GTPs to become the first hybrids to race at the Brickyard ahead of Indy cars.
Indy is familiar turf to a majority of the GTP teams looking to make their mark.
Michelin returns to the scene of the controversial U.S. Grand Prix in 2005.
There are not a lot of first-time occurrences left at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has become the heartland’s racing crossroads by hosting just about everything except a car versus airplane race. But when IMSA returns to the Speedway after a nine-year absence for the WeatherTech Championship’s Battle of the Bricks this weekend, there will be some significant firsts.
The GTP class’s environmentally conscious hybrid prototypes will take the, ahem, green flag in a major series race at the Speedway for the first time as well as the checkers. (IndyCar is scheduled to introduce its hybrid version of “push to pass” in 2024.)
Five of the GTP teams will chase the honor of becoming the first to win an Indy 500 and a GTP race at the fabled track, if one includes Wayne Taylor Racing’s partner Andretti Global.
There is another first that is not so ballyhooed. Michelin, which shods all the WeatherTech competitors, will be supplying tires looking for an overall victory in a major auto race for the first time since its star-crossed final two years in Formula 1. (In 2014, Michelin was the tire provider to the GT LM class entries in IMSA’s most recent appearance at Indy, when Continental was the supplier for Daytona Prototypes.)
Rarely has there been a stranger race than the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix, where six cars ran in tandem for the full race distance, led by the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubins Barrichello. After numerous tire failures in practice and qualifying, the 14 cars on Michelins were driven into the pits on Sunday following the formation lap, leaving the race to the three teams on Bridgestone tires, which included Jordan and Minardi. A pre-race proposal to put in a chicane prior to the final high-speed trip through what was usually Turn 1 on the oval failed to find the votes needed from Ferrari and the FIA.
The fallout was enormous. Fans booed, chanted “Bullshit,” then demanded refunds and got them. Although it was never cited as a factor, after returning for the sparsely attended 2006 U.S. Grand Prix, Michelin quit F1 at the end of that season. Indy was dropped by the world championship after the 2007 race.
What to Expect This Time Around
A stalwart supporter of IMSA, including the American Le Mans Series years, Michelin’s return is expected to add a far more desirable drama. The question mark of high speed in the clockwise trip through the oval’s Turn 1 has long since been resolved by a configuration change that puts cars back on the track closer to the entrance to the long front straight.
It’s expected to be a close race after testing in July resulted in nine GTPs lapping within six-tenths of a second on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile circuit, led by drivers of the BMW M Team RLL, followed closely by Sebastian Bourdais, driver of the Cadillac V-Series.R of Chip Ganassi Racing.
As part of the green push, teams are limited to three sets of Michelins, including qualifying. That leaves them an option of changing just two tires on a pit stop. Bourdais said his Michelins got better the more he pushed. “Everybody is pushing like crazy,” said Bourdais. “To get (the) lap times, you have to push really hard. The time doesn’t come easy; you have to really dig and use the brakes super hard. But the more you push the tires, the more it gives you. I don’t think anybody is taking it easy!”
Maybe not all teams will be pushing. To protect sizable championship points leads in GTD Pro and GTD, Vasser Sullivan’s Lexus team and Paul Miller Racing’s BMW squad are expected to keep on eye on steady performances prior to the season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Sneak Peak at 2024 IMSA Event at Indy
On Saturday, the preliminary Michelin Pilot Challenge teams’ four-hour event will race into the evening as a preview to another first next year. The 2024 WeatherTech Championship event will be a six-hour race expected to finish in the night, the first new major endurance event for IMSA competitors since the Petit Le Mans was established in 1998.
This year’s Battle on the Bricks will likely be hotly contested in terms of the typical mid-September weather in Indianapolis and the prestige of winning at the world’s most famous closed course circuit. There’s just something about this hallowed place haunted by so many famed racing ghosts where finishing first is always a major moment. As the cynics might point out, even Ferrari’s victory in 2005 was special, because it was the Scuderia’s only victory in a season when it was otherwise beaten by the Michelin-shod teams.