Porsche has announced that it will reunite with legendary American outfit Team Penske for its forthcoming LMDh programme, which will see its new car compete in the FIA WEC and IMSA Sports Car Championship seasons full-time from 2023 onwards. By entering the FIA WEC as a full-season entrant Porsche is also guaranteed entries for the Le Mans 24 Hours, where it will be able to fight for its 20th overall victory.
For this ambitious programme, the first in Porsche history to span two major sportscar championships with a single operation, Penske will work together with the experts from Weissach to run the factory entries in both championships under the name of Porsche Penske Motorsport.
In both series Penske will field two LMDh prototypes, and compete against other major manufacturers and privateer teams. The car will weigh approximately 1,000 kilograms and be based on an LMP2 chassis (which Travel Destinations believes will be the Multimatic chassis that is the base for the Mazda DPi), powered by a 500 kW (680 PS) hybrid drivetrain.
This is a multi-year deal and sees the two entities reunite for the first time since the Porsche RS Spyder American Le Mans Series programme came to an end in 2008. The prototypes will also be entered by Porsche customer teams in both championships as early as 2023.
“We are delighted that we were able to get Team Penske to form this partnership,” says Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG. “For the first time in the history of Porsche Motorsport, our company will have a global team competing in the world’s two largest endurance series. To this end, we will be setting up team bases on both sides of the Atlantic. This will enable us to create the optimal structures we will need to take overall victories at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring, for example.”
“As of 2023, Porsche will compete in the major endurance racing series. Our intention is to support and shape the new era with our LMDh prototypes,” Dr. Michael Steiner, Board Member for Research and Development, emphasizes.
“Not only will we be keeping our fingers crossed for the four factory cars we have in total, but also for our customer teams. The new LMDh vehicle will also be entered as a customer car in both series as early as the 2023 season. These partner teams will be given our full support. Whatever insights we gain from our factory effort will also be shared with them.”
“This is a proud day for our entire Penske organization. We have represented Porsche on the track or in our businesses for more than six decades. The heritage and success we have enjoyed together is unparalleled throughout our history,” adds Roger Penske. “I can’t wait to get started as we build a global racing program with Porsche that will compete for wins and championships well into the future.”
Porsche Motorsport will be operating a team base in the USA together with Team Penske at the American team’s headquarters in Mooresville in the State of North Carolina.
Penske has been no stranger to top-class sportscar racing in recent years. This news comes in the wake of Acura ending its relationship with the US team for its DPi programme in IMSA at the end of the 2020 season.
Penske ran Acura’s DPi effort in the USA between 2018-20 with an exclusive deal that prevented customer teams from running the chassis. During that time Penske won multiple races and the drivers’, teams’ and manufacturers’ titles in 2019 and 2020.
This season Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing have taken over from Penske and are currently campaigning an ARX-05 apiece in IMSA. Both teams will surely hope to compete against Penske again from 2023 onwards as part of Acura’s forthcoming LMDh programme in IMSA.
Porsche meanwhile, has focused on its GT racing efforts globally since withdrawing from LMP1 competition at the end of 2017. Its 2023 LMDh effort will mark the return of the fabled German marque to the top of sportscar racing after a six-year hiatus.
Audi has revealed that its LMDh programme will make its competitive debut at the 2023 running of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, firing the starting gun for the group of marques all planning to compete in the top category of IMSA and the FIA WEC with brand new LMDh chassis.
The Rolex 24 in January 2023 will mark Audi’s first race as a factory in top-class competition since the end of the 2016 FIA WEC season at Bahrain when its LMP1 hybrid effort came to and end. Audi says its new LMDh (hybrid-powered, LMP2-based prototype featuring bespoke styling cues) will act as the successor to the hugely successful Audi R18 LMP1 which scored wins at Le Mans in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 as both a diesel and hybrid-powered prototype. It is being developed alongside Audi’s SUV that it will compete with in Dakar.
“The new LMDh category fits perfectly with our new set-up in motorsport,” says Julius Seebach, Managing Director Audi Sport GmbH and responsible for Motorsport at Audi. “The regulations allow us to field fascinating race cars in prestigious races worldwide. In addition, we are making use of synergies inside the Volkswagen Group with our partner strategy.”
Audi’s new car is being developed in partnership with sister VAG brand Porsche, which is also set to compete in LMDh. This is almost certainly a strategy which will cut the cost of VAG running two parallel programmes in the same formula. Costs spiralled out of control during the latter years of Audi and Porsche’s LMP1 Hybrid programmes (2014-2016) where both companies were both spending colossal amounts of money to compete against one another.
“A great strengh of the Volkswagen Group is the collaboration of the brands in the development of road cars,” says Seebach. “We are now transferring this proven model to motorsport. Nevertheless, the new sports prototype will be just as much a genuine Audi as the Audi RS e-tron GT that was launched recently and has also been developed on a platform shared with Porsche.”
