A Deep Roster of IMSA Teams and Drivers Are Prepared for the Centenary Running
By Tony DiZinno
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Global prototype convergence, the NASCAR “Garage 56” program and a bevy of IMSA regular teams and drivers add a significant North American flair to the Centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, June 10-11.
Years in the making, the opportunity for IMSA’s top-flight prototypes to race at Le Mans finally occurs this month. Three LMDh specification cars that run as Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship join four other LMDh specification cars in the Le Mans Hypercar (Hypercar) top class of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The Garage 56 opportunity – an invitational entry intended to showcase new or unusual technology – presents itself for Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports and Goodyear to bring a NASCAR stock car (albeit appropriately altered) to Le Mans for the first time since 1976.
And the usual peppering of IMSA drivers and teams throughout the three primary classes ensures a heavy presence of faces known to this audience racing at Le Mans.
There are 16 Hypercar entries. While there are a handful of drivers with significant IMSA experience, three specific GTP teams are present within the class:
- Cadillac Racing: Two of the three Cadillac V-Series.R entries race fulltime in IMSA, but the third moonlighted at the Rolex 24 At Daytona (shared by Earl Bamber, Richard Westbrook and Alex Lynn) as Cadillac has prioritized a “one team” approach for its return to Le Mans for the first time in more than 20 years. There are two Chip Ganassi Racing-prepared cars, although its IMSA chassis has been shipped to France following a heavy accident for its primary FIA WEC chassis at Spa-Francorchamps. IMSA regulars Renger van der Zande and Sebastien Bourdais, fresh off their win at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, share the No. 3 Cadillac with six-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon. Bourdais has a class win at Le Mans (2016, GTE PRO, Ford GT) but an overall second place in 2011 with Peugeot still stings.
- Action Express Racing: Multi-time IMSA champion Action Express Racing makes its long overdue Le Mans debut with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring-winning trio of Pipo Derani, Alexander Sims and Jack Aitken sharing the No. 311 Whelen Engineering Cadillac. “Going to Le Mans with a team I’m 100 percent working with – for the first time in probably five or six years – is a positive thing,” Derani said.
- Porsche Penske Motorsport: While the team has its two FIA WEC-entered cars (Nos. 5 and 6), the No. 75 Porsche 963 is one of its IMSA entries and features the trio of Nick Tandy, Mathieu Jaminet and Felipe Nasr. “It’s great to be going back and with no pressure of running for WEC points our side, so it’s exciting times,” said Tandy, who won Le Mans overall for Porsche in 2015 in a similar dynamic with an emerging GT-turned-prototype driver like Jaminet (Bamber) and ex-F1 driver like Nasr (Nico Hulkenberg). The No. 6 Porsche lineup includes Laurens Vanthoor, the 2019 WeatherTech Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) champion who’s driving for Pfaff Motorsports this year in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events.
Extensive coverage of the NASCAR Garage 56 entry is expected as Jimmie Johnson, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller share the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
The IMSA involvement extends further as IMSA President John Doonan is the program’s project leader, and Corvette Racing’s Jordan Taylor has served as a driver coach. (Photo credit: Hendrick Motorsports)
Le Mans Prototype 2
A handful of key IMSA drivers are present in the 24-car class, which all run identical ORECA 07-Gibson chassis:
- Tower Motorsports: Bronze-rated John Farano won the Jim Trueman Award in 2022, earning a spot at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2023. Following an accident at Laguna Seca last month, Farano has stepped aside from driving in the twice-around-the-clock challenge and will be replaced by 2022 Le Mans Pro-Am champion Steven Thomas. Thomas has two rapid co-drivers in Ricky Taylor and Rene Rast, and they’ll look to make the No. 13 car a lucky number this June.
- United Autosports: Here’s a fun one. WeatherTech Championship Acura GTP drivers Filipe Albuquerque (No. 22) and Tom Blomqvist (No. 23) race for the same team, but in different cars, at Le Mans. Oliver Jarvis and IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup driver Josh Pierson share the No. 23 car with Blomqvist. Jarvis and Blomqvist co-drove to the 2022 WeatherTech Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi) title.
- Jota: Pietro Fittipaldi ran the first two WeatherTech Championship races for Rick Ware Racing this year and shares the No. 28 Jota entry here.
- Inter Europol: MDK Motorsports, regulars in the Porsche Deluxe Carrera Cup North America, has two of its drivers in the No. 32 car in Mark Kvamme and Jan Magnussen.
- Graff Racing: Francois Heriau and Giedo van der Garde (TDS Racing LMP2) and Patrick Pilet (Pfaff Motorsports GTD PRO) are three IMSA full-timers in the No. 39 Graff car.
- Team WRT: Louis Deletraz, who splits his IMSA time between Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport and Tower Motorsports, shares the No. 41 car.
- Algarve Pro Racing: CrowdStrike Racing by APR’s George Kurtz and Meyer Shank Racing’s Colin Braun are in this entry, the No. 45 car.
- Cool Racing: Meyer Shank’s Simon Pagenaud, a two-time Rolex 24 winner, is in the No. 47 car.
- IDEC Sport: PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ Paul-Loup Chatin is in the No. 48 car.
- Panis Racing: JDC-Miller MotorSports’ Tijmen van der Helm is in the No. 65 car.
- AF Corse: Vasser Sullivan/Lexus driver Ben Barnicoat is in the No. 80 car.
The only GT class at this year’s Le Mans has a lot of familiar IMSA faces.
- Proton Competition: A 1st Phorm No. 16 Porsche 911 RSR-19 feels right to see, shared by Ryan Hardwick (who earned an invite by winning the 2022 Bob Akin Award), Zacharie Robichon and Jan Heylen. The team’s No. 88 entry features Harry Tincknell with Inception Racing’s pair of Brendan Iribe and Ollie Millroy. (Photo credit: Porsche Motorsport)
- Corvette Racing: The 25-year program continues with IMSA regulars Ben Keating and Nicky Catsburg (fresh off a Nurburgring 24 Hours win) and 2023 Rolex 24 At Daytona LMP3 winner Nico Varrone in the No. 33 Corvette C8.R. “Clearly we have a good team of drivers and a great team of engineers and pit crew at Corvette Racing. We have all the pieces of the puzzle to do well at Le Mans,” Keating said. (Photo credit for main image at top: Richard Prince for Corvette Racing)
- The Heart of Racing Team … sort of: Most of The Heart of Racing is represented but split within two cars, and neither with The Heart of Racing name. Marco Sorensen shares the No. 55 GMB Aston Martin Vantage AMR, while Ian James, Alex Riberas and Daniel Mancinelli are in The Heart of Racing-run, but Northwest AMR-entered, No. 98 Aston Martin.
- Project 1-AO: PJ Hyett is set to share the No. 56 Porsche 911 RSR-19 with Gunnar Jeannette and Matteo Cairoli, adorned in the fan favorite “Rexy” dinosaur livery that has appeared throughout the IMSA season.
- Kessel Racing: TDS Racing LMP2 endurance driver Scott Huffaker is one of three in the No. 57 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO, along with Ferrari GT ace Daniel Serra.
- Dempsey-Proton Racing: Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer are two IMSA regulars, Ried by way of running the Proton team and Andlauer as one of the drivers of the WeatherTech No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 in IMSA. This car is the traditional Dempsey-Proton No. 77 Porsche 911 RSR-19.
- Walkenhorst Motorsport: Chandler Hull has an Asian Le Mans title already this year, and the Turner Motorsport driver makes his Le Mans debut in this team’s No. 100 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO he shares with former Le Mans winner Jeff Segal and Andrew Haryanto.