No Caution-Fest, Please! IMSA GTD Class Has Chance to Shine at Long Beach

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IMSA CTD Class Wants Clean Race at Long BeachIMSA Photo

The teams in GTD class of the WeatherTech Championship will get a chance to show what they can do in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where winning is hard and the walls harder.

The IMSA category for GT3-type cars, where teams must use at least one lower-ranked driver, will be the only class competing with the headline GTP hybrids.

Such is the prestige of winning at Long Beach, Lexus will split its GTD Pro drivers, Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat, between two entries to improve it chances under the GTD-only format. Another sign of the race’s pull is the return of Flying Lizard Motorsports for the Saturday event, one of 17 entries along with 10 of the GTPs.


There is not much margin for error on this street circuit. Will the focus and pressure on silver and bronze drivers in GTD be an opportunity to shine or will the race turn into a caution fest? Will the gold-ranked or platinum-ranked pros, who are the designated race finishers for their teams, push the limits too far?

“It’s always a question of skating that fine line or pushing too much and going over the line,” said Frankie Montecalvo, who will co-drive a Lexus RC F GT3 with Hawksworth for Vasser Sullivan. “(Maybe) having a little bit of a rub versus a hard impact taking you out. You have to be conservative, but at the same time pushing as hard as you can.”

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The No. 34 Conquest Racing, Ferrari 296 GT3 of drivers Manny Franco and Albert Costa BalboaIMSA Photo

Even if the Shoreline Drive grandstands thin out after IndyCar qualifying, Long Beach’s legendary status—and the opportunity to stand on the single GT podium—will no doubt have GTD drivers on the cam. This may not be a good thing in a 100-minute contest.

At the two season-opening enduros at Daytona and Sebring, where large crowds had drivers pumped up, cautions occurred regularly and may have been a factor in TV and streaming ratings that did not match the events’ green flag excitement.

Due to limited space in the paddock, the GTD Pro teams were not invited to Long Beach and will run in their own 100-minute street race in Detroit along with the GTP hybrids. The Mustang GT3 and Corvette Z06 GT3.R factory teams will be missing at Long Beach, but customer teams Proton Competition (Mustang) and AWA (Corvette) are entered.

Could these two street races be a bellwether for single-class GTD racing for IMSA? This year, the World Endurance Championship features only the Hypercar hybrids and a single GT3 class. Those who watch IMSA races, even veterans, are often confused by the same specification GT3 cars racing in different classes according to the driving lineups.

One solution to the confusion is assigning points according to where each car finishes over-all, which would mean only three real podium finishers for fans to follow—like there will be at Long Beach and Detroit. Currently, each of the GTD classes are given points for finishing first, second or third in class no matter where they finish in the final order.

“If I ran IMSA, which I’m not,” said Hawksworth, “the points would be paid according to where you cross the finish line.”

Given the volume of GTD entries and its appeal to drivers and team owners who bring budgets, it is unlikely IMSA will make a change from the current two classes or points system. A new format, albeit more amenable to fans and TV viewers, could result in teams leaving to join the SRO series that feature GT3 machinery.

Platinum-rated Barnicoat and gold-rated Hawksworth won the GTD Pro class last year on board Vasser Sullivan’s Lexus RC F. This year, Barnicoat is paired with silver-rated drivers Parker Thompson and will compete against his usual teammate, Hawksworth, for the first time.

Montecalvo, who has two career wins in GTD, said it’s going to be like any other race. “The GTD is one of the most competitive with the car count that we have,” said the silver-rated driver. “I really don’t feel any more pressure.”

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Gentleman driver Elias Sabo joins silver-rated Andy Lee in an Aston Martin Vantage GT3 Evo at Long Beach.IMSA Photo

Flying Lizard, one of IMSA’s most decorated teams, will be one of four entries with a bronze-rated driver. Gentleman driver Elias Sabo joins silver-rated Andy Lee in an Aston Martin Vantage GT3 Evo. The team will race in its current black-and-orange colors of sponsor 5.11 Tactical, not the famed red-and-silver scheme featuring a winged dragon.

“From the moment I started working with Elias, Long Beach was always a huge goal for us,” said Lee. “It’s basically Elias’ hometown race since it’s so close to his business and family.”

Winward Racing, the winner of three of the last four GTD events, is not a prohibitive favorite on a street course that demands point and shoot. The team’s Mercedes AMG GT3 prefers more long straights and high-speed turns.

The team’s drivers, Russell Ward and Philip Ellis, are the runaway points leaders in GTD. They likely will be observing the adage about how to win championships: to finish first, first you must finish. Always words to drive by at Long Beach.