Audi has selected a chassis supplier for its LMDh, which is rumoured to be the Multimatic LMP2 (the current Multimatic forms the base for Mazda’s DPi chassis), and decided on the concept for its engine.
Andreas Roos, the head of Audi factor motorsport said the “goal is for the first prototype to be on its wheels early next year and to complete its roll-out in the first quarter.” This will be followed by a full test programme ahead of the car’s race debut at Daytona in January 2023.
In addition Audi says it is working on supplying customer LMDh cars in addition to fielding factory entries, with multiple teams already displaying interest.
“With the LMDh project, we are continuing the philosophy of our early years in sports prototypes,” says Andreas Roos. “The Audi R8 was not only the most successful prototype of its time from 2000 to 2006, with 63 victories in 80 races, but it was also very successful in the hands of our customers and easy for the teams to handle. This is also the premise with the electrification of our new sports prototype.
“Our goal is to also put the car in the hands of professional customer teams right from the start, in parallel to factory entries. We are currently evaluating internally how this will work in detail.”
Audi is one of a number of manufacturers signed up to the ACO-IMSA convergence formula, which will see LMDh chassis and Le Mans Hypercars compete together for overall wins in the FIA WEC and at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Using the same cars, LMDh manufacturers are also able to compete in the USA as part of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship field. (No decision has been made yet on whether or not Hypercars will be eligible to race in IMSA.)
Currently, Porsche and Acura are set to compete in LMDh alongside Audi, with Ferrari, Peugeot, Toyota and Glickenhause all signed up to compete with Le Mans Hypercars. Travel Destinations understands via IMSA paddock sources that at least one more LMDh manufacturer is expected to sign up in the coming weeks and months.
The ‘Super Sebring’ IMSA-FIA WEC double-header event at Sebring International Raceway is set to return! The hugely popular double-bill which debuted in 2019 and featured the 12 Hours of Sebring and a 1000-mile FIA WEC race on the same weekend, was shelved last year due to the pandemic, but is now officially scheduled for next March (17-19).
Wayne Estes, Sebring International Raceway’s President and General Manager, confirmed the intention to run the bumper event in 2022 in a note to fans and stakeholders last weekend.
“Now that the 2021 edition of the Sebring 12 Hours is over, the cleanup is nearly complete, and car clubs are back on the circuit, the team that presents this great event is reviewing those things that must be addressed before the 70th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the return of the WEC 1000 Miles of Sebring and a return to a post-pandemic open paddock,” he said.
“We believe that the world will be restored a year from now, that fences and gates used to meet CDC protocols will be gone, that grid walks and party zones will be back.
“After the performance of the teams this year, a 70th anniversary to celebrate, WEC’s new Hypercars adding to the 1000 Miles race, we expect demand to be at an all-time high.
“As the world gets control of itself again and bids farewell to the current health crisis, we see a very bright future for sportscar racing and for Sebring International Raceway. The WEC is rolling out new Hypercars over the next two years, and IMSA’s LMDh cars are not far behind.”
2022’s Super Sebring is sure to be a huge event for sportscar racing, with celebrations surrounding the 70th anniversary of the 12 Hours and the return of the FIA WEC to the USA. In IMSA it will be the final race at Sebring for the DPi class and the first for GTD Pro, while in the FIA WEC all eyes will be on Peugeot Sport, which is set to debut its brand new Le Mans Hypercar at the start of the 2022 season and take the fight to Toyota, Glickenhaus and Alpine.
If you want to be on-hand to soak up the atmosphere and experience ‘Super Sebring’ first hand next year, then call Travel Destinations today on 01707 329988 or email firstname.lastname@example.org find out more information and make a booking.
While normally my Travel Destinations Debrief columns feature lots of sections covering various topics after major sportscar races, the 2021 Sebring edition is going to focus on one subject: the Cadillac DPi. Why? Because it deserves our attention and respect after yet another huge IMSA endurance victory last weekend at the hands of JDC Miller Motorsport.
Cadillac’s future beyond the 2022 season in IMSA is currently an unknown. LMDh is coming and as it stands the GM brand has yet to commit going forward. In fact, due to the company’s reluctance to buy-in to a hybrid-powered future in motorsport, many industry observers believe Cadillac may well exit IMSA after 2022, making way for another marque in GM’s stable to compete in the LMDh category.
Should Cadillac depart IMSA, then it will leave a hole, after years of dominance in the championship’s headline events. The Caddy has been almost unbeatable in the major races since DPi began in 2017, winning the Rolex 24 and Sebring 12 Hours four times and Petit Le Mans twice. In fact it was such a fast and reliable prospect from Day 1 that IMSA forced Cadillac to change its engine for the second year of DPi to help balance the field…
However, after Wayne Taylor Racing stormed to victory at Daytona back in January this year, handing Acura its first Rolex 24 victory with the ARX-05, one could make the inference that Cadillac’s days as the top dog in IMSA were coming to an end. Not only had it lost its most decorated team (WTR) to its rival marque Acura as a replacement for the Penske effort, but it won at Daytona on its debut. It was no doubt a big blow.
