IMSA PREVIEW: Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix

IMSA
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Round 5 of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship sees the series share the weekend once again with the Verizon IndyCar Series, as both tackle the 2.35-mile Raceway on Belle Isle this weekend.

Only the Prototype and GT Daytona classes will be at Belle Isle this weekend – the GT Le Mans class is off to allow teams contesting the 24 Hours of Le Mans (e.g. Corvette Racing, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Porsche GT Team, and BMW) time to prepare, with Le Mans testing beginning on Sunday.

At 1 hour and 40 minutes, Detroit is the same length as the BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, which ties it for the shortest race on the calendar.

But, as a street circuit, it doesn’t mean things will be any easier.

Previews for Prototype and GT Daytona are below.

Prototype

The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac continues to lead the Prototype championship, with Filipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa showing the way. Photo courtesy of IMSA.
  • Action Express continues to sit 1-2 in the championship standings, with Filipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa atop the standings in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. Teammates Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr sit 10 points behind them, though only the No. 5 has found its way to Victory Lane this year. But, Nasr and Curran have been on the podium twice already in 2018 (at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring), and a victory could easily be in the cards this weekend. Regardless, Action Express remains the king of the Prototype class at the moment.
  • Belle Isle marks the one-year anniversary of Wayne Taylor Racing’s last win. Jordan Taylor and Renger Van Der Zande have the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi third in the championship at the moment, 15 points behind the No. 5 Action Express entry. But, a much-needed victory will be required if they are to vault themselves into full championship contention.
  • Acura Team Penske is the most recent winner in the Prototype class, with the team going 1-2 in the Acura Sports Car Challenge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor took those honors in the No. 6 ARX-05, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron coming home second in the No. 7). They sit fourth and sixth in the championship respectively, but either could go on a hot streak as the summer begins and make a title run. Expect the Acura/Penske combo to only get stronger.
  • Mazda Team Joest had their best weekend yet at Mid-Ohio, with Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez bringing the No. 77 RT-24P home in third. Like the Acura/Penske combo, the Mazda/Joest combo seems to get stronger with every race, and a victory could be in the cards soon. Of note: Harry Tincknell returns as co-driver of the No. 55, alongside Jonnathan Bommarito, after missing Mid-Ohio while competing at the Six Hours of Spa with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing.
  • Outside of a Sebring triumph (for Johannes van Overbeek and Pipo Derani, alongside Nicolas Lapierre) and a second-place at Long Beach (for Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel), Tequila Patron ESM has had a rough go of it in 2018. Despite plenty of speed, reliability and driver errors have resulted in four finishes of 12th or worse – two each for both cars. Still, with speed aplenty, the potential is there for them to right the ship, if they can keep themselves clean.
  • The Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac returns after missing Long Beach and Mid-Ohio as the team regrouped followed Tristan Vautier’s violent crash at Sebring. Vautier and co-driver Matt McMurry will be keen to make a positive impression on their return.
  • Non-DPi teams AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, CORE Autosport, and JDC-Miller Motorsports will look for their first wins of 2018. Though the DPi teams have shown more pace, it was at this point last year that the WEC-spec LMP2 platforms, especially JDC-Miller’s, started to shine. Don’t be too surprised if you see one of these entrants near the front.

GT Daytona (GTD)

  • Paul Miller Racing continues to lead the GTD class, on the strength of three podiums and landmark win at Sebring with Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, and Corey Lewis in the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3. Snow and Sellers lead the championship for the Paul Miller squad. This team already has one major triumph in 2018 – the aforementioned Sebring win – and they’re on pace for a possible GTD title.
  • Per SportsCar365, a last-minute entry for Meyer Shank Racing sees the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 of Katherine Legge and Mario Farnbacher, standing in for Alvaro Parente, who is competing in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup this weekend, on the grid. At second in the GTD standings, Legge is very much in title contention, at only eight points behind the Paul Miller Racing No. 48. If they can keep this season going, this is a team to watch in the title picture. They could easily end up in Victory Lane this weekend.
  • Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports sits third with Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen. They have a podium already – at Sebring – but at 15 points down to the No. 48 Lambourghini, they’ll need a victory to start making up some ground.
  • Defending GTD champs Scuderia Corsa have stumbled out of the gates somewhat. A second-place at Sebring is their best result, but finishes of 10th (Daytona) and eighth (Mid-Ohio) leave Cooper MacNeil and Alessandro Balzan 19 points back in fourth, something they’ll look to improve upon in Detroit. (Note: Also per SportsCar365, Jeff Segal subs for Balzan this weekend, with Balzan having undergone a small medical procedure that will require a little time to heal).
  • Potential powerhouse Patrick Long, Christina Nielsen, and the Wright Motorsports No. 58  Porsche 911 GT3 team have also stumbled, with a sixth at Sebring their high-water mark so far. The team has again entered a second car – Michael Schein and Wolf Henzler will pilot the No. 16 Porsche – and the second entry should help them gather yet more setup data. But both entries will need clean results, with Long and Nielsen particularly looking to rebound.
  • 3GT Racing will look to continue their winning ways after Dominik Baumann and Kyle Marcelli claimed victory at Mid-Ohio in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. They and teammates Jack Hawksworth and David Heinemeier Hansson (in the No. 15) will look to go back-to-back for Lexus Racing USA.

Friday’s practice sessions take place at 8:15 a.m. and 1:05 p.m., with qualifying at 5:20 p.m. that evening. Saturday’s race rolls off at 12:40 p.m.

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

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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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.