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What to Watch for: Chevrolet Sports Car Classic

A Final Shot at Memorable Glory on the Tight Confines of Belle Isle Park

By David Phillips

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship takes to the streets of Belle Isle for the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic for the final time this weekend. The unforgiving 14-turn, 2.3-mile circuit has witnessed many a memorable moment featuring some of sports car racing’s legendary marques, teams and drivers competing over the years.

Who can forget the epic battle between the Corvettes of Ricky Taylor, Joao Barbosa and Richard Westbrook in 2014? Or last year’s frantic duel for the win between the Cadillacs of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kevin Magnussen and Action Express Racing’s Pipo Derani. But it’s back to the future in ’23, as next year’s race will be staged on some of the very downtown streets that hosted the original Detroit Grand Prix in the ‘80s.

What to watch for? If recent history is any indication, don’t be surprised to see Cadillac flex its engine muscle and supple chassis to the max on home turf, er, pavement. After all, when Magnussen and Derani finished 1-2 last year at the wheels of the No. 01 Cadillac V-Performance Academy and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.Rs, it marked three out of the past four races on Belle Isle that have gone Cadillac’s way. And if this season’s first street race, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, is any gauge, Cadillac will again be the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) marque to beat on Belle Isle given the 1-2 finish by the Nos. 01 and 02 Cadillac Racing entries, ahead of the No. 5 JDC Miller MotorSports Caddy.

And while the Ganassi and JDC Miller cars will almost certainly be in the mix for the win, don’t forget Action Express has a lot of Detroit hardware in its trophy case. The estimable Olivier Pla joins Derani behind the wheel this weekend for the first time in the No. 31 Cadillac and their integration will be worth watching.

Before betting the mortgage on Cadillac, consider that Acura broke Caddy’s hold on Motown in ’19 when an Acura Team Penske ARX-05 took the win; and that two Penske Acuras bested all but one Cadillac on Belle Isle in ’18. Also factor in that Wayne Taylor Racing is among the teams that have taken Cadillac to victory lane at Belle Isle (back in ’17). What’s more, the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura is riding a two-race win streak and the team would like nothing better than to derail plans for yet another Cadillac victory party on Saturday. Likewise, Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian has been getting closer and closer to getting the No. 60 Acura back to victory lane after kicking off the season with a win in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

On the GT Daytona (GTD) front, any of the seven manufacturers could take King of the Isle honors this weekend. If there is a favorite, it could well be the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn. They are the defending GTD winners on Belle Isle.

On the other hand, the needle might just as easily swing the way of BMW, Lexus or Mercedes, each fielding a pair of entries this weekend compared to the singleton efforts of their competitors. BMW is coming off a 1-2 finish at Mid-Ohio a fortnight ago, thus Robby Foley and evergreen Bill Auberlen will look to make it two in a row for the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3. Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers, who finished second at Mid-Ohio in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW, also have the confidence boost of winning on the streets of Long Beach in April.

Vasser Sullivan is out to score its first win of the campaign, with Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo in their familiar No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3. However, it’s all change in the sister No. 17 Lexus, as Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood take over for Richard Heistand and the injured Jack Hawksworth. Barnicoat and Kirkwood teamed with Hawksworth for a fourth-place GTD PRO finish at the Rolex 24 in January, so it’s not as if they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. And given that Kirkwood will also be competing in the IndyCar race at Belle Isle this weekend, he won’t be wanting for track time.

Then there’s the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R of Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen. Championship leaders heading into Mid-Ohio, they will be looking to rebound from a disappointing weekend and move back up the points standings at Belle Isle.

So, if you have a warm spot in your heart for the Fountain Turn and the leap over the bridge after Turn 2 – or if you just want to watch sports car racing at its best – this is your last chance to catch the competitors in action on Belle Isle. If you can’t be there in person, be sure to watch all the action on USA Network or Peacock or follow the racing on IMSA Radio starting at 3 p.m. ET Saturday.