IMSA’s GT Daytona class has felt the impact of COVID-19 more than most forms of North American motor racing. As the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship gets ready to resume its season this weekend at Daytona International Speedway, it’s the absences among top-tier GTD contenders that will be felt once the checkered flag waves Saturday night.
Looking back to IMSA’s season opener in January with the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the series returns to Daytona with the championship-leading GTD entry from Paul Miller Racing, the third-place Team WRT, and the fifth-place Black Swan Racing program missing from the grid.
Another front-runner, Canada’s Pfaff Motorsports, is also taking a temporary break from GTD, and with the wholesale shift in who will appear at Round 2 to pursue championship points, the teams’ and drivers’ standings will undergo a significant shuffle as IMSA heads into a busy summer of racing.
Without PMR, WRT, and BSR in the mix at Daytona, the GRT/Magnus Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 team, which current holds second in the GTD championship, sits in an advantageous position to take the points lead. Behind GRT/Magnus, Wright Motorsport, the fourth-place finishers at the Rolex 24, and the sixth-place Turner Motorsport team, effectively become GTD’s new 1-2-3 in the championship due to the coronavirus-related entry changes.
“Unless you win it, usually, you come out of the Rolex 24 trying to make up ground in the championship, so this is going to be a very different thing with the Paul Miller team and like half of the top-six GTD finishers not being there for the next race,” GRT/Magnus driver Andy Lally told RACER.
“But even with the changes there, it’s still going to be an extremely challenging attempt at a championship. It always will be. There are still some extremely good teams left, even though we’ve got a few teams that are going to sit on the sidelines for an unsure amount of time, but it’s still going to be a big challenge. Every team that will be on the grid at Daytona is a potential championship contender, and I expect everyone to leave Daytona this time with the points looking a lot different than the last time.”
Lally looks forward to the intense competition that awaits the GTD class as IMSA embarks on a condensed calendar of events.
“We are cramming in an entire season’s worth of racing into about half the amount of time that we normally do,” he said. “This will be a new test for teams and drivers alike, especially if they stay with the shorter schedules. And when there’s only 10 or 11 races in a season, every single one of them is as important as your result in the Rolex 24. There’s never a mentality of ‘we’ll ride for a few races and we’ll go get them at the end.’ There’s not enough cars in the class, and there’s not enough races to rely on that you’re going to all of a sudden just turn it up and go dominate.
“Every single position from every single race from the drop of the green flag in Daytona, to the checkered flag at Sebring is super crucial. Every year you can easily look at throwing away six to 12 points on the simplest of strategy calls on hindsight being 2020 and on a yellow flag coming out a lap sooner or a lap later. Those six to 12 points are usually one or two spots in the championship, if not more. It’s always on. It’s never not. They call it endurance racing, but with the schedule as short as it is relative to other auto racing series, and other sporting leagues where you have dozens and dozens of games or races, every point is precious in this series.”
Separate from his title-minded work with Magnus owner and co-driver John Potter in the No. 11 Lamborghini, Lally will be racing in honor of one of his oldest and closest friends, Aaron Reiss, who was killed last weekend in a motorcycle crash. Lally is also helping to raise funds (click here) to support Reiss’s family and memorial.