The Top-Level WeatherTech Championship Class Will Decide Its Final Title between Two Acuras Today at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta
By John Oreovicz
BRASELTON, Ga. – The 25th annual Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta is not only the silver celebration of the historic race and the end of the 2022 season for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. It’s the end of an era for the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class.
And the six-year DPi era is going out with a bang.
A championship battle that couldn’t get much closer than it was did get closer Friday when Tom Blomqvist earned the Motul Pole Award in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-05 he co-pilots with Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves. With title rivals Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley qualifying third in the similar No. 10 Acura fielded by Wayne Taylor Racing, Blomqvist cut the deficit between the two contenders from 19 to 14 points.
Those five points are crucial, because it almost guarantees that whichever Acura finishes ahead in Saturday’s 10-hour endurance race will emerge as the last DPi champion before the class makes way for Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) in 2023.
“It was a good day to get a pole position,” Blomqvist admitted. “It’s a high-stakes weekend; there’s a lot on the line, and we knew we would make our life more difficult if we didn’t outqualify the No. 10. There was a bit of pressure, but I was confident we could get the job done.”
Now the focus shifts to the race. And as everyone knows, Petit Le Mans is capable of bringing the drama from Lap 1 to Hour 10.
Weather is not expected to be a factor, which puts the emphasis on running a clean race on a relatively short track (12 turns, 2.54 miles) with the congestion of a 43-car field.
That’s a massive challenge in itself.
“This is a great way to end the championship,” Blomqvist said. “It’s great for the championship, and I think it’s a testament to the kind of racing IMSA generates and creates, and how close this series can be. I’m hoping we put on a great show.”
While not all of the WeatherTech Championship’s five classes feature the tension of the DPi championship battle, the outcomes in all but one category are still very much in question.
Mathieu Jaminet, Matt Campbell and Felipe Nasr simply need to take the start in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R to clinch the Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) title. But there is fierce competition for second between the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 (drivers Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood) and the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD shared by Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor, and Nicky Catsburg.
“Regardless of the points situation, this is one race you really do want to win,” observed Hawksworth. “It’s important. I think everybody wants to win Petit Le Mans; it’s one of my favorite races of the year. We’d love to finish second in the points, and we have a lot of respect for the Corvette team and the success they’ve had over the years. Beating them would be a great way to end the year.”
The championship battle with the most players is in the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class, where five teams arrived at Road Atlanta within 140 points of leader Roman De Angelis and the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3. De Angelis was the top qualifier of the contenders in fourth place, marginally increasing his advantage over Steven McAleer (No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3) from 45 to 48 points.
John Farano (No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07) qualified fourth in Le Mans Prototype 2, but grew his points lead to 36 over Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel, who will start sixth in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA. The LMP2 team standings find the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA 21 points ahead of the No. 8 Tower ORECA.
Meanwhile in Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3), Kay van Berlo gave Gar Robinson’s hopes of repeating as class champion in the. No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 a boost by storming to the Motul Pole Award. Robinson and the No. 74 still face a daunting task, trailing veteran champions Jon Bennett, Colin Braun and the No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier by 74 points.
In short, there’s plenty up for grabs Saturday at Michelin Raceway. Coverage of the 25th Motul Petit Le Mans starts live at noon ET on NBC network until 3 p.m. USA Network picks things back up at 7 p.m. through the exciting conclusion. Flag-to-flag streaming coverage starts at noon on Peacock, with IMSA Radio providing a complete broadcast as well.
Michelin Endurance Cup Champions Determined as Well
It’s significant because it’s in the name: IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.
The four races that encompass this championship within a championship are the longest and most grueling of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In all, they total 52 hours of racing on four of the most iconic North American road courses: Daytona (24 hours), Sebring (12), Watkins Glen (six) and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta (10). To be the best over the span of these circuits inspires a sense of pride and accomplishment for driver, team and manufacturer alike.
Only Saturday’s race remains to decide the 2022 Michelin Endurance Cup champions in all five classes, with four still up for grabs. Points are awarded on a different scale than for the full-season championship. At pre-designated junctures in each race – in the case of Motul Petit Le Mans, it’s at the four- and eight-hour marks as well as the finish – the class leader earns five points, second place nets four points, third place gets three and all other competitors in a class get two points.
Only in LMP2, where the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 clinches a second consecutive Michelin Endurance Cup by starting the race, is the class decided.
In the DPi driver and team battle, the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura leads the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura by a single point, with the No. 5 JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R just two points back. Acura leads Cadillac by one point in the manufacturer race.
In LMP3, The No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 is three points ahead of the No. 33 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier. The No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD leads the GTD PRO standings by two points over the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 and by three points over the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. Porsche does lead the GTD PRO manufacturer standings by three points over Chevrolet.
In GTD, a pair of teams focused on the Michelin Endurance Cup instead of the full season top the standings. The No. 70 inception racing McLaren 720S GT3 leads by five points over the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3.