Can you name the last time neither a Cadillac nor an Acura were on the podium of an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race? After Saturday’s Porsche-BMW-Porsche result at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, I asked that question myself, and it turns out the answer is 2016, before the beginning of the DPi era. This result has been a long time coming.
The satisfaction of Saturday’s result comes not in the failure of those stalwart competitors who have stuck with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and whose immediate commitment to the LMDh formula that makes up the Grand Touring Prototype class was a big boost to the idea, but rather the diversity of competition. And let’s be clear, Acura has clearly built the best-out-of-the-box GTP car in the ARX-06, and Wayne Taylor Racing should have won on Saturday. But in three races, there have been three different manufacturers on the winner’s roster, and had things gone a little differently at Long Beach, it could even have been a BMW victory. While it seemed nearly impossible at Daytona, it’s likely there will be a BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8 win before the end of the season.
Four manufacturers that are each capable of winning on any weekend, run by world-class teams with some of the best sports car drivers on the planet. That’s a promise fulfilled. Even if the promise was unspoken, when IMSA chose to bring back the GTP name, it was implied. Harkening back to the days of the Porsche 962s, the Jaguar XJRs, the Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo, and the all-conquering Eagle Toyotas was no accident. It was an era of intense manufacturer-based competition, where anyone could win, and did — even Wayne Taylor in a Chevrolet Intrepid. True, there were periods of domination, but there were more periods with a variety of teams and manufacturers winning each weekend. It was the era that sparked my love of sports car racing and captured the imaginations of many.
BMW and Porsche have some catching up to do in order to match Acura and Cadillac on outright pace, but the gap seems to be closing quickly. Porsche Penske Motorsports won on clever strategy, with help from misfortune and error on the part of some of the key competitors. An error-free run by WTR would have brought almost certain victory. But a win is a win, and sometimes the winner is just the one that makes the fewest mistakes and has the least trouble.
While Ricky Taylor going full-send in the closing laps of the Long Beach race wrecked WTR’s Acura — for the second race in a row after Filipe Albuquerque did the same toward the end of the Twelve Hours of Sebring — and did some damage to WTR’s title chances, it also demonstrates the importance of victory to these drivers and teams. While they may play the points game later in the season, right now it’s about standing on top of the podium. Winning is paramount.
There is part of the promise of GTP unsatisfied, however. While convergence between LMDh and Hypercar is playing out in the World Endurance Championship, where on Sunday the podium for the 6 Hours of Portimao was Toyota GR010 Hybrid Hypercar, Ferrari 499P Hypercar and Porsche 963 LMDh, that hasn’t yet come to fruition in the WeatherTech Championship. But it’s likely the call of competing in the U.S. will prove alluring to the likes of Toyota and Ferrari.
Could we see 15 or more GTP cars at the 2024 Rolex 24 At Daytona? Yes, that’s a real possibility, with Acura, BMW, Cadillac, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and Toyota all lining up, and perhaps even Peugeot and Alpine running as other brands their parent companies sell in the North American market. It’s an exciting proposition.
GTP is already fulfilling some of its promises. We can’t wait for its full potential to be realized.