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#31: Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi, DPi: Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani, Mike Conway leads the field at the start

Takeaways from 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship

 There’s Lots to Cheer from This Year and More to Be Excited about for 2022

 

By David Phillips

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Only a fool would try to encapsulate an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship that featured 12 race weekends from January through November boasting five distinct classes and a baker’s dozen worth of manufacturer, team and driver championships in less than 10,000 words. But if the dunce cap fits …

 

IMSA, Another Term for Diversity

 

In an era of cookie-cutter cars and when one or two manufacturers rule the proverbial roost in many racing series, IMSA can rightly be proud of the fact that no less than 10 manufacturers graced winner’s circles from the Rolex 24 At Daytona to the Motul Petit Le Mans. Specifically, that would be Acura, Aston Martin, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Lamborghini, Lexus, Mercedes-AMG, Porsche … and last, but certainly not least, Mazda, which put the capper on its five-year run in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class with an emotional win at Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans.

 

There are any number of reasons IMSA is so competitive, not least of which is a technical group headed by IMSA Technical Director Matt Kurdock that does a helluva job hitting the nail on the head of the dreaded Balance of Performance regulations such that 3.5-liter, V-6 turbos, 6.2-liter, normally aspirated V-8s and 2-liter, inline-four turbos could – and did – win in DPi. And everything from 4-liter, V-8 turbos and 5.2-liter, normally aspirated V-10s to normally aspirated, 4-liter flat-sixes and 3-liter, inline six-cylinder engines could and did win in GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD).

 

Add to that the sheer diversity of racetracks – from the Daytona International Speedway’s unique road course/oval configuration, the equally singular (not to say brutal) racing surfaces of Sebring International Raceway to the streets of Detroit’s Belle Isle and Long Beach and the challenges presented by traditional natural terrain road courses like Lime Rock Park, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Road America, VIRginia International Raceway, Watkins Glen International and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – and it’s no wonder any given Saturday or Sunday can produce a different winner. What’s more, we can all look forward to the return of the special challenges presented by Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to the schedule in 2022.

 

Aided and abetted by a new points system that awarded points for qualifying, the WeatherTech Championship saw titles in all five classes come down to the wire. While the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) and GTLM titles were decided once the green flag flew at Motul Petit Le Mans, the DPi, GTD and Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) hardware was up for grabs with the DPi laurels literally decided on the final turn of the final lap of the final race of the season.

 

#7: Forty7 Motorsports Duqueine D08, LMP3: Mark Kvamme
   #55: Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi, DPi: Harry Tincknell, Oliver Jarvis, Jonathan Bomarito

 

Value Added

 

Let’s be honest: In seasons gone by, the “secondary” IMSA prototype class was akin to IMSA’s fifth wheel. Some events were lucky to attract more than a couple LMP2 entries – indeed, just one LMP2 team bothered to make an appearance at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 2020.

 

Never shying away from reshuffling the deck to put the best possible product on the track for paying spectators and TV audiences alike, IMSA added a third prototype class, LMP3, to the 2022 WeatherTech Championship. Although some worried that mixing in another class of cars with similar overall lap speeds to the GT competitors amid the much quicker DPi machinery would produce havoc, such was seldom the case. And wonder of wonders, LMP3 not only regularly attracted half a dozen or more entries (with 10 answering the call at Motul Petit Le Mans), but the LMP2 ranks grew as well. No fewer than 22 prototypes (including DPi) participated in the 2021 Motul Petit Le Mans.

 

Here’s a thought experiment: With upward of 20 prototypes possible when the new LMDh class debuts in 2023, will there be room on the track – and in the pits – for all the prototypes and GTs? Whatever the answer, it’s a nice challenge to face.

 

#24: BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE, GTLM: John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, Augusto Farfus and #79: WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR - 19, GTLM: Cooper MacNeil, Mathieu Jaminet, Matt Campbell lead the field to the green flag

 

A Worthy Curtain Call and Preamble to an Exciting Future

 

Not much was expected from the GTLM class in a season that saw Corvette and Porsche alone running a full slate of races, with the Porsche program “merely” a works-assisted effort at that. And while Corvette’s manufacturer, team and driver championships were never in serious doubt, on any given race weekend the WeatherTech Racing Porsche team gave the bowtie brigade all they could handle. Witness wins at Sebring, Road America and a 1-2 at Motul Petit Le Mans, while BMW Team RLL was a definite factor in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events it contested. In short, 2021 was a worthy curtain call for the GTLM.

 

That said, the introduction of the new GTD PRO class leaves fans salivating for 2022 with BMW, Corvette and Lexus already confirmed, and others such as Lamborghini and Porsche bantered to field entries. This even as the GTD class continues in its current form, with customer teams requiring a mix of professional, Bronze- and Silver-rated drivers. And given that GTD PRO will be based on FIA GT3 specifications, IMSA teams will be able to compete globally, including at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in two years’ time.

 

And speaking of 2022, if the throng in attendance at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta last weekend is any indication, the crowds will be back bigger and better than ever next year when – all digits crossed – the pandemic is but a (dark) spot in our collective rear-view mirrors.

 

Now that I mention it … it’s only 73 days until the green flag waves for the 2022 Rolex 24 At Daytona.