OPINION: Table set for another epic IMSA fight to the finish

Richard Dole / Motorsport Images

OPINION: Table set for another epic IMSA fight to the finish

Insights & Analysis

OPINION: Table set for another epic IMSA fight to the finish

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The 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi title came down to the final corners of the last lap of the season. After 10 races and 10 hours of racing at Petit Le Mans, it came down to whether Ricky Taylor could pass Felipe Nasr. He didn’t, and Nasr, Pipo Derani and the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac claimed the championship over Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura — by just nine points, or a difference of 0.2 percent of the AXR team’s 3407-point total.

Whichever car finished in front would win the championship. There was no mid-race points calculations, no complicated tables. The team that beat the other — after 10 races and nearly 75 hours of racing — was determined by a single position.

The best part of that? It could happen again.

Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian featuring Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis in the No. 60 has been neck-and-neck with the WTR crew of Taylor and Albuquerque all season. With two races left, there is barely a position’s worth of space between them. One of the players may have changed — and last year’s champions Action Express aren’t even within sight of the title — but the drama is the same.

“That’s IMSA racing,” declares Jarvis. “I think every year I’ve been in the championship, that’s pretty much how it’s gone. That’s just the nature of this championship — it’s so competitive. The way the points work, and the fact that, you know, there (are) only six cars, it means it’s very difficult to to get that gap you need to go into to Petit Le Mans with a cushion. I always expect this. Every year it’s come down to the wire and I don’t think this year will be any different. Hopefully we can make it so that it’s not about who wins it, but certainly you need to have a good Petit, whatever happens, because it’s so tight now and also Petit is such a tough race to win the championship on. A 10-hour race — anything can happen. That’s why I think IMSA is so special and if you win the championship here you’ve really earned it.”

What is it that fuels that down-to-the-wire nature of the championships?

Part of it is being the fifth season of the DPi formula. The cars are known, proven and largely dependable — which could all change next year as teams are breaking in new LMDh cars. Another factor is the points system, combined with the number of cars. With six cars in most races, the spread from first to last is only 100 points out of a possible 350. Add in qualifying, and it could be 110 out of a possible 385 points for the weekend. That’s a big part of Meyer Shank leading the championship coming in to Road America despite winning only once to WTR’s three victories — MSR has second-place finishes in the last five races. Again, though, the points gap between first and last grows with nine, 10 or more cars expected in the GTP class next year.

Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Then there’s the parity between the two models currently raced in DPi, perhaps heightened by IMSA’s new race-by-race Balance of Performance system. Cadillac and Acura have four victories each, and while there are certain tracks where a given marque is still expected to win, that’s not as clear cut as it used to be. It’s really down to execution.

“It’s the teams,” says Taylor. “We’ve had a more consistent year than the (Chip Ganassi Racing) Cadillacs; the No. 01 and No. 02 have had quite a lot of drama. Both manufacturers won four races, so on parity it looks quite even on paper. On the points it doesn’t, and I would put that down to the teams, just in terms of, you know, executing and not making mistakes. The WTR team has been very strong and Shank has been very difficult. I mean, we’ve been looking at Shank the whole year, just a tenth here or a tenth there, one way or the other. It’s just been a dogfight all year. You can never relax, whether it’s Laguna or Mid-Ohio…you could list off five or six races that have just come down to nothing.”

However it happens, there is no doubting the appeal of a championship coming down to the final race, and perhaps even the final lap of that race. It’s exciting for the fans, it’s nerve-wracking for the teams, and I’d be lying if I said many in the press room were watching dispassionately. Speaking for myself — I’m a race fan, and I’m on the edge of my seat. So here’s to more of that.

Fans love the drama, even if the outcome doesn’t go the way of their favorite team or marque, and, yes, even in the midst of the uncertainty, the drivers find it exciting as well.

“I think it’s just great,” says Albuquerque. “I think some other championships need to learn from that. Everyone always watches the last race and it’s a very rare occasion where the championship is won before the last race. That’s something they’re doing right and it’s exciting — down to the last lap, last corner, last year. That’s just beautiful. It makes excitement for the drivers, for the spectators, for the crews, so congrats to IMSA.”

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