Last weekend though, Cadillac showed once again that it can still win big races, as JDC Miller Motorsport stepped up to the plate this time to add another memorable victory to the DPi V.R’s tally. Acura may have taken the spoils at Rolex, but the Cadillac contingent clearly won’t be going down without a fight this season.
Until the Cadillac DPi is fully retired from racing, I fear many won’t appreciate how remarkable the car is. This is in part because it hasn’t had the chance to stretch its legs and prove its worth at Le Mans – which is a real shame.
For a time, there were rumours that DPi would be accepted into the Le Mans 24 Hours in its own class, or as part of a converged class with the WEC’s cars, with BoP governing the performance levels. But that idea never came to fruition; instead, the ACO and IMSA settled on a grander plan to allow both its forthcoming rulesets to compete with each other at Le Mans as part of the FIA WEC allowing LMDh cars to compete alongside Le Mans Hypercars from 2023 onwards. For this reason, the Cadillac will be remembered fondly by North America’s sportscar faithful, but not necessarily by the wider fanbase in Europe and Asia.
We shouldn’t forget how surprising the DPi V.R’s story is. The car is based on Dallara’s P217 chassis which in its LMP2 form has been a failure in the marketplace up against the might of ORECA’s 07. Beyond a freak win in the ELMS at Paul Ricard back in 2017 and a mercurial effort from Carlin in the Asian Le Mans Series back in 2019/20, the P217 has struggled almost everywhere it has raced.
The P217 suffers from ‘porpoising’ issues on its front-end, especially at high speed, which unsettles’s the balance of the car and makes it incredibly twitchy and unstable during more technical sections of a circuit. The Dallara is always fast in a straight line, but an ‘edgy’ prospect in medium and fast corners, and even more so in its low-downforce Le Mans configuration.
An attempt was made to rectify the issues when the ACO granted Dallara a ‘joker’ upgrade back in 2018, but the evolutions the Italian company released to customers made little difference. It is has therefore been fascinating to see Cadillac’s version of the P217 perform so well in IMSA.
It’s a tale of what might have been. The DPi V.R is a window on the changes Cadillac and Dallara wanted to make to the front aero of the LMP2 car. Had the Dallara been a more competitive prospect globally, then the entire marketplace – currently dominated by ORECA chassis – could look completely different right now, and certainly more competitive.
The Cadillac DPi V.R didn’t blow its competition away during last weekend’s race at Sebring, it did what it always does: remain consistently quick in every stage of the race. It appeared to be the only one of the three chassis in the class capable of building a lead too.
Sebring though, is never a simple race, and all seven cars in the class led at one point. But Cadillac’s effort never appeared to be faltering, even when its contending cars hit trouble. A heroic effort from Sebastien Bourdais late in the race was needed to seal the deal here, although it didn’t feel like a surprise to see the Mustang-Sampling liveried Cadillac on the top step of the podium.
Heading into Mid-Ohio it’s now one race win apiece for Cadillac and Acura, with Mazda still searching for its maiden win this year. It’s going to be a fascinating battle throughout the season. With competition still so hot in IMSA in 2021, ahould the Cadillac go on to win other major races like the 6 Hours at The Glen and Petit Le Mans later in the season, then the DPi V.R will surely have cemented its place in the pantheon of all-time great prototypes. It’s a car that is worth travelling thousands of miles to see. Trust me when I say that we’re living through a memorable era for sportscars in North America, and you will regret it if you don’t make the effort to see the Cadillac up close…
The 2021 of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona is in the books and it was truly memorable edition, with much to reflect on from each one of the five classes.
In our first debrief column of the year we take a look at the headlines after a thrilling weekend of action to kick off the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season:
Acura’s gamble pays off
Just days after committing to IMSA long-term with an LMDh programme, Acura scored its most significant DPi victory after Wayne Taylor Racing’s stunning performance in the final hour, which saw Filipe Albuquerque cross the line just four seconds ahead of the Ally Cadillac after the challenge from the factory Ganassi DPi V.R faltered due to a late puncture.
There is so much to unpick here.
Wayne Taylor Racing has now won three Rolex 24s in a row, and with two manufacturers. The team is an absolute powerhouse in long endurance races, and appears to be simply unbeatable at Daytona.
“So much went into this,” said Ricky Taylor, (driver, and son of Wayne) who scored the second overall Rolex victory of his career yesterday. “It was definitely a test of trust and a testament to preparation and sticking to a plan. … We skipped all of the offseason testing because the guys needed time to do everything properly. They know how to win this race. I feel like we were all lucky to be a part of it.”
