IMSA: Motul Petit Le Mans – GTD Pre-Event Notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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IMSA Wire Service

There’s plenty of intrigue in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class heading into Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans, with championships on the line and the usual complement of additional drivers and teams joining the fray for the 10-hour season finale. The 21st Motul Petit Le Mans takes the green flag shortly after 11 a.m. ET on Saturday.

Live television coverage begins at 10:30 a.m. ET on FS1, with continuing coverage on FS2 from 12 p.m. ET through the checkered flag. FOX Sports Go also will offer a complete broadcast with FS1 authentication. Live IMSA Radio coverage also will be available on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius 119/XM 202/App 972). Tickets are available now at RoadAtlanta.com.

With practice slated to get under way tomorrow morning, here are some key GTD storylines to consider:

* The No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 squad and full-season co-drivers Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow go in search of their first WeatherTech Championship titles. They enter Saturday’s race six points ahead of Katherine Legge in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 and can clinch the title with a podium finish – which they’ve already done seven times in the first 10 races of the season.

To aid them in their quest for the title, they’ll be joined for the endurance race by Corey Lewis, with whom they also co-drove to victory in March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. This week, the team also rolled out a special, black and green livery for the race car.

“In 2014, we ran a matte black livery on the Paul Miller entry for Petit Le Mans, and we won the race,” said Team Owner Paul Miller. “We liked the idea of running a black car for Petit this year, and with the Lamborghini green highlights, maybe it’ll bring us some good fortune again.”

* As the lone full-season driver of the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, Legge is looking to become the first driver to win a WeatherTech Championship title as a solo driver since Patrick Pilet won the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class championship in 2015. She’s also looking to be the third straight female GTD champion, following Christina Nielsen, who won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.

Legge’s co-drivers in the No. 86 are Alvaro Parente, with whom she won the America’s Tire 250 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca last month, and Trent Hindman, who drove with the team at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and at Sebring.

“All I and the team can do is to do our best,” Legge said. “I will be as best prepared as I can be, but I’m also aware it’s a long race and there is a lot that is out of my control. I think we have to view the race as a matter of survival for the first nine hours and then depending on where we are, we can do battle right until the very end.”

* In addition to the overall WeatherTech Championship, there’s also a spirited battle for the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup title that will have its final act this weekend. Patrón Endurance Cup points will be awarded after four hours, eight hours and at the finish of Motul Petit Le Mans.

Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports squad are looking for their second consecutive Patrón Endurance Cup title and go into the race alongside endurance co-driver Luca Stolz with a two-point lead in the GTD standings over Legge and Parente.

* The No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 is returning to defend its 2017 Motul Petit Le Mans title with drivers Christopher Mies, Sheldon van der Linde and Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama graduate Daniel Morad. Mies and van der Linde won the race last year alongside Connor De Phillippi, who now drives the No. 25 BMW Team RLL entry in the GTLM class.

It will be the No. 29 team’s first WeatherTech Championship appearance since the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in July.

Don’t forget that IMSA coverage moves to the NBC Sports Group in 2019.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds