The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship makes one last foray onto the streets of Belle Isle. (IMSA photo)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship takes to the streets of Belle Isle this weekend for the final time for the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic.
The unforgiving 2.3-mile, 14-turn circuit has seen many memorable moments, pitting some of sportscar racing’s legendary brands, teams and drivers against one another over the years.
Who can forget the epic battle between the Corvettes of Ricky Taylor, Joao Barbosa and Richard Westbrook in 2014? Or the frantic battle for victory between the Cadillacs of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kevin Magnussen and Action Express Racing’s Pipo Derani?
But ’23 is going back in time, as next year’s race will be held on some of the downtown streets that hosted the original Detroit Grand Prix in the ’80s.
Given recent history, the Cadillacs are expected to take the top step.
When Magnussen and Derani finished 1-2 on the wheels of the No. 01 Cadillac V-Performance Academy and the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac last year, three of the last four races at Belle Isle had been run Cadillac’s way.
And if this season’s first street race – the Acura Long Beach Grand Prix – is any gauge, Cadillac will once again be the Daytona Prototype International (DPi) brand to beat on Belle Isle. The No. 1 and No. 2 Cadillac Racing finished 1-2 at Long Beach ahead of the No. 5 JDC Miller MotorSports Caddy.
While the Ganassi and JDC Miller cars will almost certainly be in the mix for victory, Action Express also has plenty of Detroit hardware in its trophy case. The esteemed Olivier Pla will be behind the wheel of Derani in the No. 31 Cadillac for the first time this weekend.
However, it’s also worth considering that Acura Caddy’s hold on Motown ’19 broke when an Acura Team Penske ARX-05 took the win. Two Penske Acuras defeated all but one Cadillac in 18 at Belle Isle.
The Konica Minolta Acura #10 is currently on a two-race win streak and is looking for another win.
Likewise, Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian was getting closer to putting the No. 60 Acura back on track after starting the season with a win at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
At the front of the GT Daytona (GTD), any of the seven manufacturers could claim the King of the Island honor this weekend.
If there were a favourite, it would be the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 fielded by the Heart of Racing team of Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn – the defending GTD winners at Belle Isle.
On the other hand, the needle might as well swing in the direction of BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes. Each manufacturer puts up two entries this weekend compared to their rivals’ singleton efforts.
BMW walks away with a one-two at Mid-Ohio, with Robby Foley and evergreen Bill Auberlen looking to claim second in a row for the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3. Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers, who finished second at Mid-Ohio in the #1 Paul Miller Racing BMW, also have the confidence to have won on the streets of Long Beach in April.
Vasser Sullivan is aiming for his first win of the season with Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo in their trusted #12 Lexus RC F GT3.
Everything changes for the sister Lexus #17, however, as Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood take on Richard Heistand and the injured Jack Hawksworth. Barnicoat and Kirkwood teamed up with Hawksworth to take fourth place in the GTD PRO at the Rolex 24 in January, so it’s not like they’ve found themselves in uncharted territory.
Kirkwood will also compete in the IndyCar race at Belle Isle this weekend.
Then there’s the #16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R driven by Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen. The championship leaders heading to Mid-Ohio will be looking to rebound from a disappointing weekend and climb back up the points table at Belle Isle.
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