With the Roar Before the 24 completed and the Rolex 24 at Daytona looming, there are some big changes happening for the coming season. The DPi field has seen wholesale rearrangement, with only Konica Minolta Racing (Wayne Taylor Racing) retaining its core driver lineup of Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque for its Acura effort; there’s a new tier of GTD to replace GTLM; there are new cars coming into the series; and fans will often be watching it in different places.
New faces in new places
The DPi class remains at seven entries. While Mazda left after the 2021 season on a high note with a Petit Le Mans victory, Cadillac Racing (Chip Ganassi Racing) added a second car. Don’t be confused by the color on that car; while the dark red on the No. 02 Cadillac is awfully similar to the color of the departed Mazda, it’s not quite a match.
A new entry needs drivers. Brit Alex Lynn, who raced in the WEC for Aston Martin, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in GTE in 2020, and then ran Formula E last season, joins the squad. Earl Bamber, who made a name as a Porsche factory driver, winning Le Mans and a WEC title in the formidable 919 LMP1 car as well as an IMSA championship in GTLM, joins him as a full-season driver. Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen, the former full-timer, are joining in for the Rolex. Renger van der Zande stays in the No. 01 Cadillac, with Sebastien Bourdais moving over from JDC-Miller Motorsport. Ganassi IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Alex Palou round out the endurance squad.
Defending champions Whelen Engineering Racing (Action Express) have seen championship co-driver Felipe Nasr depart for Porsche and its nascent LMDh program (and joining Pfaff Motorsports for the Rolex in their GTD Pro Porsche). Tristan Nunez, formerly with Mazda and most recently running in LMP2 with WIN Autosport, joins Pipo Derani for the full-season effort in the Cadillac.
“There’s a little bit of pressure, but I think that’s my own self-inflicted pressure,” said Nunez. “The good thing about Action Express is it’s a very good family approach and they really have welcomed me here with open arms. I have some big shoes to fill – Nasr is an awesome driver, and he’s on to some really exciting things as well; but I’m ready to do the job. I felt like everything happens for a reason, and the timing couldn’t be better.”
At JDC-Miller Motorsports, Richard Westbrook takes over the full-time role formerly filled by Loic Duval, who moves to an endurance role, alongside Tristan Vautier. With a career that includes a stint with Corvette Racing, Westbrook is most known for his role in Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, where he won the GTLM class at the Rolex 24 in 2018 in the Ford GT.
The No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura has seen the most change, with no regular or endurance driver from last year returning for the second year of the team’s return to IMSA’s top category. Oliver Jarvis, part of Mazda’s squad the last few years, brings the DPi experience. He’s joined full time by Tom Blomqvist, the son of rally driver Stig Blomqvist, in his first full season in DPi. Blomqvist’s previous stint in the WeatherTech series was with BMW Team RLL in GTLM in 2019. The team’s IndyCar drivers, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, join for the endurance races.
With only three full-season entries for GTLM last year, the writing was on the wall that it was time for a change. Fortunately IMSA already had a formula that worked, the FIA homologated GT3 cars of GTD, only with an all-pro-driver lineup instead of requiring a Silver- or Bronze-rated driver in the car. So GTD Pro was born.
There is no difference in the cars between GTD and GTD Pro, nor are there differences in Balance of Performance and fuel capacity. All are FIA homologated GT3 cars, with the exception of the Corvettes, which are former GTLM/GTE cars converted to something more in the neighborhood of GT3 specs.
There are 13 GTD entries for the Rolex 24. Not all of those will continue for the full season, but for the moment, Aston Martin, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Lexus, Lamborghini, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche are represented.
Ultimately, GTD Pro expands the number of manufacturers who can participate, given the number who have produced GT3 cars, which are the spec for a large number of race series around the world, vs. the number that have built GTE cars. Lexus, Mercedes-AMG and Lamborghini have never produced GTE cars, so these manufacturers can play in GTD Pro without having to build new machinery.
“I think it’s really important [for Lamborghini],” said factory driver Mirko Bortolotti, who with Andrea Caldarelli put the No. 63 TR3 Racing Lamborghini on pole for GTD Pro with victory in the qualifying race. “It’s great to be to be in the top class. We’ve seen what has changed from the past for new, bigger GTD class. It’s great to have the opportunity to be in the pro class. A manufacturer like Lamborghini deserves to be in the top class of GTD.”
How the dynamic of two classes populated by the same cars will play out as Saturday night moves into Sunday morning will be interesting for sure, and there is a real possibility of teams from different classes battling each other for the overall GT win as the race winds down.
GTD features two new cars. One is the new BMW M4 GT3 that will be campaigned in GTD Pro by BMW Team RLL, which previously ran the M8 in GTLM, and in GTD by Turner Motorsport. The M4 replaces the long-in-the-tooth, but still capable, M6 GT3. The BMWs didn’t run particularly quickly in the Roar Before the 24 last weekend, but received 10kg in additional minimum weight ahead of the 24, so read into that what you will.
The Corvette had to undergo many changes to fit in with the GT3 cars, such as adding ABS and switching to the same tire that other GT3 teams are using vs. the Michelins designed specifically for the Corvette. Like the BMWs, the Corvettes haven’t shown much speed as of yet, and while they received a 1.5mm bigger air restrictor at the Roar, they’ve received 15 extra kilograms in the days since.
With the demise of the NBC Sports Network, IMSA races will now be spread across NBC, USA Network and the Peacock Network/streaming service, more than 80 hours of WeatherTech SportsCar Championship alone. Accessing IMSA races on a streaming service isn’t anything new for IMSA fans, as they’ve been enjoying content online for years.
“Something I think we can all be really proud of, is the fact that NBC launched Trackpass, and we were fortunate that out of all the motorsports properties that were available, IMSA had the highest take rate,” said John Doonan, president of IMSA. “Our audience is sophisticated and takes in their content in a new manner – through their mobile device or their tablet. To be able to then transition with flag-to-flag coverage on Peacock satisfies that group that was so loyal to us when they kicked off Trackpass, and has the opportunity to put us in front of an audience that is new and may not be as familiar with us.”
The Rolex 24 will be broadcast across both networks and Peacock – see RACER’s Rolex 24 at Daytona Resource Guide for times. Some combination of network and Peacock will be the formula for the endurance races, plus some of the shorter events. The races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park will be carried on NBC, and the remainder on USA Network.