IMSA: Street fight in Detroit brings season to halfway point

Photo courtesy of IMSA

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship continues its 2016 campaign with the one-hour, 40-minute Chevrolet Sports Car Classic on Belle Isle Park this weekend and more or less brings the year to the halfway point.

It’s the fifth overall round of the season, though with the GT Le Mans class off this weekend – most of its cars are in France for the Le Mans Test Day – and the GT Daytona class having not been at the prior street race in Long Beach, those classes are only at four rounds complete apiece. The Prototype and Prototype Challenge classes head into their fifth rounds, respectively.

Detroit’s usually been a stomping ground for the Corvette DPs and like Long Beach, they figure to be the favorites this time around as well. Action Express Racing got its No. 31 Whelen Engineering-backed crew of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran into victory lane for the first time last year, while the Taylor brothers prevailed in a thriller here in 2014 over the No. 5 Action Express car of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi. The Taylors also won at Long Beach this year; the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP pair of Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens sees Dalziel in his first street race start of the year after missing Long Beach owing to a FIA World Endurance Championship conflict.

Elsewhere in class the DeltaWing’s one-race absence has opened an opportunity for Katherine Legge to substitute for John Pew at Michael Shank Racing in the team’s No. 60 Ligier JS P2 Honda alongside Ozz Negri, while Pew and some of the MSR crew are at Le Mans prepping for the test day. It’s a complex labyrinth Shank has weaved, using a combination of his crew and Kevin Doran’s crew in Detroit, and with a couple others due to go to Le Mans straight after the race on Saturday. The Mazdas, meanwhile, got a 15 kg minimum weight addition following their pace at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but neither figures to be a major threat on the streets this weekend. If they are, it will be a pleasant surprise.

PC on a street course is often a war of attrition and JDC/Miller Motorsports will look to double up on the streets with Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg. PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports won in Monterey with Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon and no doubt have the desire to win for Andrew Palmer this weekend, the young driver recovering in hospital in Connecticut from his serious injuries sustained in Lime Rock Park. Palmer was part of PR1/Mathiasen’s run to the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup crown in 2015.

GTD is generally a more wide-open affair, although getting through the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R team remains a challenge. Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas dominated at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and passing was difficult. The No. 23 team won this race last year primarily on strategy when it changed drivers. Scuderia Corsa (Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan) and Turner Motorsport (Jens Klingmann, Bret Curtis) also enter on hot streaks with both having bagged successive top-fives, albeit months apart in Sebring and Monterey.

Notably absent from the weekend is the second Change Racing Lamborghini of Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, both doing Le Mans prep, while the remaining four Lamborghinis entered make their street race debut. Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen will look to win on Dodge’s home soil in the customer Gas Monkey Garage-supported Riley Motorsports Viper GT3-R.

With the eyes of the motorsports world fixated primarily on Indianapolis domestically, as well as Monaco and the Nürburgring on a worldwide scale in May, the focus does shift a bit back to sports cars for June.

Several IMSA drivers – Ricky and Jordan Taylor, Keating and Bleekemolen, Goossens and Dalziel, Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen, plus Nielsen, Negri and Joerg Bergmeister – are all due to participate in Sunday’s Le Mans Test Day and as such will be making a mad dash for the airport after the race on Saturday afternoon. Joao Barbosa is unable to attend but isn’t required to; Marc Miller, a Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competitor for CJ Wilson Racing, is running in Trans-Am this weekend and also heads from Detroit to France after the race. Additionally, Johnny Mowlem is due to participate in one of the Le Mans support races and will head over as well; he’ll be with BAR1 Motorsports this weekend and Tomy Drissi back alongside him.

IMSA has also, in the past few weeks, debuted a new website designed to improve navigation and planning to integrate the Alkamel timing & scoring into the site. A full release with more details is linked here.

Meanwhile, the entry list for this week is linked here.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing

Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.