Some Champs Decided, Others Going to the Wire
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship celebrated its return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway with an action-packed TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks. Said action began in the first turn on the opening lap and continued throughout Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute race, including a couple of class winners determined with the checkered flag in sight. The results decided a few class championships and set up a dramatic conclusion to the 2023 season at the Motul Petit Le Mans for the Grand Touring Prototypes (GTP).
We Are the Champions
Cue Freddie Mercury and Queen! Paul Miller Racing, Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow clinched the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) team and driver titles – and helped BMW all but wrap up manufacturer honors – with yet another podium finish, their seventh on a season that’s seen them take five class wins.
Gar and Max. What do Gar Robinson and Max Verstappen have in common? They both learned just how hard it is to run the proverbial table over the course of a full season. Just as Verstappen’s Formula One winning streak came to an abrupt end in Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, so did Robinson’s bid for a clean sweep of the WeatherTech Championship’s points-counting Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) schedule fall one place short at Indianapolis. The No. 74 Riley Ligier JS P320 came home second behind the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08. Nevertheless, Robinson (who has teamed with Felipe Fraga and/or Josh Burdon throughout the season), essentially clinched the title and needs only to start the season finale to seal his second LMP3 championship in three seasons.
British Invasion in GTD PRO. Like Robinson in LMP3, all that separates Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat and the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 from the GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) title is taking the green flag at Motul Petit Le Mans. They’ve been nothing short of sensationally consistent this season, finishing on the podium in nine of 10 races, including a pair of wins. Seems fitting that a pair of English drivers are about to be crowned.
Although it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere on terra firma, the same can’t be said for a full moon. Thus, we’ll have to look elsewhere to attempt to explain what, at least to these eyes, was a remarkably contentious sports car race. The carnage began in the first corner when the No. 01 Cadillac Racing and the No. 24 BMW GTPs got together and continued at a sometimes-frantic pace.
Examples? Indeed, the battle for the GTD win was finally settled when the No. 57 Mercedes nudged the No. 78 Lamborghini in what, at least in Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG driver Philip Ellis’ opinion, was a case of tit-for-tat after an earlier coming together saw Loris Spinelli in the Forte Racing Powered by USRT Lambo move ahead of the Mercedes.
Apart from the obvious fact that lots of “alpha” race car drivers were battling to be leaders of their particular packs (i.e., classes), it’s hard to explain. Certainly, Turn 1 on the IMS road course invites bold (not to say desperate) overtaking maneuvers given that two, three and even four cars can run side-by-side before braking and funneling into a narrower, one-line, right-hand corner immediately followed by a left-hander.
And while there is less bottleneck in the approach to the other obvious overtaking spot, Turn 7, the race saw plenty of “action” on the remaining turns and straightaways. In the end, the action likely stemmed from 48 cars in five classes, doing battle on a 2.439-mile road course … and suggests that when the WeatherTech Championship returns to IMS for a six-hour enduro next year, the operative word will be “endurance.”
The 1-2 finish for the Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963s on the Roger Penske-owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway could hardly have been better scripted. Penske drivers were in control of the race virtually from start to finish, leading nearly 75 percent of the 113 laps. The operative word there is “virtually,” as Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac V-Series.R pulled a march on the two Penskes by sprinting ahead of them as the field was resetting under a full-course yellow on Lap 36.
Turns out someone at Action Express Racing had gotten up pretty early on Sunday morning and committed every paragraph of the IMSA rulebook to memory, or at least the one that states that cars may overtake cars in front of them that do not react in a timely fashion when Race Control calls for a class split.
So, when the two Penskes lollygagged behind the safety car during the class split, Derani made the two easiest overtakes of his career to grab the lead of the race. It wasn’t destined to last, as the speed of the Penske Porsches proved too much for Derani and the Cadillac. But it isn’t every day that a competitor gets the dibs on one of Roger Penske’s teams when it comes to the fine print.
And it sets up an incredible GTP championship battle for the finale next month at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, where five cars are realistically still in the hunt.