Five IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver championships will be on the line on Saturday, and LMP2 is going to be almost as much of a nail biter as DPi as the 25th Motul Petit Le Mans 10-hour clock counts down. LMP3 has a wider margin for the championship, but with 11 cars entered for the finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, it’s far from a sure thing.
John Farano, who has had a variety of co-drivers this season, is leading the LMP2 points by 33 over Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel, 1640 to 1607. That means that Merriman and Dalziel, joined by two-time Indy Lights winner Christian Rasmussen in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA, must finish at least two positions ahead of Farano, Rui Pinto de Andrade and Louis Delatraz in the No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA (pictured above). In the five points-paying races so far, each team has one win and two additional podiums, but Farano has one more second-place finish than the Era pair.
“For us, it’s been a great season,” declared Farano. “For me personally, this has been about the most fun I’ve had in a lot of years driving the car — I’ve spent a lot more time in the car this year. Wonderful competition throughout the year — I think a lot of us have had many successes, so we can all feel really good about our efforts. This year, as far as going into Petit, really, there’s not much more to do. We’ve been prepared for this event, just like all the others, so we’ll just attack it the same way that we have before.”
The one way that Era don’t need to finish two positions ahead of Tower for Merriman and Dalziel to take the title is if they shrink the gap by four or more points during qualifying, and then win the race. Dalziel is intent on doing just that.
“We know going in this weekend, the only thing we can do is try and win. We’ve put together the strongest team we can; we’ve put in one of the best Silvers I think, one of the best Indy Lights drivers out there,” he said. Team owner Kyle Tilley would normally be the third driver for the endurance races, but he’s stepping back to concentrate on managing the team toward winning the championship.
Steven Thomas hasn’t been mathematically eliminated from the championship, but it’s a long shot in the No. 11 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA he’ll share with Josh Pierson and Tristan Nunez. PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, however, leads the championship with the No. 52, which has had different drivers for endurance and sprint races this season. Ben Keating, Mikkel Jensen and Scott Huffaker are almost a lock for the Michelin Endurance Cup championship in LMP2 with Racing Team Nederland having withdrawn.
With 11 cars in LMP3, it’s not a sure thing for CORE Autosports Jon Bennett and Colin Braun, who have an 83 -point lead over defending champion Gar Robinson, essentially a five-position deficit in Saturday’s race.
“I think we have the luxury of being able to be smart and make good choices,” said Braun. “I think with the weather, there are going to be points at the race where you’re going to have to be conservative and make sure you stay on the racetrack. Then I’m sure there are going to be points where it comes down to some critical times to be fast and to risk a bit more. On the positive for us, we have a little more flexibility to decide when we can be a bit more conservative.”
Robinson is joined by Felipe Fraga and Kay van Berlo in the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier, while endurance regular third driver George Kurtz joins Bennett and Braun in the
No. 54 CORE Autosport Ligier for Petit Le Mans. Ari Balogh and Garrett Grist still have an outside chance at the title, but with a 119-point deficit, it’s highly unlikely the Jr III Racing crew will be able to pull it off. In the teams championship, the picture is the same as the drivers, with CORE having an 83-point advantage over Riley.