By David Phillips
Good things come to those who wait. That old chestnut applies to the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship as a whole and, in particular, the 2020 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
A season that once appeared in jeopardy of never happening came through with flying colors, to be capped off by a season finale packed with action and drama from start to finish. Congratulations to Daytona Prototype international (DPi) champions Acura Team Penske, Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor, Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) champions PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports and Patrick Kelly, GT Le Mans (GTLM) champions Chevrolet, Corvette Racing, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor, and GT Daytona (GTD) champions Acura, Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian, Mario Farnbacher and Matt McMurry.
Kudos, too, to Twelve Hours of Sebring DPi winners Mazda Motorsports, Harry Tincknell, Jonathan Bomarito and Ryan Hunter-Reay, LMP2 winners PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, Kelly, Simon Trummer and Scott Huffaker, GTLM winners Porsche, Nick Tandy, Fred Makowiecki and Earl Bamber and GTD winners Porsche, Wright Motorsports, Patrick Long, Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen.
Permit me a few observations …
For all the controversy the Balance of Performance regulations may have engendered over the years, it’s worth noting that 2020 saw all three manufacturers competing in DPi (Acura, Cadillac and Mazda) win multiple times, with five of eight regularly competing teams mounting the top step of the podium and a sixth (No. 6 Acura Penske) yielding a near-certain win of its own to its championship-contending teammates on the penultimate lap at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Balanced performance? GTLM not only saw every regularly competing manufacturer (Porsche, BMW and Corvette) win a race, but every team regularly competing in the 2020 season earn at least one victory. That’s a tough act to follow, and while every manufacturer and team in GTD did not win a race, the fact that seven different teams steered an Acura, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lexus or Porsche into victory lane speaks volumes about how well the "performance balancers" performed their often thankless task in 2020.
These are difficult times for manufacturers and race team owners. Budgets were tight even before the onset of the pandemic. Now with limited (if any) public attendance at races, resources are stretched to the breaking point. But for those manufacturers and teams ready, willing and able to go racing next year, there’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to selecting drivers, given the amount of unemployed or underemployed talent on the market.
Juan Pablo Montoya. Tristan Nunez. Nick Tandy. Fred Makowiecki. Laurens Vanthoor. Mario Farnbacher. Matt McMurry. Each is apparently on the market, as are others. Add Helio Castroneves to the list, what with his limited 2021 IndyCar program for Meyer Shank. Perhaps nobody better embodies the depth of available talent out there than Jan Heylen, whose electrifying performance during the opening stint of Saturday’s race put the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche in another zip code in the GTD class.
Arguably the most impressive performance by a driver last weekend was turned in by Bill Auberlen. Yes, I realize that’s a bit of a non-sequitur given that Mr. Auberlen never did a lap, never even turned a wheel at Sebring owing to the fact that he was not in attendance after notifying the Turner Motorsport team that he had been in contact with someone who may have the COVID-19 virus. Given his insatiable passion for motorsports, missing any race is excruciatingly painful for Auberlen.
But to miss the final race of the season – especially the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – must have been almost unbearable. Then again, it was the right thing to do and, not surprisingly, Auberlen did the right thing.