IMSA season preview: GTD PRO

As it nearly doubles in size, the GTD PRO category in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is all about what’s new, and much of the class is new – new cars, new teams, existing teams with new cars. But there’s also some GTD PRO teams that hope it will be about what’s old.

That starts with defending champions Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat at Vasser Sullivan Racing. The duo, starting their third year together, took two victories in 2023 and scored another seven podium finishes. Hawksworth welcomes the bigger fields and more competition, believing that their consistency will be an even greater factor in this season’s title fight. The No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 squad is the only team on the GTD PRO grid where nothing changes for 2024, and that includes their third driver for the endurance races, Kyle Kirkwood.

Even Heart of Racing has something new, an Aston Martin Vantage GT3 Evo. While the core driving squad for the No. 23, Alex Riberas and Ross Gunn, is unchanged, there’s an evolution of the Vantage to figure out. The team also welcomes back an old friend, Mario Farnbacher, who will be the endurance addition. Riberas and Gunn scored two victories last season, but almost every other race made it a season to forget. They’re certainly eager to turn that around.


Other than swapping Corey Lewis for Neil Verhagen as the third driver, there’s really no change at GTD-dominating Paul Miller Racing. Well, other than that whole moving classes thing. Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow will be campaigning the No. 1 BMW M4 GT3 in GTD PRO in 2024. While their previous-season dominance is far from expected, the duo should definitely be in the hunt for a win or two.

From there, everything is different. 2022 GTD PRO champions Pfaff Motorsports are used to change, having swapped driving squads every season. But now they go into 2024 with an entirely different car, having switched from Porsche to McLaren for the No. 9. With that comes McLaren factory shoe Marvin Kirchoefer. He at least is familiar with the 720S GT3 Evo, but after Daytona, every circuit on the calendar will be new to him. Oliver Jarvis will be his full-season partner; the 2022 DPi champ knows the circuits and the IMSA championship, but might be a little rusty in GT racing. All that, combined with the fact that the team really only had a shakedown before the Roar Before the 24 began, and Jarvis is tempering his expectations, even as he understands what the team expects of him.

“I know the team, that’s what they want to go do – their expectation is fighting for the championship, which is one of the things I really respect and really enjoy about them,” Jarvis says. “They’re not here to make up the numbers, they want to win. But the car is new to the team, so there’s a steep learning curve.”

The era of Corvette factory racing has ended, and as Chevrolet moves to customer racing with the Corvette Z06 GT3.R, the new name is Corvette Racing by Pratt Miller Motorsports. Now back to a two-car team, the team welcomes back some familiar drivers that have been off racing elsewhere or carrying out testing duties. Tommy Milner teams up with the 2023 WEC GTE-Am champ for Corvette, Nicky Catsburg, in the No. 3. Corvette staple and five-time IMSA champion Antonio Garcia is partnered with 2023 GTP champ Alexander Sims, who says the GT driving style suits him better.

“The  GTD PRO field is going to be incredibly, incredibly tough,” Sims says. “Especially with these tiny margins that you have in GTD. But I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’ve got full confidence in my teammates, and Antonio and Dani [Juncadella, the endurance addition] are absolutely of the highest level that one could hope for as teammates.”

The new Mustang GT3 adds extra spice to the Ford vs Corvette rivalry. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

Almost every time Corvette is mentioned this season, Ford will be mentioned alongside. Ford, like Chevrolet, is introducing its first GT3 car in 2024, the Mustang GT3. And while the two Detroit companies aren’t focused on each other, you can rest assured their fans will be. Multimatic, which also developed the Ford GT GTLM car, is the force behind the new car, and the two-car team in GTD PRO will be run as Ford Multimatic Motorsports. Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller reunite to pilot the No. 65 Mustang GT3, while Harry Tincknell will be joined by former Corvette pilot Mike Rockenfeller in the No. 64.

“It’s great to see this year, with Ford coming back into  the championship and other manufacturers as well,” says Tincknell, who, like Hand and Mueller, was part of the GT program. “It’s going to be a super-competitive field, very good teams, very good drivers. The Ford GT program was very cool program, but Mustang is a brand within a brand, so it’s exciting to have it back at the top.”

The final newcomer is AO Racing, moving Rexy the Porsche 911 GT3 ‘Rawr’ to GTD PRO as team owner PJ Hyett moves to LMP2. Laurin Heinrich comes in to partner with Seb Priaulx as Porsche’s representative in the class. They’re off to a good start, as Priaulx claimed the pole for the Rolex 24 at Daytona this weekend, and he thinks it’s the beginning of what will be a good season.

“I loved last year with PJ and Gunnar [Jeannette],” he says. “But this year, the step up is really what I’ve been wanting and AO have really kindly given me a great opportunity to show myself on the world stage again and to compete right at the top of GT sports car racing. I couldn’t be any happier with the opportunity I’ve gotten. I think we’ve got the right ingredients with Laurin, and Michael [Christensen] for this weekend to achieve a podium or hopefully a win. I’m really excited for the year and I think we’ve got a good chance.”

As it has been since the creation of the GTD PRO class, the GTD PRO and GTD cars are in the same spec and same Balance of Performance. And they’ll continue to be gridded as they qualify and not separated by class. That means a lot of inter-class battling in equal cars.

“The crazy part is going to be when you have these PRO cars, and you have the Pro-Am cars, but at some point, those Pro-Am cars have pros in them,” says Joey Hand. “So at one point, you’ve got 36 pros in 36 GTD cars, all matched exactly the same. So it’s I think it’s something interesting, not only how the pros race against the pro cars, but how  the Pro-Am cars mingle into that, and I can tell you right now it’s gonna be serious dogfighting. There’s going to be fenders, there’s going to be dive planes missing. That is what racing is all about – racing is all about the show. It’s the fight, it’s the war, the battle, but that’s exactly why I come here.”

Story originally appeared on Racer