Less Than 36 Hours After Motul Petit Le Mans, Acura, BMW and Cadillac Get Back on Track at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta
By Jeff Olson
BRASELTON, Ga. – Sometimes the little things matter most.
Being first on track at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta wasn’t the point of the IMSA-sanctioned test session for the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class, but it was a minor detail that carried a specific meaning to two of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams participating in the test.
A Cadillac V-LMDh and a BMW M Hybrid V8 were first to fire and leave the pits as the track opened for three days of testing Monday morning in preparation for the 2023 season. It came less than 36 hours after the final chapter of the 2022 season was written. So much for an offseason break.
The Cadillac V-LMDh was first to enter the 12-turn, 2.54-mile circuit for the test, but the two teams’ playful yet serious competition to start the day illustrated its importance.
“We really wanted to be the first ones on track,” said Connor De Phillippi, who logged laps for BMW M Team RLL. “That was going to be a little win, considering we had the least amount of miles (before Monday) and we were probably the last to the party. We were trying to be the first on track to make a bold statement.”
Clearly this wasn’t just any test. In 15 weeks, the new hybrid-based GTP class will debut at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. For many involved, the transition to and introduction of a new race car is the most demanding and consequential undertaking they’ve faced.
“It’s a big step for everyone involved – for all the manufacturers and teams to take on this new challenge,” said Pipo Derani, who tested the Cadillac. “Every time you move into a new technology, there are big things to learn and many things to accomplish. When you put the size of the project in comparison to the time you have to run, it makes things more difficult for everyone involved. Nevertheless, it’s a great challenge to have. The sport is heading into a promising new era.”
The test session brought together three manufacturers – Acura, BMW and Cadillac – of the new Le Mans Daytona h (LMDh) cars that will make up GTP, the top-tier class in the WeatherTech Championship in 2023, replacing the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class. Porsche, the fourth GTP manufacturer set to compete in 2023, opted not to participate.
“Everyone has a lot of confidence that we can operate at this level, but this is a whole new ballgame,” said Tom Blomqvist, who tested the Acura ARX-06 Monday after winning the DPi drivers’ championship Saturday night with Oliver Jarvis for Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian. “There’s a lot more manufacturer involvement across the grid. It’s going to be very competitive. We know we have to raise our game to stay at the level we need to be competing where we want to be. … We haven’t had much time to relax.”
Early GTP Returns Look Good
The LMDh will generate more than 670 horsepower from the combined output of an internal combustion engine and hybrid powertrain. The car’s regulations were created jointly by IMSA, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), allowing LMDh and Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) cars to compete equivalent classes in both the WeatherTech Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship.
This week’s test for GTP competitors at Michelin Raceway was met with a positive reaction.
“The first impression is a promising one,” Derani said. “It’s a strong base, as you would expect from Cadillac and so many great minds behind the project. When you start with a new car, you never know until you’re actually competing against everyone else, but the feeling of it is actually a good feeling – one that we can start working on and developing. So far everything has been very positive.”
The point of the test wasn’t speed. Rather, it was establishing the reliability necessary for endurance racing. It’s one thing to unveil a new race car in 15 weeks. It’s another thing to unveil it in a 24-hour race.
Mileage was the point, but the speeds among the four appeared to be comparable. Teams tracked their times – and their competitors’ times – for the sake of comparison.
“Today was all about getting mileage,” said Brandon Fry, BMW M Team RLL’s technical/race operations director. “Certainly, as the drivers had more time in the car, the times came down. All the cars looked like they were pretty close together. It’s nice to see right out of the box that everybody is pretty close.”
A Whole New Perspective
Drivers who tested the car Monday noted primary differences between the LMDh and the DPi: more power, less downforce, different view.
“The seating position is completely different,” Blomqvist said. “Obviously, that feels weird. It’s a completely different perspective. You definitely feel the power. It’s got more power, but it is slower in the corners. It’s a bigger car. It’s heavier. Naturally, it’s got a little bit less downforce.”
All of which make good on one of the many intended purposes of the car: making it more difficult to drive and creating more passing opportunities.
“The car is powerful,” said Sebastien Bourdais, who tested the Cadillac V-LMDh for Cadillac Racing. “It’s making close to 700 horsepower, obviously, but when you couple that with quite a bit less downforce – like significantly less downforce – it’s definitely a car that gives you a run for your money. You have to work at it.
“You’ve got some good mechanical grip, but then the weight negates that some. Aero-wise, you get there pretty quick but then you can’t lean on the aero quite as much. You get there fast, but it’s a bit harder to stop. When you get to the corner, you’ve got to stop it more. It’s definitely a car that keeps you awake.”
An elite group of team owners, engineers, technicians and drivers are already familiar with being awake, and they likely won’t be sleeping much between now and January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. This is no small task, but it’s one they’ve embraced. The response thus far is cautiously optimistic.
“There is a lot of development and a lot of stuff going on, so we needed a strong day like we had today,” BMW’s Fry said Monday. “We put in a lot of laps. This was in some ways a bit of a breakthrough day for us.”