The victory comes after Acura cut ties with Penske, which ran the brand’s factory effort from the inception of the 05 in 2018 until the end of last season. It was an incredibly bold move to step away from an American team which has such a rich heritage, but it appears to have paid off already. While Penske was able to win an IMSA title last season with the ARX-05, and a handful of other races, the jewel in the crown of the IMSA season is the Rolex 24 and Penske just couldn’t quite better the dominant Cadillacs each January.
You know what they say? If you can’t beat them, join them…
Corvette’s GTLM dominance
Despite BMW’s success at Daytona the past two years in GTLM, Corvette scoring a dominant 1-2 didn’t feel like a surprising outcome this time around.
Corvette’s #3 C8.R led the #4 sister car home after leading virtually the entire race. It’s a significant victory for the C8.R, its first in a 24-hour race, which saw its new car come of age with a mature performance.
But the GTLM class didn’t quite feel right. With BMW scaling back its effort to just the endurance races this year, Porsche’s challenge coming from a single WeatherTech entry after withdrawing as a factory and Risi Competizione bringing a single Ferrari to ensure the class reached six cars, it felt like a throwback to the final days of GT1 when Corvette raced itself primarily, and a rotating cast of other outfits.
It’s a real shame to see GTLM fade like this, but sportscar racing is cyclical in nature. IMSA is having to adapt and transition to a new era; change is on the horizon for GT racing in IMSA which looks to revitalise it. And we’ll get to that later in this piece…
Era, Winward and Riley also emerge victorious
In the other categories there was plenty of action too. Era Motorsport scored an impressive LMP2 win up against an competitive field with its crayon (fan-designed) liveried ORECA 07 Gibson.
In GTD, Mercedes claimed its first Rolex 24 class win with Winward Racing, after a hammer-and-tongs battle for the lead in the closing hours with a Spirit of Race Ferrari. Behind, SunEnergy1 made it a 1-2 for the German marque, ending Lamborghini’s reign at the top in the Rolex 24 in emphatic style.
And in LMP3, it was Riley Motorsport that took the honours. LMP3’s Rolex 24 debut as a category was, as expected, somewhat of a race of attrition, with almost every car in the class suffering mechanical issues. It was however, notable that only one retired. As others in the class ran into trouble, the #74 Ligier JSP320 fielded by Riley took control and eased victory. An impressive run from Bill Riley’s merry band.
A look to the future
The opening IMSA race of the season at Daytona is traditionally filled with speculation and announcements regarding the future and this year was no different.
The major news concerns the GT ranks of IMSA. With the increase in popularity for the forthcoming LMDh formula (which will debut in 2023), and the the GTLM category becoming light on numbers, IMSA has decided to drop the GTE-based class and add a GTD pro category for 2022. This will allow factory and private teams alike to field all-pro line-ups and GT3 cars from a wealth of manufacturers.
This has ramifications for the current GTLM teams and manufacturers, particularly for Corvette Racing, which is only in Year 2 of its C8.R programme. Unfortunately the C8.R was not designed to be easily converted to GT3-spec like Aston Martin’s Vantage or Ferrari’s 488 GTE, meaning Chevrolet will need to carry out a major redesign of the car to carry on competing with the C8.R in IMSA after this season is over.
The downsides are that this will bring unexpected cost to the programme, and prevent it competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours with the car it races in IMSA from next year (as GT3 cars are ineligible to race at La Sarthe currently). However, there is a major upside and that is in its potential competition. GT3 is still very much a healthy formula, and factories and privateer teams alike are likely to see the chance to race with an all-pro line-up for the full IMSA season with existing cars, at a budget significantly lower than in GTLM, as a tantalising prospect.
Beyond the GT news, there’s been plenty of speculation surrounding LMDh, as you would expect. With Audi, Porsche and Acura all signed up, the focus has shifted to the other marques that appear poised to join the top class in two years time. Travel Destinations understands that Ford, BMW, McLaren, Mazda, Hyundai and an un-disclosed GM brand are all expected to make a decision either way (at the very least internally) very soon.
The 2020 IMSA season came to a close last weekend at Sebring and there is so much to talk about. With the start of the 2021 season fast approaching, the cars will be hitting the track at Daytona for the Rolex 24 Hours before we know it.
With that in mind, and so much news and speculation to digest from the past few months, it’s a good time to look back on an extraordinary year in 2020. The challenge of completing a season amid new rules and restrictions was mammoth and we should not forget the effort of IMSA’s team behind the scenes to ensure that the fans, teams and drivers could get their racing fix. A round of applause is in order for IMSA President John Doonan and his team.
It’s also time to look look ahead to what promises to be another memorable season in 2021. The off-season will be historically short, with under two months for the teams and drivers until the start of the new campaign in Daytona. But what represents a logistical challenge for the teams, which are frantically preparing for the next season, is a reason for excitement and optimism for fans. The grid is building and the points tables have been reset. Roll on Rolex!
