The fruits of convergence between IMSA GTP and FIA Hypercar are ripening as the first 24 Hours of Le Mans of the new era takes place on Circuit de la Sarthe this weekend. Whereas in recent years the race has always attracted IMSA drivers, now it’s entire teams and cars crossing the pond to participate in the Centenary.
Cadillac is back for the first time since 2002 competing for overall honors, with the three Cadillac Racing lineups from Daytona on the roster. The two Chip Ganassi Racing entries feature the WEC regulars of Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook in the No. 2 V-Series.R, and Sebastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande and Scott Dixon in the No. 3. The No. 3 will be the same chassis that Bourdais and van der Zande drove to victory at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, after the second chassis the team had in Europe was crashed at Spa. Action Express is bringing its Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring lineup of Pipo Derani, Alexander Sims and Jack Aitken for the No. 311 Cadillac.
“I’m very much looking forward to it because it’s Action Express, the team that I’ve worked with for five years now and the one that I achieved most of my success here in the U.S. So to be able to go with them to Le Mans will be a special a special thing to do,” says Derani, who has no lack of experience at La Sarthe, but with other teams such as Glickenhaus.
Porsche Penske Motorsports is bringing three of its four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regulars to drive the No. 75 963. Long Beach winners Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy are joined by Felipe Nasr, with Matt Campbell serving as reserve and test driver. Of course, the rest of the PPM squad are well familiar to IMSA fans, including Dane Cameron and Michael Christensen, who served as third drivers in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Throughout the Hypercar field are drivers that have a broad range of IMSA experience, such as the trio in the No. 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 – Hybrid of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez. And then there’s the squad of drivers in the two Ferrari 499Ps, most of whom were competing in GTD and GTD PRO Ferrari entries at Daytona. LMP2 regular Mikkel Jensen joins the Peugeot team in the No. 93 9X8.
With Acura not joining Porsche and Cadillac in competing at Le Mans this year, the drivers are free agents for the race and filling the LMP2 field. Acura rivals Filipe Albuquerque (Wayne Taylor Racing) and Tom Blomqvist (Meyer Shank Racing) become teammates with United Autosports in the Nos. 22 and 23 ORECA 07 Gibsons. LMP2 regular Josh Pierson and Blomqvist’s 2022 DPi co-champion Oliver Jarvis join Blomqvist in the No. 23.
Albuquerque’s IMSA co-driver Ricky Taylor is in Tower Motorsports’ LMP2 entry. He was slated to join defending LMP2 champ John Farano, who earned his invitation by winning the Jim Trueman Award last season, but Farano bowed out after his accident at Laguna Seca last month. Instead, Steven Thomas will join Taylor and Rene Rast. Another GTP driver in the LMP2 field is MSR’s Colin Braun, joining WeatherTech Championship LMP2 competitor George Kurtz in the No. 45 Algarve Pro Racing entry.
Acura’s GTP team isn’t competing at Le Mans but its drivers can be found in an array of LMP2 entries, including Filipe Albuquerque in United Autosport’s No.22. Rainier Ehrhardt/Motorsport Images
Kurtz, Thomas and Jensen are just a couple of the IMSA LMP2 regulars making the trip to Le Mans. Some of the familiar competition they’ll face include Louis Deletraz, Paul-Loup Chatin, Giedo van der Garde, Kurtz’s regular co-driver Ben Hanley, Francois Heriau, Anders Fjordbach and Christian Rasmussen. Two GTD PRO competitors will be in LMP2 machinery as well: Pfaff Motorsports’ Patrick Pilet and Vasser Sullivan’s Ben Barnicoat.
The GT classes won’t directly translate until the FIA and Le Mans adopts the GT3 formula next year, but plenty of teams swap machinery to run both IMSA and at Le Mans in GTE-Am, including Corvette Racing, AO Racing, Proton Competition, Heart of Racing, AF Corse and Iron Lynx.
AO Racing, with Project 1, are running the GTE version of the 911 in its familiar Rexy livery for PJ Hyett, Gunnar Jeanette and Matteo Cairoli. Corvette Racing has Ben Keating with Nicky Catsburg and Nico Varrone in the lone C8.R, coming in on the strength of two victories in WEC this season already. Proton is running several Porsches, two of which are filled with IMSA regulars: the No. 16 for Ryan Hardwick, Jan Heylen and Zacharie Robichon; and the No. 88 for Harry Tincknell, Brendan Iribe and Ollie Millroy. Proton’s team principal, Christian Ried, will be in the No. 77 Dempsey-Proton entry; he and Julian Andlauer joined by Mikkel Pedersen.
Heart of Racing is taking the Northwest AMR entry, formerly run by the recently-retired Paul Dalla Lana. Ian James, Alex RIberas and Daniel Mancinelli will drive the No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage AMR. Heart of Racing GTD driver Marco Sorensen will be in the No. 55 GMB Motorsport Aston.
“For a couple of years there’s been an ambition to do more stuff on a global scale,” says Heart of Racing team principal James. “We tried to get a WEC entry this year at the beginning of year but we didn’t quite get that, we’re first reserve; we got the opportunity to take over the Dalla Lana entry so we grabbed that. I think there’s just a desire to do the big races, the big championships around the world, and this is part of the expansion.”
The Iron Dames switch from Lamborghini to Porsche with Michelle Gatting, Rahel Frey and Sarah Bovy in the No. 85. LMP2 regular Scott Huffaker is in the No. 57 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488, while two drivers normally seen in Turner Motorsport BMWs in IMSA competition will be looking for Le Mans glory – Michael Dinan in an ORT by TF Aston Martin, and Chandler Hull in a Walkenhorst Motorsport Ferrari.
Finally, while not competing in a regular class, Jimmie Johnson, JDC-Miller Motorsports Porsche pilot Mike Rockenfeller and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button will bring a little extra volume to the French countryside in the NASCAR Garage 56 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 run by Hendrick Motorsports. The effort, helmed by IMSA President and CEO John Doonan and with Corvette Racing’s Jordan Taylor serving as reserve driver, has been a popular one with the fans in scrutineering and testing.
The centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans gets underway with practice on Wednesday at 2 p.m. local time/8 a.m. ET, with the race kicking off Saturday at 4 p.m. local time/10 a.m. Eastern.