19 full-time IMSA drivers will start at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. (IMSA photo)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There is much anticipation for the growing convergence between the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2023. But this weekend, when the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be held for the 90th time, there is already plenty of IMSA-connected drivers and other storylines to follow for IMSA fans.
Nineteen full-time IMSA drivers and three teams are taking a break from their “day jobs” to compete at Le Mans, one of the world’s premier endurance races in association with the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Autoteile and Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. There are also at least a dozen other names familiar to WeatherTech Championship supporters from their frequent participation in rounds of IMSA’s Michelin Endurance Cup.
America’s strongest, most enduring and most patriotic hope lies with Corvette Racing, who have split their efforts this year between the WeatherTech Championship and the WEC, fielding one car in each series. It shows just how seriously Corvette Racing takes Le Mans, a race where it has claimed eight class wins since 2001, most recently in 2015.
The Jordan Taylor/Antonio Garcia/Nicky Catsburg driver finished second in class in the 2021 Le Mans debut of the mid-engine Corvette C8.R and Corvette Racing is using its full-time WEC presence this year to better prepare for that be minor differences in technical regulations, pit stop rules and other procedures between IMSA and WEC competitions. The WEC version of the C8.R also differs slightly from the car competing in the IMSA GTD PRO class, with marginally more power, bespoke Michelin tires and the omission of the ABS anti-lock braking system.
Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy and long-distance driver Alexander Sims finished second in the WEC 1000 miles of Sebring in March and third in the 2022 WEC GTE points classification. With the double point award at Le Mans, it is an important race for them in the overall context the championship.
Early returns suggest the split strategy is working. Sims was quickest on Sunday’s test day at Le Mans, lapping the unique 8.47-mile circuit through the French countryside in 3 minutes and 54.001 seconds (130.239 mph) in the #64 Corvette. The seven-strong GTE field was within one half a second tightly filled.
“Having everything and everyone ready after completing the last two WEC races has certainly given us a head start,” remarked Tandy. “We come to Le Mans with the best preparation Corvette Racing has ever had and we definitely started with our best foot forward.”
“We run a very different car in IMSA these days, so working with a different tire and no ABS is definitely a change,” said Taylor after the No. 63 Corvette clocked a 3:54.504 lap. “It was nice that we all ran properly today.”
Team Penske entered a Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) in the WEC this year in preparation for Porsche Penske Motorsport’s 2023 LMDh programme, which is expected to compete in both the WeatherTech Championship and the WEC. Dane Cameron and Felipe Nasr, both former WeatherTech Championship champions, are joined by Emmanuel Collard in the No. 5 ORECA.
Three-time WeatherTech Championship champion Ricky Taylor has been nominated by chassis designer ORECA as a reserve driver for all Le Mans appearances. Taylor, who has competed at Le Mans seven times before, shares the number 37 Cool Racing ORECA with Yifei Ye and Niklas Kruetten.
“Le Mans is a huge event,” said Taylor. “I think if you win the race, no matter what class, it’s at the top of your CV.”
United Autosport USA’s No. 23 LMP2 entry features a driver line-up made up entirely of full-time WeatherTech Championship drivers: Alex Lynn (No. 02 Cadillac Racing DPi), Oliver Jarvis (No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura DPi) and 16-year-old Josh Pierson (No.52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports LMP2) will split the 24 hours. Filipe Albuquerque (No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura DPi) is a third of the driver squad for United’s No. 22.
LMGTE Pro is IMSA packed
Fifteen of the 21 riders in the category have competed in a WeatherTech Championship race in 2022, including full-time riders Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Felipe Fraga. The team with Fraga’s Le Mans entry – the #74 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO shared by Sam Bird and Shane Van Gisbergen – is also a full-time IMSA driver. Riley Motorsports is the competitor of the #74 Ligier JS P320 driven by Gar Robinson to the 2021 IMSA Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) title.
The No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari at Le Mans features the same driver line-up of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra who finished second at the 2022 Rolex 24 in GTD PRO.
No rest for the winners
Arriving a little late for Sunday’s test day at Le Mans was a small prize for three of the four winning drivers of Saturday’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic, the WeatherTech championship race at Belle Isle. Sebastien Bourdais (born of Le Mans, who will drive the #10 Vector Sport LMP2 as co-driver) and Renger van der Zande (#66 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE Am) shared the International Daytona Prototype (DPi) victory in Detroit and so on with GT Daytona (GTD) class winner Ben Barnicoat (#56 Team Project 1 Porsche at LMGTE Am), all departed for Paris immediately after completing their celebrations and media engagements.
While the grid at IMSA endurance races often includes full-time WEC drivers, the opposite happens at Le Mans. The list of undeclared full-time IMSA drivers not yet mentioned includes DPi regulars Pipo Derani, Olivier Pla and Richard Westbrook, all driving for the Glickenhaus Hypercar team, and Tristan Vautier (No. 44 ARC Bratislava LMP2). Steven Thomas is working part-time from his full-season appearance in the Era Motorsport LMP2 to drive the No. 45 Algarve Pro Racing LMP2.
Weather Tech Championship GTD PRO drivers Cooper MacNeil (No.79 WeatherTech Racing) and Matt Campbell (No.93 Proton Competition) will team up with GTD driver Jan Heylen (No.88 Dempsey-Proton Racing) to drive Porsche 911 RSR -19 race in the LMGTE Am class.
Other Le Mans drivers who have recently contested IMSA races include defending WEC Hypercars champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez (No.7 Toyota Gazoo Racing); Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre, Gianmaria Bruni and Frederic Makowiecki in LMGTE Pro (all in Porsches); and Harry Tincknell, Zacharie Robichon, Mikkel Jensen and Ben Keating in LMGTE Am.
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