A Busy Summer Stretch Kicks in This Week at Watkins Glen International
By Tony DiZinno
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Per usual following the 24 Hours of Le Mans break, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship kicks into high gear from late June into the summer stretch of races. After four race weekends in five months where the five classes have raced for points anywhere from one to four times, there’s now a run of five weekends in the next two months, through the end of August.
Here’s a look at the season so far by class, points and where things sit before this run from Watkins Glen International this week onto Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Lime Rock Park, Road America and VIRginia International Raceway in July and August.
GRAND TOURING PROTOTYPE (GTP)
As advertised, the new GTP class has delivered with four winners from four races from three of the participating four manufacturers, running their new LMDh-specification vehicles.
Meyer Shank Racing kicked off the proceedings capturing the Rolex 24 At Daytona in a dominant 1-2 finish for the new Acura ARX-06. Chaos reigned two months later in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring when a three-car incident among Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport (Acura) and Porsche Penske Motorsport inside the final 20 minutes opened the door for the Action Express Racing-prepared Whelen Engineering Cadillac Racing V-Series.R to claim the victory.
The first two sprint races in California also produced some fascinating outcomes. A no-tire-change pit stop helped propel Porsche Penske Motorsport to the first global win for the new Porsche 963 in the 100-minute Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. And on the final run on the old surface at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, the Chip Ganassi Racing-prepared Cadillac overcame a run of bad luck to start the year to win.
What’s that done for the championship? Seven of the eight full-season GTP entries have a podium finish. The Mathieu Jaminet/Nick Tandy-crewed No. 6 Penske Porsche leads with three podiums from four starts and enters Watkins Glen with a 25-point lead on the No. 31 AXR pair of Alexander Sims and Pipo Derani.
Although they haven’t won, the No. 10 WTRAndretti Acura crew of Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor are third, 66 back, with the No. 01 Ganassi duo of Renger van der Zande and Sebastien Bourdais fourth, 72 back. In fifth, BMW M Team RLL has a pair of podiums with its No. 25 BMW M Hybrid V8 driven by Connor De Philippi and Nick Yelloly. A 200-point penalty levied to the MSR crew post-Rolex 24 for a significant technical infringement has dropped the full-season pair of Tom Blomqvist and Colin Braun to last among full-time entries, nearly 300 points in arrears.
LE MANS PROTOTYPE 2 (LMP2)
LMP2 has raced three times this season, twice for championship points with the Rolex 24 serving the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup only. That opener was a thriller, with James Allen’s No. 55 Proton Competition ORECA 07 edging the similar ORECA driven by Ben Hanley, in the No. 04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR car, by just 0.016 seconds.
In the subsequent races, the No. 8 Tower Motorsports ORECA won in Sebring and the No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA got on the board in Monterey with Steven Thomas and Mikkel Jensen winning. That pairing leads the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports duo of Ben Keating and Paul-Loup Chatin by 63 points, with Tower’s John Farano third (101 back) and Hanley and George Kurtz fourth (107 back).
LE MANS PROTOTYPE 3 (LMP3)
Similar to LMP2, LMP3 has raced limited times this year, only twice with the Rolex 24 counting only for the Michelin Endurance Cup.
AWA took the Rolex 24 win, while in the first and thus far only points race – over three months ago – the Riley Motorsports trio of Felipe Fraga, Gar Robinson and Josh Burdon won at Sebring. The points, then, mirror the Sebring result.
GT DAYTONA PRO (GTD PRO)
It’s not been the usual championship contenders of Corvette Racing and the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche atop GTD PRO through the opening four rounds. Instead, the Vasser Sullivan Lexus and WeatherTech Racing (Proton Competition-run) Mercedes-AMG cars have leapt to the forefront.
Ben Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth are riding a wave of momentum with four podiums in as many races to start the year, third at the Rolex 24 followed by second at Sebring, a win at Long Beach and a second in Monterey to lead the standings by 41 points in their No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3.
Hot on their heels is the WeatherTech Racing pair of Daniel Juncadella and Jules Gounon, who have wins at the Rolex 24 and WeatherTech Raceway in their No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3. Their one non-podium result has put them just behind the Lexus.
The Pfaff “plaid Porsche” won Sebring with a bit of luck on fuel saving and the Corvette has a pair of podiums, but both are slightly adrift in the title fight. The Heart of Racing Team, a multi-time winner last year, has had a slow start to 2023 and hopes to return their Aston Martin Vantage GT3 to victory lane at Watkins Glen where they stood atop the podium in 2022.
GT DAYTONA (GTD)
A strong start for Paul Miller Racing has propelled the multi-time IMSA champion into the GTD lead through the first four races. Back-to-back wins at Sebring and Long Beach match the car number of the No. 1 BMW M4 GT3, and Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow will look to hold onto that spot in the points the rest of the year. They’re up 62 points through four races.
Inception Racing’s McLaren pair of Brendan Iribe and Frederik Schandorff are second, with a best finish of third at the Rolex 24. Last year’s GTD champion Roman De Angelis, now paired with Marco Sorensen, is third in the Heart of Racing Aston Martin and won the class at the Rolex 24. Also within striking distance are Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo in the Vasser Sullivan Lexus and Patrick Gallagher and Robby Foley in the lone full-season GTD Turner Motorsport BMW; Turner’s second car is running the GTD PRO class in Michelin Endurance Cup races.
IMSA MICHELIN ENDURANCE CUP
The No. 31 Cadillac (24), No. 10 Acura (22) and No. 01 Cadillac (21) are separated by three points heading into the third IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup round of the season this week at The Glen, with Cadillac holding a two-point edge among manufacturers (31-29) in GTP.
Three points separate the top five entries in LMP2, led by the No. 11 TDS ORECA, while Sean Creech’s No. 33 Ligier JS P320 holds a three-point lead in LMP3.
The No. 79 Mercedes-AMG holds a four-point edge over the No. 3 Corvette in GTD PRO – a number reflected in the manufacturer standings as well. In GTD, the Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin leads the Team Korthoff Mercedes-AMG by three points (drivers and team) and Aston Martin leads Mercedes-AMG by two points (manufacturers).
WeatherTech Championship on-track action at Watkins Glen International begins Friday afternoon and qualifying is set for Saturday at 1:20 p.m. ET (available to watch in the U.S. and internationally at IMSA.com). The green flag drops on the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at 10:40 a.m. Sunday and USA picks up coverage from 2-5 p.m.