IMSA.com Contributors Believe Many Will Savor the Sweet Taste of Victory This Year
By IMSA.com Contributors
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s time for another “Driver Change,” where one of our regular IMSA.com contributors shares their thoughts on a racing topic before handing over the wheel – or in this case, the keyboard – to another contributor, and then another and another.
The subject this time is the competitiveness of the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and how it’s truly anyone’s race to win across the board on any weekend. David Phillips, Godwin Kelly, John Oreovicz and Holly Cain are eager to impart their wisdom, so here we go.
DAVID PHILLIPS: Outside of Formula One’s “Lewis vs. Max” bubble, it’s fashionable for motorsports pundits to rely on the time-worn phrase “it’s anybody’s race” when making odds on a given race or championship. While that is often a cop-out, in the case of the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, it rings true. After all, with two events in the books, we’ve seen different winners in each of the series’ five classes.
The diversity of winners only figures to multiply. Scan the lineups and ask, “Who would you bet against winning a race or two?” With all due respect, before the green flag waved at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, one could have reasonably argued JDC-Miller MotorSports might have its work cut out besting the likes of Wayne Taylor Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Meyer Shank Racing, Mazda Motorsports and Whelen Engineering in Daytona Prototype international (DPi). And, perhaps even more so, that the privateer WeatherTech Porsche team was in for a long rookie GT Le Mans (GTLM) campaign versus works efforts from Corvette and BMW.
Now who’s left in DPi and GTLM that you’d bet against? Or for that matter, teams and drivers fielding cars from any of the seven manufacturers in GT Daytona (GTD) yet to win a race this season? Then there are the level (or nearly level) Le Mans Prototype 2 and 3 playing fields which afford every competitor an even chance of mounting the top step of the podium.
Of course, there aren’t enough podiums (podia?) left in the 2021 season for every team to stand on the top step – particularly in the ultra-competitive GTD class. But the fact remains, that on any given race day, we shouldn’t be surprised to see a different cast of characters spraying champagne and doing the sponsors hat dance. In fact, we should expect it.
GODWIN KELLY: The NFL has been striving for parity for several decades. Yet over the last 20 years, one team won the league championship six times. If you’re hungry for parity in any sport, look no further than the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. On any given weekend, the series produces a host of new winners, which not only should delight the fans, but give every team out there hope for that big day when they stand in the middle of the podium raising a trophy over their heads.
David produced an amazing season-to-date stat when he pointed out that “with two events in the books, we’ve seen different winners in each of the championship’s five classes.”
First, good eye, David. And second, that is crazy amazing.
Everybody likes to see an underdog rise from the depths and surprise the world. With IMSA’s parity so far, we could be in for quite a ride this season. Thanks to IMSA’s rules makers, no one team or manufacturer seems to have any significant advantage over the competition in any of the classes, so race outcomes will be placed squarely on the shoulders of drivers.
Hey, no pressure there. Just for good measure, we’ll throw in a pinch of race strategy, which will determine race outcomes.
What does this mean for spectators? Entertainment. This is like going to a concert, then being surprised with numerous encores. The hits will just keep on coming.
Of course, there is one exception to this new parity play. Wayne Taylor Racing has pretty much owned the Rolex 24 At Daytona in recent years, winning three straight and four over the last five years. But that’s one team in one race. When you look at the big picture, this season is full of promise not only for established race teams, but those eager up-and-comers.
This is one of those on-any-given-weekend seasons, so expect the list of winners to multiply.
What say you, John?
JOHN OREOVICZ: People often look to me for a contrarian viewpoint, though I can’t imagine why. But I can’t take exception to any of the points that Godwin and David make.
There is no form of major motorsport in America – or arguably, the world – that is as impossible to predict on a race-by-race basis as IMSA. And that competitive parity exists through every class in the WeatherTech Championship and the Michelin Pilot Challenge.
We’re two races into the 2021 campaign – perhaps it would be more impressive to say “after 36 hours of racing” – and we’ve already seen surprise winners in DPi (JDC-Miller MotorSports/Mustang Sampling at Sebring), GTD (Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG at Daytona) and even GTLM, where the WeatherTech Porsche hit pause on the Corvette Racing steamroller.
With so many competing manufacturers, the Michelin Pilot Challenge is even less predictable. Some cars have an advantage on fast, sweeping circuits like Watkins Glen or Road America, while others are more suited to a technical track like Mid-Ohio or WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
We’ve seen teams like Wayne Taylor Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing string together three- or four-race win streaks in the past, but that’s unlikely to happen this year. With so much movement between drivers, teams and manufacturers in the truncated 2020-21 offseason, half of the DPi field is still getting used to new equipment, personnel and surroundings. We may not see the category’s true form guide until mid-summer.
By the time IMSA rolls into Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in November for the Motul Petit Le Mans weekend, favorites will have been established. But I’m certain there will be more surprise race winners between now and then.
HOLLY CAIN: Any weekend, any track, any team. It is the almost magical scenario that exists in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racing world.
Two endurance races into the 2021 season and already the feeling of competitive parity is pervasive and deserved. This kind of “race for it” mentality represents the very competitive zeal that has attracted fans and buoyed competitors. And with the upcoming “sprint” races on the calendar for the next few months, the winning possibilities are broad and unpredictable.
A couple decades ago, the long endurance races such as the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts were decided by laps and half-hour intervals. The long races were predictably a challenge among the bigger, well-funded teams.
Already in 2021, the season’s longest event (Daytona) featured a margin of overall victory less than five seconds. It was less than two seconds at Sebring. The endurance races are more like sprints, meaning the sprint races will be even more intense.
As impressive as the close-quarters racing is the fact that the podium’s top step is no easy prediction. And that is going to continue at an elevated level with the summer’s shorter races on tap. The work by the teams and manufacturers, combined with a grid filled with legitimate, top-shelf talent, makes this a season of both pride and promise.
The racing for third place on the podium has been as vigorous as that for the overall victory. The competition so genuinely robust that it’s not only attracted the high level of talent for the grid but high-level attention from other racing grids.
The key will be maintaining the competitive possibilities, something that leaves my colleagues, David, Godwin and John, optimistic. Expectations are high. And rightly so.