In less than a month, IMSA’S WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will conduct the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona. The 2022 edition last January marked the close of its DPi prototype era, one that stems back to the days of Grand-Am, when prototypes were built to keep prices low and competition even, at the expense of not being able to compete in the summer 24-hour race, the 24 Heures du Mans at Le Mans, France.
The World Endurance Championship (WEC) changed over to Hypercars as their premium prototype class in 2022 and IMSA is premiering its LMDh hybrid prototypes, which will colloquially be known as GTP, a name that hearkens to IMSA’s earlier days with massive manufacturer participation. The GTP prototypes will have similar participation, with everyone from Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche competing in this category, one that exclusively espouses hybrid technology. There are nine entries from the four manufacturers for this year’s 24-hour race.
All nine GTP entries participated in a two-day, IMSA-sanctioned December test at Daytona International Speedway, site of the 24-hour race and will join another 51 overall entries conducting IMSA’s three-day Roar before the Rolex 24 the weekend before the actual race. It’s during this three-day practice session that IMSA conducts its Rolex 24 qualifying, Sunday, January 22nd. In this year’s qualifying for the Rolex race, IMSA returns to its standard, class-by-class qualifying, ridding itself of the 100-minute Sunday afternoon race that was used to set qualifying laps the past two years.
Acura has its customary duo in Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian, the team serving as reigning victors in the 2022 race; Acura also counts Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, a new coupling of highly successful teams that hopes to convert both teams’ winning ways into success in both GTP and in GTD competition.
BMW Motorsports continues its association with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which moves from GTD PRO to be eligible for the overall win in GTP, while Cadillac has three cars from two teams: Chip Ganassi Racing continues with Cadillac Racing, as does Whelen Engineering Racing. Cadillac has taken its engine prep in-house; in its successful DPi era, Cadillac relied on the expertise of ECR engines. Porsche has dual entries with preparation work performed by Team Penske.
There is a single Porsche customer entry for the 2023 season, that of JDC-Miller Motorsports, the winner of last year’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring with a Cadillac-powered entry. As Team Penske is the factory Porsche team, JDC-Miller are going to have to wait for delivery of their race car which, most likely won’t show up until April, perhaps in time for the Long Beach sprint race but more likely emerging for the WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway round. In the meantime the team is keeping close contact with Team Penske, its engineering staff on-site during the test this past month.
John Church, JDC’s CEO and managing partner, considers the efforts thus far as “very positive.” His team is looking at “big-picture stuff, familiarizing ourselves with the car and the systems, understanding why things work the way they do. It’s all about getting miles rather than going fast at this point,” he said. Of the test days performed by Penske’s crew at Daytona, “The car just kept running and pounding out the laps.” That last is an important factor, as new prototype chassis and engines need plenty of track time to corral their power.
The news that Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) and Andretti Autosport would team up dropped just before the close of the calendar year. The two powerhouse squads said they’d inked a long-term partnership to compete in IMSA’s GTP class with the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06. The team also competes with the No. 93 Harrison Contracting Company Acura NSX Evo22 in GTD competition.
The programs will have operations at their current, separate locations for the time being, but the long-term goal is to move both into Andretti Global’s 575,000=square-foot headquarters in Fishers, IN once it’s operational three years from now. WTR has two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver’s titles, in 2013 and 2017, together with back-to-back IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup titles in 2020 and 2021. Wayne Taylor has earned six Rolex 24 at Daytona titles, two as a driver and four of the last six years as team owner.
“It’s an honor to be partnering with a name like Andretti as we enter a new era of racing,” Wayne Taylor noted. “I was approached by Michael a year ago and, as we all know, timing is everything, especially as our GTP and GTD programs continue to grow with Acura/HPD. Having worked with Michael on this for nearly a year, I’m very excited to see it come together.” While WTR’s 2023 program won’t look different to outsiders, “This is an exciting time for us,” Michael Andretti acknowledged. “We’re proud to be returning to the IMSA paddock in this way, and the opportunity to part of the launch of the GTP program alongside Wayne Taylor Racing and our friends at Honda Performance Development. Re-entering IMSA lull-time and at this level, has been a goal of mine.”
The LMP2 and LMP3 classes continue as before with 10 entries from the ORECA and Ligier-chassied LMP2 class that runs with Gibson V-8 power, while LMP3 features nine entries with either Ligier or Duquesne chassis and V-8 engines supplied by VK.
The sports car classes, GTD Pro and GTD continue in 2023, with eight cars in the PRO category from Corvette, Porsche, Lexus, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Mercedes AMG, while the largest entry, making up more than 40 percent of the cars on this year’s entry list, belonging to the GTD class, which will have 24 cars from Acura, BMW, Lexus, Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes AMG all trying to bring their manufacturer a Rolex watch after 24 hours of pounding round Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile road/oval circuit.
In 2022, IMSA crowned its final DPi prototype champions, the same team that won its 60th Rolex 24 at Daytona, Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian. The LMP2 title went to Tower Motorsports, while LMP3 was won by CORE autosport, making its final run in the WeatherTech series. In GTD Pro, Pfaff Motorsports’ Porsche was on top while The Heart of Racing took the honors in GTD with their Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
With the newness of the GTP entries, it’s possible that, as in WEC, the Rolex 24 could belong to one of the LMP2 entries or even a GTD Pro. There was some fragility noted at the first open test, but teams have time between that test and the Roar a week before the Rolex 24 to look at issues and attempt to solve them at their workshops. It’s all unknowns at this time, because no matter how well a car performs in testing and practice, the trials of a 24-hour race, one held in winter – even in Florida it’s been known to become frigid and to invite severe wet conditions – and in many hours of darkness, are the questions that can only be answered by racing.
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