Several WeatherTech Championship Entrants Are Moving to the LMP2 or GTD Class in 2024
By Mark Robinson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Change is a normal occurrence for many drivers and teams from one racing season to the next. For a select number, however, this offseason between IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship campaigns features more adjustments than normal.
With the three-year run of Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) coming to an end as a WeatherTech Championship class, several teams have opted to shift into other classes for the 2024 season. The Riley and Sean Creech Motorsport teams are staying in prototypes, moving to Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) programs. Andretti Motorsports and AWA, meanwhile, are launching full-season efforts in the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class.
It’s made for what is already a busy offseason even more hectic as those teams acquire and learn the nuances of new equipment, hoping to keep pace with established teams in those classes. The drivers involved are eager to take on that challenge.
“It’s all really exciting and all really cool to be a part of IMSA when it’s growing as much as it is,” said Jarett Andretti, the driving force behind the Andretti Motorsports GTD program.
“It’s going to be a challenge and it’s a little risky for sure,” added Joao Barbosa, the decorated veteran driver for Sean Creech as it moves from LMP3 to LMP2, “but I think (co-driver) Lance Willsey, Sean Creech and all the team are doing the best we can to get this project as far forward as possible. We’re definitely eager to start running and get on track with everybody else and see where we measure up.”
On paper, the challenge for Barbosa, Willsey and the Sean Creech crew may be the steepest. Not only are they changing classes, the team decided to go with the Ligier JS P217 chassis in a class that’s exclusively run the ORECA LMP2 07 chassis to this point.
“Nobody has really raced a Ligier for the last four or five years (in LMP2), so it’s a big challenge from the team perspective,” Barbosa admitted, citing the team’s allegiance to Ligier from the LMP3 program as the reason for the LMP2 constructor choice.
“It’s a big challenge from Ligier to not to have done development over the last four or five years like the ORECAs have. Everybody’s running ORECAs and they have a lot of data, they know what to look for. Everything is going to be new for us, but with the support of Sean Creech – which they have a tremendous crew behind it – (and) a lot of support from Ligier on the engineering side, I think we’re going to be up for the challenge. It’s definitely not going to be easy, it’s going to be a lot of work, but I think we can surprise a few people.”
Barbosa, the 25-time IMSA race winner and two-time Prototype class champion (2014 and ’15), is embracing the challenge because it harkens back to other developmental projects he’s helped push forward.
“I was involved in the beginning with the Daytona Prototypes when they had a big change compared to the initial Prototypes,” he said. “Then I was there in the beginning of the (Daytona Prototype international) Cadillacs for the first few laps on track and helping develop the car, so it’s definitely really exciting to go back to that kind of blank sheet and start from almost scratch.”
While Barbosa and Willsey tested their Ligier LMP2 last week at Sebring International Raceway, two-time LMP3 champion Gar Robinson is still awaiting his first LMP2 experience in the Riley ORECA. Co-driver Josh Burdon completed a recent shakedown for Riley while Robinson was busy racing in other series. Until he gets on track with the LMP2 after Thanksgiving, Robinson is relying on “word of mouth” reports about the car.
“I’m sure there’ll be some new challenges and stuff for me, but you don’t get better by racing stuff that you know or racing stuff that you’ve run before,” Robinson said. “You get better from racing competition that’s better than you, so I’m really interested to learn the challenges or to embrace the challenges and make myself better as a driver, and I’m sure my teammates will help me along the way.
“There’ll be some adjustments but I don’t see them being anything that we won’t be able to overcome and excel at.”
The transition to a different class might be smoothest for Andretti Motorsports at first glance since the team competed in three GTD events this year on top of four LMP3 races. But those GTD appearances were in an Aston Martin Vantage GT3. Jarett Andretti and co-driver Gabby Chaves will operate a Porsche 911 GT3 R in 2024.
“I think that LMP3 class was a great class for us to get started in WeatherTech and do some prototype racing,” Andretti said. “It was really fun and I hate to see the cars go, but I understand where IMSA’s at and what they’re doing, and it’s amazing what they’ve done with the grid. We’re excited to get to that new challenge with GTD for the full season.
“I think even the stuff I did before I went sports car racing – I raced sprint cars on dirt and having run cars with more power that are heavier – it’s actually more kind of what I’ve grown up doing. Just GT cars in general and then obviously I spent two years in a GT4 car, I think a GT car probably suits my skill set better than a prototype.”
The 2024 WeatherTech Championship features four classes – LMP2, GTD, Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) and GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO). The season opens Jan. 27-28 with the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
(Photos: Sean Creech Motorsport; Car No. 43 Image: Andretti Motorsports)