The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams are preparing to attack Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the first time since 2014, when Grand Am last visited the track. Many of the racers will be getting their first laps of the 2.439-mile, 14-turn circuit during Friday practice. But even those who have raced there previously in Grand Am or since then in GT3 cars, Indy cars or other series know that they will have a wide set of challenges to overcome.
“When you look at the track, it doesn’t look that difficult,” says Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2 driver Ryan Dalziel, who won at Indy with Starworks in 2013 and has raced at the track in recent years in GT3 cars. “But I think we would all agree that it’s actually very challenging. I think the lack of use for the road course makes it always pretty tricky, especially early sessions. I think weather always plays a factor based on the last times we were there. But it’s a busy place; other than the front straight, you don’t stop working the car.
“Do you want to run low downforce or high downforce, trying to figure out what’s the best compromise on the track? We had an interesting test there [in July] and what we thought was going to work for the P2 car did not. I’m glad that we got to do that a couple of days of testing, because we definitely rolled out of the truck with a very different car to how we plan on going back there. So, not an easy place.”
Dalziel and Dwight Merriman are trying to haul themselves into the LMP2 title fight, currently led by Ben Keating ad Paul-Loup Chatin in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports entry by the No. 11 TDS Racing squad of Steven Thomas and Mikkel Jensen. Cadillac Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande have a similarly tough task to close the 118-point gap to GTP leaders Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor for Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport in the No. 10 Acura ARX-06. But Bourdais knows a thing or two about racing at the Brickyard, having won there in sports cars — also with Starworks — and racing on the road course in IndyCar.
“I think it’s also a very much of a one-groove racetrack, and every time you’re gonna have to get out of that groove — and you will have to — is going to make it very difficult,” said the Frenchman, driver of the No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R. “Marbles build up really fast. So for us in GTP, not really being much faster than the LMP2s — and certainly not being really any faster in the braking zones or the corners — the interaction is going to be quite tricky and will decide the race for sure. How easily your car lets you maneuver around people will be key.
“Technically, I think it’s also a track that’s very, very tricky, because you have very pointy apexes. You’re basically braking and shooting for a very specific point. and therefore the margin to hit the apex or not is very, very small and very critical. Because if you hit the apex, it dictates a very different corner than if you’re like a half a foot away. So it’s all kind of dictated at the turn-in point; there’s no real readjustment from there. And they’re all pretty long corners, so I think a good front end and getting the car to to maneuver around is critical.”
The only new track on the 2023 IMSA schedule comes at a crucial point in the championship, with only two races left, and it’s the final sprint race of the season (next year it will be a six-hour endurance race). The GTP points battle is quite tight, with the spread from WTRAndretti in first to Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly (No. 25 BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8) in third being only 73 points.
The No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac V-Series.R squad of Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims sits in between, 14 points — less than a single race finishing position — out of first. Porsche Penske Motorsports is still in it as well, Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet being 98 points back. Bourdais and van der Zande are tied with Colin Braun and Tom Blomqvist (No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura) for fifth on points, although the MSR crew gets the edge in position thanks to having two wins.
LMP2 has a little more breathing room, Keating and Chatin being 45 points ahead of Thomas and Jensen. George Kurtz and Ben Hanley are third, another 52 points back. LMP3, which swells to nine entries for the Brickyard, has been dominated by Gar Robinson — usually with Felipe Fraga — in the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier, and he has a commanding 251-point lead over Matthew Bell and Orey Fidani (No. 13 AWA Duqueine), although the race gets tighter from there.
Vasser Sullivan’s Lexus duo of Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat bring a healthy GTD PRO lead to Indy. Michael Levitt/Lumen
Both GTD classes have been a bit of a runaway this season. Ben Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth — who scored his first IMSA victory at IMS — lead GTD PRO by 144 points for the Vasser Sullivan Lexus squad. They’re chased by the No. 3 Corvette Racing C8.R duo of Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia, who in turn have a 107-point margin to Pfaff Motorsport’s Patrick Pilet and Klaus Bachler.
Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow have steamrolled the GTD competition this season. A start at Indy will clinch them the Sprint Cup, and if they win, they will have locked up the season championship for Paul Miller Racing and BMW before Petit Le Mans. Either way, Marco Sorensen and defending champion Roman De Angelis don’t have a lot of hope for catching Snow and Sellers, with 2621 points to 2996 for the No. 1 squad. Meanwhile they need to hold off Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo (No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC-F) who are 68 points out of second, and Frederik Schandorff and Brendan Iribe, 85 points out of second in the Inception Racing McLaren 720S.
Several GTD cars got big Balance of Performance adjustments ahead of Indy. The BMW M4 GT3, Lexus and Corvette all received power reductions. The McLaren received an additional 20kg of weight, while the Mercedes-AMG GT3 lost 30kg. The Porsche 911 GT3R received both a weight increase, and an increase in restrictor size.
The action for this weekend’s Battle on the Bricks actually gets started on Thursday evening with a Street Fest on Main Street in downtown Speedway from 6 to 8pm, with the first official practice Friday afternoon. The 2h40m race is scheduled for a green flag at 1:10pm local (Eastern) time on Sunday. The WeatherTech Championship is joined at Indy by the Michelin Pilot Challenge, which will have a four-hour race on Saturday that goes into darkness. In addition, Porsche Deluxe Carrera Cup North America and Lamborghini Super Trofeo will have a pair of races each, Saturday and Sunday.
WeatherTech Championship qualifying on Saturday afternoon will be carried live on IMSA.tv. The IMPC race will be carried live on Peacock. Live, flag-to-flag coverage of the WeatherTech Championship race will be available on NBC starting at 1pm Eastern on Sunday, as well as streamed on Peacock.