IMSA stars front and center in the Le Mans field

There was a rush to the airport shortly after the checkered flag fell in Saturday’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Detroit’s Belle Isle. More than a third of the drivers in the field were headed straight to France to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, joining more than a dozen of their regular IMSA colleagues who compete in LMP2 or GTD Pro. In total, more than two dozen WeatherTech Championship regulars – riders who compete a full season or all four Michelin Endurance Cup races – will compete in the 90th edition of the famous French endurance race.

Add in the drivers who serve as fourth drivers at Daytona or other one-offs during the year, and that number goes much higher. The chances are very good that a driver familiar to IMSA fans will be on the podium at the Circuit de la Sarthe on Sunday afternoon.

Glickenhaus Racing under the American flag counts Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Olivier Pla, Romain Dumas and Pipo Derani among his driving forces for Le Mans. Motorsport images

Among those fighting for overall victory could be Olivier Pla, Pipo Derani and Richard Westbrook, all driving for Glickenhaus Racing – Pla and Derani in the #708 Glickenhaus 007 LMH and Westbrook in the #709 Favorites are – that probably falls to Action Express Racing Michelin Endurance Cup regulars Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 GR010 HYBRID Toyota – they have a good chance.

“I did it for Glickenhaus last year and it was a great debut,” Westbrook said. “Both cars ran flawlessly but didn’t quite have the pace to really take the fight from Toyota; but it seems they have made many improvements over the winter. The BoP is certainly better. So we are closer to Toyota. I think we can approach this with a lot more confidence that we can at least fight for a win on performance and that’s all we want to do. We know the car is reliable, but in a 24-hour race you never know. Even the smallest little problems can escalate.”

For many participants it is a glimpse into the future as they prepare for the LMDh. Team Penske is competing in LMP2 to get a fresh taste of Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship in preparation for running the Porsche LMDh car next year. For others, the cars they drive now will be the cars they will compete against next year.

“It’s a great opportunity to be on both sides of the new regulations and test the LMH with Glickenhaus,” said Derani. “And then hopefully soon the LMDh with Cadillac. There’s the perspective of the two sides and how to deal with that and how to compete against each other. But as a driver it’s always good to come back to Le Mans, especially when you’re fighting in a top class. And as a driver, it’s the last one I have to win. I’m going to Le Mans, I would say, with a small chance of at least fighting for overall victory.”

Filipe Albuquerque lends his skills to United Autosports at Le Mans in LMP2. Rainier Ehrhardt/Motorsport Images

LMP2 is full of IMSA contenders with a chance of victory. Alex Lynn, Oliver Jarvis, Josh Pierson (No. 23 ORECA) and Filipe Albuquerque (No. 22 ORECA) all drive for LMP2 powerhouse United Autosports USA. Ricky Taylor, Le Mans native Sebastien Bourdais, Tristan Vautier, Stephen Thomas and Mikkel Jensen also race in LMP2.

The only drivers heading to Le Mans for the same team in roughly the same car, albeit in a different class, are Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor with their IMEC compatriot Nicky Catsburg in the #63 Corvette Racing C8.R. They will be joined by regular teammates Tommy Milner and Nick Tandy, who have only competed at Daytona this season before focusing on the WEC. With Alex Sims, the No. 64 Corvette topped the test day timesheets for LMGTE Pro. Alongside the LMGTE Pro and Am, eight other of their GTD and GTD Pro compatriots will be represented, including Renger van der Zande, who is moving from a prototype to a GTE Am JMW Motorsport Ferrari, alongside Michelin Pilot Challenge regular Jason Hart .

Other well-known names in the GTE category are Frederick Schandorff (Kessel Racing Ferrari); Matt Campbell (Proton Competition Porsche); Cooper MacNeil and Julien Andlauer (WeatherTech Racing Porsche); Jan Heylen (Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche); Brenan Iribe, Ollie Millroy and Ben Barnicoat in the Project 1 Porsche team; and Ben Keating in the TF Sport Aston Martin. Also, Riley Motorsports drives the #74 Ferrari in GTE-Pro with a team that includes LMP3 competitor Felipe Fraga.

The 90th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans gets underway at 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Saturday. The good news after the French rush is that many of the riders will have a nice long break before the WeatherTech Championship regroups at Watkins Glen International for Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen in three weeks’ time.

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