Year two for the Grand Touring Prototype category looks very similar to year one in terms of cars, teams and drivers. But it should be vastly different.
In its inaugural season, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s new GTP class had its teething pains. The cars had some reliability issues, teams struggled to come to grips with all the new tools they had at their disposal, and sometimes those tools were a hammer when they needed a fine screwdriver. It was a season, as Pipo Derani put it, that no one wanted to win. So how differently could the sophomore season pan out?
“There will be tracks that some other manufacturers will be better and we really have to maximize the ones we have a better chance — and I’m sure they’ll be doing this on their side,” said Porsche Penske Motorsport’s Felipe Nasr. “But I just feel, if you look half-season to the end, everybody was operating better. Everybody was understanding the car better — drivers making less mistakes, drivers making the most of the car and the understanding clearing traffic, because the difference of speed is different. I think one year under our belts makes a big difference, not only for us as Porsche Penske Motorsport, but I guess everybody else now has a better understanding of the series, the rules, the running of the car. You put that all together I think everybody’s going for another level of competitiveness.”
Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti doubles up with a second Acura ARX-06 this season. Richard Dole/Lumen
As differently as the season may unfold, the cars and teams look very similar to last year. The big change is Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti running the second Acura ARX-06 that was the purview of Meyer Shank Racing last season. The team brought Jordan Taylor back to partner last year’s third driver in the No. 10, Louis Deletraz, who is relishing his new full-season role in the No. 40 Acura.
“Confidence is high. I’m very happy to be here this way because it’s my first [full season] in GTP and I’ve been the last three years very successful in prototypes,” the 2023 WEC LMP2 champ says. “It’s the step I was waiting to do. So I think I couldn’t be in a better position in the factory Acura team with Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti, Jordan as a teammate… we have a top lineup, no ego, a lot of experience between him and me, and still young and fun, so I’m really excited.”
Colton Herta will be the third driver in the No. 40 Acura for the Michelin Endurance Cup events. The driver lineup for the No. 10 retains its core of Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor, with Brendon Hartley in for MEC. The team had its first winless season in more than a decade last year, though they still managed to finish second in the championship. But now running both Acuras should definitely bring WTRAndretti some wins in 2024.
BMW M Team RLL had a rough start to the season, but regrouped quickly. The big change for the team is swapping Augusto Farfus for Finnish driver Jesse Krohn in the No. 24 BMW M Hybrid V8. Farfus will join in for the longer endurance races. Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly continue together in the No. 25 M Hybrid V8, Maxime Martin joining them at Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans. The No. 25 squad inherited the win at Watkins Glen last season, and scored another five podium finishes to head into the finale with a shot at the title. They’ll be looking for more this season.
“In general, I feel so much more prepared than than this time last year, but I guess it’s true for every driver,” says Yelloly. “We know we’ve had more mileage, we’re more relaxed in the procedures, how it’s actually going to be racing into Turn 1 and how a double stint is going to feel. So in that sense, I feel like the racing will probably be brought even closer together throughout the whole manufacturers and drivers through the year, and it’s going to be pretty exciting to watch.”
Yelloly is counting on a year’s worth of experience to bring BMW’s M Hybrid V8 further into the GTP mix. Jake Galstad/Lumen
Cadillac claimed the manufacturers’ championship last season, with the Whelen Engineering Cadillac Racing squad grabbing the inaugural GTP title with Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims, helped along by exceptional reliability. Sims has moved back to racing a Corvette Z06 GT3.R in GTD PRO, so the team has elevated last year’s endurance addition, Jack Aitken, into the full-time position with Derani, and added Tom Blomqvist to the roster for endurance events. The team is off to a great start, Derani putting the No. 31 V-Series.R on pole for the Rolex with a new track record.
“It feels pretty natural,” Aitken says. “I was lucky enough to join the team last year for the endurance stuff and already felt pretty comfortable. It’s just a small step and I have continuity with the team, with the car, with Pipo as my teammate. So it’s all kind of laid out in the best way possible.
“I think they say in sport, the hardest thing to do is to repeat, right? So it would be great if we could have the same level of competition that we had last year, between all the manufacturers and the teams, and I think we will. I think it’s going to be incredibly hard and not as forgiving of mistakes as it was last year, because people have refined their programs now. But I think we’ve got as good a chance as anyone. We’ve got one of the strongest lineups on the grid. I know the car is strong, the team is strong.”
Chip Ganassi Racing keeps one of the longer partnerships in IMSA going, Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande continuing to driver the No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R. The team struggled a bit last season, but both drivers say the issues are sorted and they feel ready to go. Scott Dixon will join the team for the MEC events.
Porsche Penske Motorsport has made a driver swap between its IMSA and World Endurance Championship squads, bringing Dane Cameron back to run the North American series with Felipe Nasr in the No. 7 Porsche 963, and sending Matt Campbell to WEC, although Campbell will still be in the car for endurance events.
Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy scored two victories last season; had they not had the issue with a too-worn skid plank on the No. 6 963 in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, they would have been champions. They continue as the full-season drivers in the No. 6, joined by Kevin Estre for the endurance events. With the success they had last year, you’d think Jaminet would be optimistic, but he has some reservations.
“I hope it’s going to stay extremely close, and that everybody’s going to get a shot at winning pretty much every race like we saw last year. But on the other hand, I’m a bit worried that one car could really dominate,” he said. “If we look at the season, in terms of pure speed, I think one car has an advantage, or seems quite strong on every track, and this is the Acura,. There were a lot of failures; they had a lot of mistakes as well. I’m pretty sure if they sort this out, they will be the team to beat and the cars to beat. Hopefully it’s not the case and we have a championship which is super open. And because of the IMSA dynamic of races, I’m sure it’s going to still stay open for for a while, because there is always drama happening.”
The two privateer Porsche 963s seem on more solid footing than last season. JDC-Miller MotorSports continues with Tijmen van der Helm, replacing now-Mustang driver Mike Rockenfeller with Richard Westbrook in the No. 85 963. Proton Competition will run Gianmaria Bruni and Neel Jani in the No. 5 963, now in Mustang Sampling colors.