The extra time in the seat is worth the extra effort


Sébastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande. (IMSA photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – If there’s one thing every race car driver craves, it’s seat time. Simulators are a valuable learning tool, but nothing helps a driver improve his craft more than time spent on the track behind the wheel of a real race car.

That’s part of the reason a number of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers also take part in other forms of sports car racing around the world, including the FIA ​​World Endurance Championship (WEC), Le Mans European Series (ELMS) and the Asian Le Mans Series (ALMS). .

Whether it’s a veteran driver like Sebastien Bourdais or Renger van der Zande, or an up-and-coming youngster like Josh Pierson, many racers find value in the simple act of driving, anytime, anywhere.

Other full-time IMSA players who have competed internationally this year, including at the 2022 Le Mans 24 Hours, include Pipo Derani, Richard Westbrook, Filipe Albuquerque, Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor, Jan Heylen and Antonio Garcia.

A lot is different for those drivers when they moonlight at their IMSA “day jobs,” most fundamentally, the racetracks and the style of racing, not to mention things like the local food and culture. The common denominators are a similar competitive environment, coupled with the opportunity to learn and just gain a different kind of experience that can be archived for later use.

Apparently, a driver with Bourdais’s pedigree needs no extra practice: The 43-year-old Frenchman has won four IndyCar titles and has scored 10 wins in North American sports car competition. However, he has almost always combined his main job with some kind of international sports car show.

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This year, Bourdais won three races in the WeatherTech Championship along with van der Zande in the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac DPi-VR. He also competed in every WEC race in an ORECA Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) presented by Vector Sport. .

“My focus is on the Ganassi Cadillac IMSA program but this was too good to pass up because it fit in so well with my schedule and I want to prepare for the future with a prototype again at Le Mans,” said Bourdais.

On Sunday, Bourdais will have the unique opportunity to share the Vector Sport ORECA with his IMSA teammate van der Zande at the WEC Fuji 6 Hours in Japan. It’s a rare opportunity to validate his working partnership in a different car and a completely different environment.

“By working with Seb this year, we have developed a very good partnership,” said van der Zande. “He’s very detailed with the setup and I’m a bit more ‘plug and play’, let’s say. So I hope it will be easy to jump into Vector LMP2.”

As if Bourdais and van der Zande didn’t have enough on their plates, they are both heavily involved in testing Cadillac’s V-LMDh prototype due to show up at IMSA and WEC next year. But you won’t catch them or any other driver complaining about the opportunity for extra seat time.

Josh Pierson. (IMSA photo)

Pierson is at the opposite end of the experience spectrum. The 16-year-old wanted to pursue a career in single-seater racing, but his driver coach, Stephen Simpson (a three-time WeatherTech Championship competition winner and current IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge driver) convinced him to try out for open-wheel sports. UnitedAutosports. car team

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Pierson has signed with UA to run the full WEC LMP2 season, along with two other drivers running combined IMSA/WEC schedules: Oliver Jarvis and Alex Lynn. Pierson later added a complete list of WeatherTech Championship LMP2 races for PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports to his schedule. He currently sits sixth in the standings, with a pair of fourth-place finishes as his best finish heading into the WeatherTech Championship season finale, Motul Petit Le Mans, on October 1.

Overseas, meanwhile, Pierson became the youngest entrant at the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, partnering Jarvis and Paul di Resta to claim LMP2 class victory at the Sebring 1000 Miles in March. , making him the youngest race winner in the WEC. .

Although Pierson drives an ORECA chassis in both series, there are slight differences in the specifications. Also, the IMSA car uses Michelin tires, with the WEC version featuring Goodyear.

“With IMSA, we’ve been missing the missing piece,” Pierson said. “We are very close to a podium or a good result, but a couple of mishaps have slowed us down a bit. We have been consistently quick in practice; it just hasn’t come together in the races for us.

“I think I can transfer quite a bit (between sets),” he added. “There is a lot of information that transfers, and even though the cars may not be identical, I can still transfer certain things and certain techniques when it comes to driving the car. But it is a very small difference and I am able to go on and continually work on it. It helps both ways.”

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