Tag Archives: IMSA

IMSA Debrief: Looking Back At Sebring, Looking Forward To 2021

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!

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Mazda Magic

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.

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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!”

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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.

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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…

Stephen Kilbey

Images courtesy of Corvette Racing, Acura, Mazda and Porsche

Want to be trackside for an IMSA race next season? Travel Destinations is on sale for the Rolex 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours now.

You can also register your interest to attend the 6 Hours at The Glen and Petit Le Mans later in the year too. Call our office on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a reservation or find our more.

2021 Rolex 24 at Daytona Dates Confirmed

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.

As ever, Travel Destinations will be present at the event, and you can be there with us. Our travel packages are already on offer, so give us a call and book a place today…

Sebring

Super Sebring – The Perfect Double-Header

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.

SebringSo 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.

Sebring
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.

SebringIt 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.

Sebring
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.

Sebring
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 Travel Destinations team will be track-side with guests staying in Sebring. We are full for 2019 but you can pre-register your interest for 2020 now. Please call us on 01707 329988 or email your details to info@traveldestinations.co.uk to be the first to learn more about Sebring 2020.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Cadillac dominates at Daytona

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.

Rolex 24 at Daytona

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.

Rolex 24 at Daytona

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?

Porsche 911

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.

LMPC

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.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Travel Destinations was pleased to host another great group of race fans at this years’ Rolex 24 at Daytona. We will be back again in January 2018 so if you would like to join us please do register with us now to be the first to receive all the details.

12 Hours of Sebring

A Resurgence for Sebring

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.

12 Hours of Sebring
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.

12 Hours of Sebring
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.

12 Hours of Sebring
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.

Join us in Sebring this March. We have some lakeside condos available just minutes from the track.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photos by Dailysportscar