At this point Mazda winning a postponed edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring in November should come as no surprise. If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected, and even just a year ago, the prospect of a Mazda DPi winning the Sebring 12 Hours would have been considered an outside bet.
In practice, the Japanese marque’s triumph at the Sebring 12 Hour last weekend was fitting really, a wild end to a wild year. Mazda has of course, been far more of a challenger in the DPi ranks since its maiden win last summer at Watkins Glen, but success at the headline IMSA endurance races in Florida had always eluded it until now.
It was by no means a dominant win from Harry Tincknell, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jonathan Bomarito, but it was a deserving one. Up front in the top class the Sebring 12 Hours this year was a titanic tussle, a race that no team could get control of and a another reminder that the DPi formula seems always find a way to produce truly memorable endurance races.
Of the eight entrants in the DPi class, all of them led, and the winning trio in the No. 55 was indeed the last to claim the top spot when the sister No. 77 Mazda suffered a puncture and caused a late caution period in the final hour. It is often said that Sebring ‘choses its winners’, and this year that certainly seemed to be the case. Despite the late drama, in the 68th running of the 12 Hours, it chose Mazda instead of Cadillac or Acura.
Porsche’s perfect send off
In the GTLM category Porsche GT Team grabbed the headlines before and after the race in Sebring. Before the event it revealed its striking patriotic ‘thank you’ liveries to mark the end of its tenure in the class as a factory, then on Saturday claimed a 1-2 finish in the race proper – remarkably, on the same day its sister factory team in the FIA WEC run by Manthey claimed a 1-2 finish in GTE Pro in the Bahrain season finale.
The CORE autosport-run crew, in its final outing with the 911 RSR, delivered the goods and produced a very ‘Porsche-like’ performance to overcome challenges from BMW Team RLL and Corvette Racing (the 2020 IMSA GTLM Manufacturers’ Champion). It was a fitting sign-off after a hugely successful run in IMSA’s premier GT class, which saw it claim seven titles in seven years, 21 race wins and 56 podiums.
“I’m incredibly proud of the team. This weekend wasn’t easy for us,” said Steffen Höllwarth, Porsche’s Head of IMSA Operations. “Because of the upcoming farewell, the mood was different than usual, but everyone coped just fine. We weren’t the fastest in the field, but we were the ones who made the least mistakes – and that’s how things like this happen. Suddenly you find yourself at the front. After three straight wins at Sebring, I’d say that this track has become our turf.
“Now it’s time to celebrate!”
Then there were two…
So where does Porsche’s departure leave GTLM, and for that matter, IMSA, going forward?
Porsche will not be present as a factory in IMSA next season, that’s a certainty. However, looking further ahead there is still a good chance that it will return as an LMDh manufacturer once the new regulations debut in either 2022 or 2023. It is currently undergoing a formal evaluation internally, and is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks. Whether or not it would commit to LMDh and compete in IMSA or the FIA WEC (as part of the planned top-class convergence) or both is also a mystery at this point.
As for GTLM as a platform, well it’s not in rude health anymore.
With Porsche gone just BMW and Corvette are left as factories in the GTLM category for next year. Discussions are ongoing behind the scenes to fill the Porsche-shaped hole in the grid for next season, with BNW Motorsport boss Jens Marquardt telling the media back in September that IMSA was doing its best to encourage other manufacturers to join the class. But it will not be easy to build a larger field, especially for the full season.
This is mainly because the pool of potential additions is shallow. Currently Aston Martin and Ferrari (AF Corse) are the only legitimate prospects for a factory effort in IMSA, but neither are likely to mount the challenge. Competing in IMSA is extremely expensive, it’s a long season with four major endurance races and high manufacturer fees that must be paid to enter. Add to that their current commitments to the WEC and on the face of it at least, it appears unlikely that either brand will commit to a full programme.
What’s more likely, is a factory-supported effort from a Ferrari, Porsche or Aston Martin customer team stepping up. Could we see fan favourite Risi Competitzione commit to more races? How about a new programme from Proton Competition, which in the early days of the FIA WEC was Porsche’s only GTE Pro presence?
It will be fascinating to see what happens, as for 2021 at least there will no major changes to the GT class structure to allow GTD cars to compete on a level playing field with GTLMs. Can IMSA President John Doonan pull something off? Let’s hope so.
A new-look for DPi
Maybe the best news du jour is the outlook for DPi next year. With LMDh fast approaching, and much speculation focused on the brands and teams that will commit to that, it’s easy to forget that the DPi era is not yet over. 2021 is certainly going to be a memorable year, as the category has been shaken up ahead of next season.
The biggest change is the departure of Penske from Acura’s DPi effort, the legendary US team rode off into the sunset on a high at Sebring, securing the WeatherTech Championship.
