2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship preview: Prototype


IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Heading into the Motul Petit Le Mans – the season finale for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – this is the second in a series in which the primary championship contenders in each of the three classes are compared.

Wednesday, we previewed the GTLM class. Today is the Prototype class. Friday, we will look at the GTD class and Saturday we’ll have an all-encompassing look at next week’s overall event.

Here’s how the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) vs. LMP2 battle shapes up for the Prototype championship:

No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing

Cadillac DPi-V.R

Eric Curran/Felipe Nasr

Engine: 5.5-liter normally aspirated V8

Points: 254 – 1st

2018 Victories: 1

2018 Podiums: 5

How The No. 31 Can Clinch the Title: The No. 31 team will eliminate all others except for the No. 54 CORE autosport team of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett by starting the race. It can clinch the title outright with a finish of second or better. It would be the team’s second WeatherTech Championship Prototype title in three years.

2018 Performance: The No. 31 team has five podiums and six top-five finishes from the season’s nine races, which are equal to the No. 54 team’s stats. The difference in the championship can be traced to Rounds 3 through 5 where Curran and Nasr took results of seventh at Long Beach, eighth at Mid-Ohio and a win at Detroit, which moved them into a tie for the points lead. They’ve either led or been within one point of the lead since then.

Noteworthy: Action Express Racing, the team that fields both the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac DPi and the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi, won the first three consecutive WeatherTech Championship Prototype titles. If it wins this year, it would be the team’s fourth in five seasons. Action Express also has won every Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup to date with the No. 5 team and leads this year’s standings with the No. 31.

What They’re Saying:

ERIC CURRAN – ““We’d love to win the race, but first we’ve got to make sure we do what we have to do for the championship. That will come down to executing as a team and not putting ourselves at risk. You have to be there at the end, and Road Atlanta is not a very forgiving place. It is a real driver’s track with how much speed you carry into the corners, but it is also a really challenging race. It is 10 hours, and anything can happen in a race like Motul Petit Le Mans. If we can execute on everything, hopefully we will be in a position to take the IMSA championship and the Tequila Patrón Cup, which we’ve never done with the Whelen car. To go out with a win—what a way that would be to close out 2018!”

FELIPE NASR – “It’s the final race of the year already? How quickly the season goes by. I’m heading to the Motul Petit Le Mans fully prepared. We had the opportunity to test at the circuit a few weeks ago with Action Express and we were able to get ourselves ready for the final race. It’s a real fun track, fast, flowing corners, but also very tricky for clearing traffic. So, we have all the ingredients to make it an exciting 10-hour race. As a team, we are going to have Gabby Chaves onboard the 31 Whelen Cadillac who had previously driven at Watkins and together with Eric our goal remains the same. Expect to win. I know we have the best team behind us in the paddock when it comes to endurance racing, Petit is very demanding and for us drivers behind the wheel also physically challenging.”



No. 54 CORE autosport


Jon Bennett/Colin Braun

Engine: 4.2-liter normally aspirated V8

Points: 250 – 2nd

2018 Victories: 2

2018 Podiums: 5

How The No. 54 Can Clinch the Title: Among several other possibilities, the No. 54 team would take the championship with a Motul Petit Le Mans victory AND a result of third or worse by the No. 31 team. Any ties would go to the No. 54 team with its two victories compared to one by the No. 31 team.

2018 Performance: There has been no hotter team in the Prototype class over the second half of the season than the No. 54 squad. Braun and Bennett scored back-to-back wins at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road America and comes into Motul Petit Le Mans riding a streak of five consecutive podium finishes. Braun also has two Motul Pole Awards – taking back-to-back poles at Watkins Glen and CTMP.

Noteworthy: This would be Braun and Bennett’s third WeatherTech Championship title and first in the Prototype class. They took back-to-back Prototype Challenge (PC) class championships in 2014 and 2015. Last year, they competed in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in a Porsche before stepping up to WeatherTech Championship Prototypes for the first time this season.

What They’re Saying:

JON BENNETT – “All of us at CORE autosport are excited and prepared to compete for the championship at the Motul Petit Le Mans. Competing at the highest level possible has been my personal lifetime goal, and I could not be prouder of my teammates at CORE autosport and Hugues de Chaunac’s talented group at ORECA. I look forward to joining my world class co-drivers Colin Braun and Romain Dumas as we continue to focus on perfecting the elements we can control.”

COLIN BRAUN – “Going into the weekend, it isn’t a big deal for us. We’ve been in quite a few championship battles over the years. For us, we keep our heads down and do what we’ve been doing all year and throughout the year and previous championship battles; constantly find ways to improve and get better. Whether we win or lose at Petit, we’re going in with the goal of trying to improve. We had a nice test at Road Atlanta and focused on things we’re trying to work on as a team and that’s all we can do is keep trying to get better. We haven’t raced a single race any different from the start of the year to when we started winning. We just got into a rhythm and that’s what happens when you work hard. For us, these championship battles are easy to deal with – we don’t have any manufacturer battle to worry about – we’ll just keep our heads down and have some fun.”


Others in mathematical contention for the Prototype title:

* No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R (Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande)

* No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 (Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya)

* No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LMP2 (Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson)

* No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R (Filipe Albuquerque)

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).