The Roar Before the Rolex 24 Will Provide an Early Indication of Which Manufacturer Has the Advantage in the New Top Prototype Class
By Holly Cain
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After years of high anticipation and technical development, the long-awaited LMDh prototypes will make their IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competitive debut in the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 28-29. And it’s a legitimate toss-up as to who is more excited about the return of this GTP Class in 2023 – teams, drivers or fans.
Four manufacturers – Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche – are set to usher in this new era of sports car racing. The class name “GTP” stands for Grand Touring Prototype and absolutely invokes a popular and competitive time in IMSA history, but the modern teams and sophisticated new makes will undoubtedly create their own updated storylines.
Testing has been rampant during the offseason. Last month at Daytona International Speedway marked the first time all four GTP manufacturers participated in the same test session. And this week, they will reconvene at the famed road course for the Roar Before the Rolex 24 that traditionally ushers in the season to work out last-minute kinks and provide an opportunity to better size up the competition. Nine GTP cars are among the 61 entrants for the Rolex 24, with eight continuing to compete in the full 2023 WeatherTech Championship season.
Acura power will be represented by the defending Rolex 24 winning team, Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian, as well as the four-time Rolex 24 winning No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport entry. The merger between Wayne Taylor’s longtime IMSA team and the iconic Andretti Autosport was announced weeks ago.
American Colin Braun joins MSR to co-drive the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 LMDh with Tom Blomqvist fulltime with an assist from Indianapolis 500 champions Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud at the Rolex 24. Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque will race for the championship in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 for the Wayne Taylor outfit, with Louis Deletraz and Brendon Hartley joining the pair at the Rolex 24.
BMW will have a pair of GTP entries (Nos. 24 and 25) fielded by the make’s longtime representative BMW M Team RLL. Philipp Eng and Augusto Farfus will steer the No. 24 BMW M Hybrid V8 in the run for the 2023 title, teaming with Marco Wittmann for the Daytona 24. American Connor De Phillippi and Brit Nick Yelloly will race for the GTP championship in the No. 25 BMW M Hybrid V8 with Sheldon van der Linde at Daytona. IndyCar star Colton Herta – a two-time Rolex 24 class winner – is listed as the fourth driver for both BMW cars.
Chip Ganassi Racing will field a pair of Cadillac V-LMDhs at the Rolex 24. The No. 01 driven by Sebastian Bourdais and Renger van der Zande is running the full season (joined by IndyCar great Scott Dixon at Daytona), while the No. 02 is racing only in the Rolex 24 before moving to compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship with drivers Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook.
Another former Rolex 24 overall winner, Action Express Racing will race for the 2023 GTP title with drivers Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims in its No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac V-LMDh. Jack Aitken joins for the Rolex 24.
The legendary Penske name returns to fulltime IMSA competition with a pair of Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963s – one driven by Nick Tandy, Mathieu Jaminet and Rolex 24 add-on Dane Cameron, the other driven by Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell and (for Daytona) Michael Christensen.
Porsche is also making the 963 available to customer teams later in the season. JDC-Miller MotorSports is set for one; Proton Competition has been discussed as a second.
The infusion of innovative new cars, new teams and a long list of new drivers in IMSA’s marquee class has created unmistakable energy.
If GTP is anything like its predecessor as the top prototype class, the championship will again come down to the wire. Last year, Meyer Shank Racing came through to win the season-closing Motul Petit Le Mans to take the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) crown over Wayne Taylor Racing.
The interest and competitive uptick with the new hybrid car has rejuvenated IMSA’s always-intriguing marquee class.
“Amazing to be part of the development of the new Cadillac GTP alongside some of the most brilliant and smart engineers you can think of and the AXR crew who worked tirelessly over the last few months with so much dedication and passion,’’ Derani posted on social media while testing the No. 31 late last year.
It’s a shared sentiment by those competing in this GTP class.
“To race in North America and IMSA is a big personal highlight,’’ Tandy wrote during a Porsche test season. “I’ve always had so much fun and have so many fond memories and friends in and around the series. Bring on 2023 and beyond.’’
This weekend, he and everyone else eagerly awaiting GTP get that wish.