IMSA Favorites Brace for Possible Wet Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta

Photo credit: IMSA
Photo credit: IMSA
  • Due to what is expected to be a tropical depression by time Ian reaches North Georgia, it’s only a question of how much rain and how often during the race.

  • Despite the forecast that calls for the storm’s center to reach the vicinity of the track on race day, track officials say operations are continuing as usual.

  • Ongoing mixed conditions such as those at Road America in August could play to the strengths of the GT cars.

Be prepared for rain at the Petit Le Mans—and another possible GT upset.

If the race goes off as scheduled Saturday despite rain resulting from Hurricane Ian, a Porsche 911 can be considered a favorite against the prototypes. Pfaff Motorsports team manager Steve Bortolotti recognizes there’s a chance to repeat Porsche’s upset of 2015 with his team’s GT3 R, already the winner of five GTD Pro class races this year.

“We’re still talking about that race seven years ago,” said Bortolotti of the rain-soaked Petit where an LMGT factory Porsche finished first overall. “Every time I go to that track, I always think back to that memory. Ultimately, it’s a marketing thing and if we had a chance to do something like (winning overall) for our sponsors, we’d go for it.”

Due to what is expected to be a tropical depression by time Ian reaches North Georgia, it’s only a question of how much rain and how often during the race. Despite the forecast that calls for the storm’s center to reach the vicinity of the track on race day, Rick Humphrey, the director of the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, said operations are continuing as usual. The gates opened to fans on Tuesday and all pre-race preparations are continuing for the 25th running of the 10-hour race.

The prototype teams of Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing will be under pressure just to keep their turbocharged Acuras on the track in their battle for the DPi WeatherTech Championship. One of the five normally aspirated Cadillacs may be the best bet for the overall victory, but Pfaff’s Porsche can’t be counted out.

Felipe Nasr, who clinched the DPi title on the final lap at last year’s Petit, is joining Pfaff’s regular drivers Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet for the enduro. The latter two will win the GTD Pro class of the WeatherTech Championship by starting the race in the No. 9 Porsche decked out in tartan plaid colors. Once the title is clinched, Bortolotti says the team will play conditions by ear as far as being aggressive. He is concerned about possible dangerous conditions for the team’s drivers and car on a high-speed track with non-stop traffic and a history of water running across the racing surface when the ground is saturated.

Photo credit: Brian Cleary - Getty Images
Photo credit: Brian Cleary - Getty Images

“If the weather is poor, I will have the best interest of the team at heart,” he said. “We’re all competitors, but I do have a duty to make the best decisions for the team’s shareholders.”

In their favor, the Pfaff trio will have the 911’s engine weight over the rear axles working for them and no problem with tire wear.

“In the wet, tire degradation is not a big concern,” said Bortolotti. “That’s another positive, especially now with all the weight added with the BOP, the Porsche struggles a bit more than some of the others with the tire degradation. But in the wet, some of those concerns are gone. The power delivery of the Porsche as well is incredible. We have a naturally aspirated engine so the power comes on in a lot more linear way versus some of the turbo cars.”

“A balanced car is what a driver is looking for in those kind of driving conditions,” he continued. “As you saw (in 2015), Michelin makes a rain tire that generates an incredible amount of grip.”

Steady, non-stop rain will likely keep the DPi prototypes, also racing on Michelins, in front over the long haul due to better top-end speed on the straights. And there are seven manufacturers entered in GTD Pro in all, including the additional entries of a Risi Competitzione Ferrari 488 GT3 and a Mercedes AMG GT3.

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

Ongoing mixed conditions such as those at Road America in August could play to the strengths of the GT cars, especially the rear-engined Porsche. “When it went from wet to dry, it took almost an hour and a half for the prototypes to begin lapping the GT cars,” said Bortolotti.

Would officials stop a race with a GT car in front once again—or with so many championships on the line in the season finale? Will the race continue into the night if the rain continues? After the factory Porsche looked unstoppable in 2015 in the late stages in the hands of Nick Tandy, the race was called before nightfall. A GT class BMW finished ahead of the prototypes in second as well.

Even if the overall win is not within the Pfaff team’s grasp, it will be trying to wrest the Michelin Endurance Cup from Corvette Racing and the Ferrari of Risi Competizione. The Cup pays $25,000 to the winner in each class. In GTD Pro, these three leading teams enter the last of the season’s four endurance events separated by three points. Points will be awarded at the four-hour and eight-hour marks as well as at ten hours – if the race goes the distance.