But the title success comes after three somewhat disappointing campaigns with the Acura DPi, in which it failed to win the Rolex 24 or Sebring 12 Hours – the most important and historically significant races on the calendar. This came as a surprise to those expecting Penske to dominate the class, with its ORECA-based chassis. Nevertheless Penske did manage to win plenty of races and add spice to the DPi category. Will Penske return to IMSA soon with new manufacturer? There are rumblings with LMDh around the corner.
Anyway, Acuras will still be on the grid next year, with Michael Shank Racing returning to the top class, and Wayne Taylor Racing moving over from Cadillac’s stable.
WTR’s move, in turn, meant a space needed to be filled in the GM ranks alongside Action Express and JDC Miller’s programmes. And that will be taken up by the return of Ganassi, which achieved the highest of highs in IMSA and the FIA WEC between 2016 and 2019 with the Ford GT in GTLM and GTE Pro respectively. Chip Ganassi does nothing by half measures, so armed with the best DPi chassis of the bunch – the Cadillac DPi V.R, the sky is the limit here. Make no mistake, this is a huge addition to IMSA’s top class.
It also begs the question: what does the future hold for the Ganassi-Cadillac tie up? Is an LMDh programme in the works? Cadillac has been involved in shaping the new regulations, though the move to a mild-hybrid solution was thought to be a sticking point for the brand.
What about Mazda for 2021? Unfortunately it has decided to reduce its effort to a single car. This is a real shame as the programme has truly hit its stride over the past year, and looked capable of winning big races and titles going forward. Prior to March there was even a buzz surrounding a third Mazda for 2021, run by a customer team, but that hasn’t come to fruition. What we don’t know yet though, is whether freeing up resource is all part of a strategy to hit the ground running with a future LMDh effort.
The wait for the first LMDh programme to get the green light continues…
Images courtesy of Corvette Racing, Acura, Mazda and Porsche
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The 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway – the Rolex 24 Hours – has been given a set of dates, the race set to be held over January 30-31, 2021.
The 59th running of America’s premiere endurance race will again see a star-studded field of prototype and GT cars take on the world-famous Daytona banking. And with Travel Destinations, you can make the trip and experience it for yourself.
IMSA’s 2021 campaign is set to be the final one for the hugely successful DPi platform. Acura, Mazda and Cadillac will be on the grid, their teams getting one last shot at a victory in the championship’s most prestigious race before the LMDh era begins in 2022.
In addition to the dates for the race being confirmed, the annual “Roar Before the Rolex 24” preseason test sessions have been released too. Next year the Roar will be held the weekend before race-week, January 22nd – 24th (Friday-Sunday). This gives a rare opportunity for fans to take in an additional three-days of track action, and fan-focused events at the ONE DAYTONA plaza across the road from the speedway, just before race-week begins.
The Rolex 24 has become an unmissable event in the motorsport calendar in recent years, but it is a race with a long history. It was first held as a three-hour event in 1962, then known as the Daytona Continental. It has become renowned for annually attracting many of the world’s finest drivers – from various racing disciplines – to make history against the world’s best sportscar racers. Historically, drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula 1 have joined teams for “one-off” efforts. Past Rolex 24 At Daytona champions include four-time NASCAR Cup Series and three-time DAYTONA 500 champion Jeff Gordon, five-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso. Dixon co-drove to his third Rolex 24 title this past January.
After a spectacular Rolex 24, ‘Super Sebring’ beckons!
All of a sudden it is the end of February and the motorsport season continues in the next few weeks with the highly anticipated FIA WEC & IMSA “Super Sebring” double header. After almost two years of planning the time has finally arrived for the FIA WEC and IMSA to share a race meeting for the first time since the 2016 WEC-IMSA double header at CoTA, and the first time at Sebring since the inaugural WEC race back in 2012.
For fans track-side, the ‘Super Sebring’ race week is set to be astonishing, with such a packed programme of events, open paddocks and two marquee races to look forward to over the weekend in what should be, as usual, great weather.
So what exactly is there to look for at Sebring? Well let’s start with IMSA, as for the WeatherTech runners in the 12 Hours of Sebring on the Saturday is the second round of the season, with the teams and drivers still very much fresh from the historic, rain-soaked Rolex 24 back in January. The Rolex 24 this year may have ended on a slightly subdued note due to the rain, but the action throughout, and the history made during race week (we’re looking at you Mazda, and that astonishing record-breaking lap!) made it an unforgettable edition. And now, still in Florida, it’s time for round two of what’s always a testing season of IMSA racing.
Last month Cadillac took the spoils for a third year in a row at Rolex, the DPi V.R still the car to have on the banking. Don’t be fooled though, the (newly-named) DPi class is closer than ever, as Mazda has hit its stride, Penske’s Acuras are more than capable of winning races on a weekly basis and the CORE Autosport Nissan is a formidable machine and will be in the running for race wins during the season as the team gets up to speed with their new toy.
Mazda was always going to be the big unknown going into the season, the Multimatic/Joest-run team the only one in the prototype field having made significant off-season changes to its car. The RT24-P is now in its third iteration and has never been better for it. Updates to the cooling systems, and aero have made a huge difference to the car’s speed and reliability. At Daytona the car broke the all-time circuit lap record during Qualifying, British driver Oliver Jarvis once again the hot shoe, as he was at the pre-event test a few weeks prior. The car’s performance was good, although it ended in vein, with on-track incidents and mechanical niggles putting the team out of the running. But the overall picture was positive, and marked a big step forward for the effort, which has been working tirelessly to score that all-elusive first win for Mazda in prototype racing since the Grand Am-ALMS merger. At Sebring, the team will be hoping that with its car clearly up to the task, that it can leave with a set of winner’s trophies. But of course, the challenge will be to beat the competition as well as the notoriously grueling Sebring circuit. And with so many big names in the DPi driver and team ranks, this will be a clash of the titans.
It is a similar story in the GT ranks too. GTLM at Daytona was as close as its ever been, with BMW emerging victorious, scoring the M8 GTLM, its biggest victory to date. The Balance of Performance was as perfect as it can be back in January, and it provided fans that braved the weather some of the tightest GTLM racing ever seen in IMSA between all five marques present. GTD was also a lottery throughout, with most of the top teams sitting in top five positions at various fixed points during the race. Then once the rain came down, it became even more unpredictable, with multiple incidents knocking some of the more prominent runners out of the race and prompting some of the world class drivers in the pack to come into their own. Grasser Racing, after a rather quiet run throughout the race, took a second win in a row for Lamborghini, and scored the first for the EVO-spec Huracan GT3.
And that’s just a taste of the IMSA battles to look forward to, as the FIA WEC 1000-mile race on the Friday night is sure to be a hit with the fans too. There is plenty of talking points for the WEC heading into race week, and lots to look forward to, and maybe it’ll come as a surprise to some, but the LMP1 class could well provide the biggest headline of the weekend. While the racing in LMP1 to this point has been lop-sided in favour of the more sophisticated, tried and tested Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 HYBRIDs, they will want put on a show at Sebring. This year is the first time that we’ve seen the current crop of LMP1 machinery tackle “the bumps” so expect some astonishing lap times. The current circuit lap record is a 1:43.886; Marcel Fassler’s pole lap ahead of the 12 Hours race in 2013, driving an Audi R18 e-Tron Quattro. Since 2013, the performance levels have skyrocketed in LMP1, so expect this time to be destroyed by the TS050 HYBRID during race week if the weather is kind.
Elsewhere in the field there is plenty to look forward to, with title battles in three of the four classes now in full swing as the ‘Super Season’ begins to draw to a close. Can Team Project 1 move into an even stronger position in GTE Am? Will a challenger to Porsche emerge in GTE Pro? and can Jackie Chan DC Racing’s No.37 crew fend off the consistent Signatech Alpine crew that’s just 10 points back in the standings? Also, how will Corvette Racing fare on home turf against the other WEC teams? The US factory, which competed in the WEC for the first time since 2014 last year in the race at Shanghai, is back for more, and will look to do more than just make up the numbers on a weekend in which it will run three thundering C7.Rs for what we expect will be for a final time at Sebring across two marquee races.
For fans, it’s going to be a real festival of sportscar racing, with the two most prominent series sharing a meeting at one of the most iconic venues in motorsport history. It will be fast, it will be furious, and sure to keep everyone on the infield occupied for the entire week, with two major races over Friday and Saturday, that will run from bright sunshine in the afternoon into the evening and full darkness. We can’t wait.
The dust is still settling after the Rolex 24 at Daytona and our man in the stands has returned home having watched every second of the action. After the controversial finish, that saw Wayne Taylor Racing victorious & each driver walk away with a new watch, Stephen Kilbey reviews last weekend’s events.
Cadillac has a clear advantage
The debate on Balance of Performance was rampant at the Rolex 24 Hours, but unusually, in this instance concerning the prototype class rather than the GTs. Cadillac dominated the meeting at Daytona from start to finish, topping every practice session, qualifying and the race. The other DPis in the new class and the global LMP2s were still competitive at times, but only in certain conditions and during certain periods of the race.
What we were left with was a fierce battle between Cadillac entries with rival teams Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express at the end, which ended in dramatic fashion with a lead change in the final 10 minutes. The change in lead was controversial as contact was made causing the Action Express car to spin. Ultimately no further action was deemed necessary by the stewards so Wayne Taylor Racing took home the Rolex watches, and began the new era of North American prototype racing in fine style. But going forward, Mazda, ESM and the LMP2 teams are going to have to step up if they are to have any chance of fighting for the title or even winning races for the rest of the season.
