While the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix presented by Lear on June 3 stands between now and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, IMSA teams fielding racecars in the twice-around-the-clock French endurance classic have been hard at work making final preparations to ship their cars abroad.
Immediately following the May 6 WeatherTech Championship race at Circuit of The Americas, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing had both of its U.S.-based Ford GTs at Road America for testing on May 8 and 9. All four of the team’s full-time IMSA racers – Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe – got seat time on the four-mile Wisconsin circuit, which was a good tune-up for the nearly 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans.
“We had a really good test at Road America last week,” said Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team manager Mike O’Gara. “The weather really cooperated with us, and we got to give the drivers valuable time on the Le Mans tires. The cars will now be in the Indianapolis shop undergoing prep to be shipped over the Atlantic next week.”
Immediately after the Ford test, Corvette Racing had a test of its own at Road America for its full-time WeatherTech Championship line-up of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin. They were joined by special Le Mans guest stars Jordan Taylor and Marcel Fassler.
During the two-day test – which has become an annual tradition for Corvette Racing – both of the team’s Mobil 1/SiriusXM Corvette C7.Rs turned laps to evaluate aero settings and Michelin tires specifically for Le Mans.
“Our Corvette felt pretty good overall on the new Michelin tire and the aero package we ran,” said Milner, a two-time winner at Le Mans with Corvette Racing. “We all came away pretty happy and feeling pretty good about the starting point we have for the (Le Mans mandatory) Test Day (on June 4).
“The next question will be how we stack up pace-wise with our competitors. From our side, the engineers did a great job coming up with a package that is as comfortable as you can make it with low downforce.”
The 2017 race marks the 18th consecutive year that Corvette Racing will compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The team has eight class victories since its debut in 2001, and no active team has made more consecutive starts at Le Mans.
While the Ford and Corvette teams went to work at Road America, the No. 43 Keating Motorsports Multimatic-Riley LM P2 car to be shared at Le Mans by current WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona points co-leaders Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen and current Prototype class points leader Ricky Taylor did endurance testing at NOLA Motorsports Park near New Orleans.
For all three drivers, the Gibson-powered Multimatic-Riley is a different animal compared to their usual WeatherTech Championship rides (a Mercedes-AMG GT3 for Keating and Bleekemolen and a Cadillac DPi-V.R for Taylor). As a result, the team is pulling out all of the stops to test anything and everything before shipping the car to Le Mans.
“Our goal is to be consistently quick on track, but to make sure we don’t beat ourselves with costly mistakes or issues,” Keating said. “We tested at NOLA from 1 to 9 p.m. in order to make sure everything tested well at night. The NOLA test went extremely well without any issues.”
This week, the team is at it again, testing the LM P2 car at Watkins Glen International alongside a handful of other WeatherTech Championship teams preparing for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in July.
“We head to Watkins Glen to continue to learn more about the car, work on setup adjustments, and continue to confirm smooth operation over long runs,” Keating explained. “The team continues to improve the more we practice. This will be our last test before we ship the car to France. Therefore, we need to make sure everything is ready for the Le Mans Test Day before it ships out.”
In addition to the car performance, Keating also is impressed by how well the No. 43 team is beginning to gel. That’s important, as they’re in the deepest of the four classes at Le Mans, with a total of 25 entries.
“I can’t say enough great things about how our team has come together,” Keating said. “Ricky Taylor is really at the top of his game right now and I am honored to have him on the team. Jeroen and I have driven together for years, but I am always impressed at how well he adapts to the LM P2 car.
“With 25 cars in the class, it will be very hard to work our way up to the front. However, with this list of drivers, the preparedness of the team, and the performance of the (Multimatic-Riley) MK30 (chassis), we have an extremely solid effort. This will be my best campaign at Le Mans yet, and I am excited.”