you’ll be … I just think that it’s our race to lose.”

That’s the pressure felt by all, not just the drivers. Decisions, preparations, pit stops — all can lead to a championship. Or a runner-up finish.

“Everybody is going to feel the pressure all the way through the team,” Jarvis said. “It all comes down to this final race. That pressure will be felt by everybody. It’s not up to us but everybody on the team to deal with that, just to get on and go try to win the race. The best way to win the championship is just to focus on this race. You’ve got to go out and win it.”  

Win it on a notoriously difficult venue, too.

Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta offers challenges other circuits don’t. Add the length of the race and the possibility of rain from Hurricane Ian, and this season finale serves up even more pressure than usual. Especially when it comes time to make a critical pass that could determine the championship.

“At Road Atlanta, you’re forced to take a level of risk that you don’t take at other racetracks because of the amount of time lost if you don’t take that risk,” Taylor said. “Ten hours of that is a lot. We just go into it thinking of the last couple of hours. You have to take risks as if you’re not fighting for the championship. If you take it easy, you will get left behind. You don’t get it back.”

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