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IMSA at 24 Hours of Le Mans: Bronze Battles to Watch

Trueman, Akin Award Winners among Several Bronze-Rated Drivers Set for Iconic Race

By Tony DiZinno


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s an Olympic year, this year in Paris, so the words “Gold, Silver and Bronze” will be used with greater regularity and frequency than just beyond the realm of driver ratings in the sports car racing paddock.


In sports car racing, there’s an Olympic-worthy event held annually in France. The 24 Hours of Le Mans serves as one of the most iconic endurance sports car classics worldwide, and it often features a bevy of FIA-rated Bronze drivers seeking their place on the podium overlooking thousands of onlookers post-race.


The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) vary slightly about which classes mandate Bronze-rated drivers, but both strongly encourage and welcome their participation.


IMSA’s rewarding of the top season-long Bronze-rated driver in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) and Grand Touring Daytona (GTD), respectively, provide automatic invites for those drivers to Le Mans for the following year by way of the Jim Trueman Award and Bob Akin Bronze Cup.


Kurtz, Iribe Earn Trueman, Akin Honors


Both the Trueman and Akin honors in 2023 were hotly contested down to the final laps of Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. George Kurtz (LMP2) prevailed for the Trueman Award in a tight three-driver fight against Ben Keating and Steven Thomas in the class that requires a Bronze-rated driver. There is no Bronze-rated mandate in GTD but still several present; Brendan Iribe defeated Alan Brynjolfsson by just 20 points for the Akin Award.


Kurtz is now set for his second Le Mans start. The driver of the No. 04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA 07 in IMSA will run for the same team at Le Mans, renumbered as No. 45, with longtime co-driver Colin Braun and Corvette Racing’s Nicky Catsburg.


All three drivers have Le Mans wins to defend; Kurtz and Braun won the LMP2 Pro-Am subclass last year with James Allen, while Catsburg captured the final GTE-Am class win co-driving with Keating and Nico Varrone.


“I’m very happy for Nicky to join Colin and me for our Le Mans lineup,” Kurtz said. “Together, we will bring a team powered by strength, experience and a tradition of winning to the CrowdStrike Racing by APR LMP2 entry.


“Nicky’s record speaks for itself with a win at Le Mans and some of the biggest races in the world. His experience and talent will be valuable as we go for a second straight Pro-Am victory at Le Mans.”


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Iribe returns to Le Mans for his third start, and first since 2022, under the Optimum Motorsport-run and Inception Racing-entered banner. Unlike his first two starts in a Ferrari and Porsche, respectively, the WEC’s class shift to GT3 regulations means Iribe can run the same McLaren 720S GT3 he does in IMSA, albeit slightly modified to fit WEC rules. He’ll share the No. 70 car with his full-season IMSA co-driver Frederik Schandorff and third driver Ollie Millroy, who shared the car in Iribe’s two previous Le Mans starts.


“We’ve already participated with Brendan and Ollie at Le Mans twice,” said Bas Leinders, Inception Racing sporting director and team manager. “Once in a Ferrari and the other in a Porsche – but our dream is to compete and win Le Mans in a McLaren. It’s a long and difficult race, there’s also many fierce competitors so everything needs to be right.”


Other Notable IMSA Bronzes Competing


Kurtz and Iribe secured the IMSA automatic invites for Bronze-rated drivers at Le Mans, but they aren’t the only ones who’ll be racing.


Keating is back for his 10th straight Le Mans and looks to repeat as a winner, but against Kurtz as he shifts back to LMP2 for the first time since 2017. He’s coming off consecutive class wins in GTE Am in a TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GTE in 2022, then the Corvette C8.R win in 2023 in that class’ swansong. He’ll share the No. 23 United Autosports USA ORECA 07 with Filipe Albuquerque and Ben Hanley this time.


“The Pro-Am field in LMP2 is looking very strong, with a lot of winners taking the wheel,” Keating said. “This is really fun for me. I can’t wait to tackle this challenge with United Autosports, Filipe and Ben. We all have a lot of experience and that makes a big difference in this race.”


The fan favorite AO Racing team returns to Le Mans in the No. 14 AO by TF ORECA 07 LMP2 entry, with AO team owner and driver PJ Hyett sharing “Spike” the LMP2 dragon with Louis Deletraz and Alex Quinn. Last year, Hyett was in the team’s “Rexy” dinosaur Porsche for the race’s centennial.


“Rexy racing at Le Mans for the 100th anniversary was an incredible experience, but we have some unfinished business at the Circuit de la Sarthe,” Hyett said. “We’re coming back this year with Spike, our LMP2 dragon, to delight fans on the way to the top spot! Allons-y (Let’s go)!”


Unlike LMP2, LMGT3 at Le Mans requires a Bronze-rated driver in each car. There aren’t necessarily the same number of full-season Bronze-rated drivers in IMSA competing in this class, but there are some familiar names to regular IMSA observers.


Beyond Iribe, Ian James (No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3), Ryan Hardwick (No. 77 Proton Competition Ford Mustang GT3) and Sarah Bovy (No. 85 Iron Dames Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2) are the three drivers most likely to ring a bell.