The new prototypes impressed overall A big question mark heading into the Rolex 24 was going to be the fragility and durability of the new prototypes, which were all making their global race debuts in South Florida. Everyone was left pleasantly surprised though, as despite various mechanical niggles and incidents up and down the field, there were no retirements until the 20 hour mark when the No.70 Mazda’s engine expired in a big way up and down the pit lane. There’s obviously room for improvement though, which in turn will create better racing as the season wears on. What we have though, is a class with serious potential, stunning looking cars, good sounding entries and manufacturer interest going forward. IMSA appears to have it right this time round.
Ford is the team to beat in GTLM GTLM was arguably the most exciting class throughout this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, with four of the five manufactures represented having a shot to win the race in the closing stages. In the final two hours seven of the GTLM runners were competing for the lead, creating an absolutely thrilling end. Porsche with its new car, Corvette with its proven C7.R and Risi with its ultra-quick Ferrari all looked poised at various points, but in the end the four-car armada from the Blue Oval came out on top.
All four GTs in the race made it home, and the No.66 of Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller in particular was the class of the field for a significant portion of the race before winning it all at the end. The Ford GT is now both reliable and fast, with a set of drivers in its two full-season entries that can go toe-to-toe with the best the class has to offer. Corvette won the title last year, but this time round Ford surely has to be the team to beat?
Alegra surprised us all In one of the most incredible runs to the flag in recent memory, Alegra Motorsports’ GTD Porsche 911 GT3R managed to storm to the win in the Rolex 24, after spending 22 of the 24 hours biding its time climbing the order. Up against arguably the best and most diverse GT3 field ever assembled on American soil, Alegra Motorsports proved that staying on the lead lap and ensuring your star driver is in at the end is the key to winning. Daniel Morad, Carlos de Quesada, Michael de Quesada, Jesse Lazare and Michael Christensen all combined for a historic run for Porsche, cruising into Parc Ferme with no scratches on the car after the race. Alegra’s entry was supposedly a one-off, but after such an incredible performance by the Canadian outfit, surely further appearances will spawn off the back of its success?
LMPC’s tenure has run its course After eight years, the LMPC class with the spec Oreca FLM09 chassis is way past its expiry date. The racing wasn’t great, with performance Tech winning by over 20 laps, and the driving standards were mostly poor as well. Starworks and BAR 1’s entries spent way too much time in walls or on the grass in the treacherous conditions, causing multiple safety car periods which prevented the whole race from ever becoming rhythmic.
Originally a class with a sole purpose to bolster the American Le Mans Series grid during tough years, it has now run its course. The cars are old, the interest is now minimal and the field overall is so strong that it feels a redundant class. As of next year the class will be written out of the rule book, and that’s a good thing, but it is going to be interesting to see what the current teams in the class will do, given the opportunity to step up to LMP2 or race in GTD/GTLM in the future.
The Sebring 12 Hours has been through a series of down years since the arrival of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, replaced the American Le Mans Series, but it appears that the beloved American endurance event is ready to return to its former self again. The beauty of the Sebring 12 Hours is the ground on which it is set. The ex-US Army training base morphed over the years into a motorsport mecca, which for the teams and drivers presents a unique challenge and for fans a true sportscar spectacle.
They say that the Sebring 12 Hours is half the length of the Le Mans, but twice as hard. The harsh, cracked and bumpy asphalt is unmistakable and for fans trackside it is fascinating to watch. In terms of viewing, spectators can watch from almost every corner on both the inside and the outside aside from the back straight. You’ll see sparks fly and hear the constant scrape of under trays and splitters grazing the bumps; think the Nordschliefe, but without the hills. If you spend the 12 hours navigating the circuit, not only will you get to see some spectacular sights as the lights fade, the headlights and brake discs begin to glow as the race roars on into the night, but you’ll also witness the party atmosphere for which Sebring is famous.
Like Le Mans there’s always a good mix of both sportscar enthusaists and party-goers, making the campsites fun and friendly, and a real sight to see. You’ll see all sorts of wild set ups from the biggest RV to the smallest tent, and be made welcome by the hoards of American fans who enjoy sharing their food and drink with passers by. There’s always fireworks displays and plenty of support races to watch before the main event. The crowd figures are still good, even early in the week when people set up prior to the on track action too. You won’t get bored.
And while the local area around the circuit doesn’t offer much in terms of sight seeing, the major benefit of travelling to Sebring is the geographical location in the USA. You’ll be flying into Orlando, which is a lovely city to spend time in before or after the meeting. You could also fly into Miami too, another popular holiday destination and bolt-on a holiday.
And specifically in 2017, it’ll present fans with one of the first opportunities to see the new breed of American sportscar Prototypes: the DPis, which are set to include factory efforts from Cadillac and Mazda as well as a Nissan-badged Extreme Speed Motorsport programme.
Add that to what is always a diverse grid of cars and drivers – with many star-drivers joining the series regulars, and a small contingent of European teams making the trip ¬– and you’ve got yourself a perfect excuse to fly across the Atlantic for a weekend at the motor cars.