Who Will Make Their Mark This Year at ‘America’s National Park of Speed?’
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The name says it all: IMSA SportsCar Weekend at Road America.
What more can a red-blooded sports car fan ask than a weekend of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition at Road America? A weekend that will see all five classes – nearly three dozen prototypes and GT cars in all – competing on a track that bills itself as “America’s National Park of Speed” without fear of detractors.
No wonder. While every circuit on the WeatherTech Championship schedule has its charms and challenges, Road America is universally recognized as the epitome of North American road racing. For openers, at 4.048 miles in length, it’s the longest, biggest, most challenging natural terrain road course this side of the Nurburgring. Not only do its 14 turns and corners run the gamut of slow, medium and blood-curdling fast, but a lap of Road America also features more than 170 feet of elevation changes and three, count ‘em three, straightaways where the fastest cars top the 180-mph mark.
It’s a layout little changed from the day it opened in 1955 and on which everyone from Phil Hill, Walt Hansgen, Paul Goldsmith, Jim Hall and Mark Donohue to Denis Hulme, Bruce McLaren, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Alex Zanardi, Scott Pruett, Tommy Kendall, Lucas Luhr, Patrick Long, Pipo Derani, Helio Castroneves, Christina Nielsen, Harry Tincknell and Kyle Busch have raced – and won. All this fueled by some of the world’s best track food served by local civic clubs in a bucolic setting a stone’s throw from the charming village of Elkhart Lake, and it’s no wonder the IMSA SportsCar Weekend at Road America is a red-letter event on the racing calendar.
Who is likely to add (or rewrite) their name to the list of Road America winners this weekend? If last year’s race is any barometer, Acura (Daytona Prototype International – DPi), Corvette (GT Le Mans – GTLM) and Lexus (GT Daytona – GTD) are the favorites. Strictly speaking, however, repeat winners will be scarcer than hens’ teeth given the reshuffling of driver/team/manufacturer alliances since last IMSA raced at Road America. Thus, while Acura would logically start as favorites in DPi, Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian are now carrying the Acura standard, so there’s no chance of a repeat win by Team Penske.
Likewise, the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) podium will surely have a fresh look this time around. Last year’s winner, DragonSpeed, is racing in the World Endurance Championship this season while 2020 runner-up Performance Tech Motorsports has turned its focus to the new Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class. It leaves Era Motorsport looking to advance two places on the rostrum from last year and capture its first win since taking the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Last year’s Road America GTD winner Frankie Montecalvo will be back at the helm of the familiar No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, albeit with a different co-driver as he and Zach Veach (who has taken over for Townsend Bell) pursue their first victory of the 2021 campaign.
Among last year’s class winners at Road America, only the combination of Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Corvette Racing returns intact. Is it purely coincidental that Messrs. Garcia and Taylor have taken four wins in five points-paying outings so far this season? And would anyone bet the mortgage they won’t make it five for six this weekend?
On the other hand, it’s a cinch LMP3 will see a new winner this time around, given that this weekend marks the class’ WeatherTech Championship debut at Road America. That said, as noted, Performance Tech Motorsports finished on the LMP2 podium at Road America last year. Where better to capture the first win of 2021 and inch closer in the points race to class leaders Riley Motorsports and CORE autosport?
So, while much about Road America remains the same as ever, and thankfully so, the IMSA SportsCar Weekend promises to bring a level of unpredictability to the competition that has become a trademark of the 2021 WeatherTech Championship. Add in racing from four other IMSA-sanctioned series – the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, Porsche Carrera Cup North America Presented by the Cayman Islands, Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America and the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich – and it will be a wall-to-wall weekend of action.