Shortly after the checkered flag fell at Saturday’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Belle Isle in Detroit, there was a rush at the airport. More than a third of the drivers in contention headed directly to France to contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans, joining more than a dozen of their regular IMSA colleagues who race in LMP2 or GTD Pro. In total, more than two dozen regulars of the WeatherTech championship – drivers who race a full season, or all four races of the Michelin Endurance Cup – will take part in the 90th edition of the famous French endurance race.
Add in the drivers serving as the fourth driver at Daytona or other one-time events during the year, and that number climbs much higher. There is a good chance that a driver familiar to IMSA fans will take the podium at the Circuit de la Sarthe on Sunday afternoon.
Among those battling for overall victory are Olivier Pla, Pipo Derani and Richard Westbrook, all driving for Glickenhaus Racing – Pla and Derani in the #708 Glickenhaus 007 LMH and Westbrook in the #709. Although not the favorites – which probably goes to Action Express Racing’s Michelin Endurance Cup regulars Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 Toyota GR010 HYBRID – they have a good shot.
“I did it last year for Glickenhaus and it was a great start,” Westbrook said. “Both cars ran perfectly but didn’t quite have the pace to really battle Toyota; but it seems that over the winter they made a lot of improvements. The BoP, for sure, is better. So we are closer to Toyota. I think we can go there much more confident that we can at least fight on performance for a win and that’s all we want to do. We know the car is reliable, but you never know in a 24 hour race. The slightest problem can escalate. »
For many competitors, it’s a glimpse of the future as they prepare for the LMDh. The Penske team is competing in LMP2 to get a new taste of Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship with a view to running the Porsche LMDh car next year. For others, the cars they drive now will be the cars they may race against next year.
“It’s a great opportunity to be on both sides of the new regulations, getting a taste of the LMH with Glickenhaus,” Derani said. “And then soon, I hope, the LMDh with Cadillac. It gives the perspective of both sides and how to deal with them and how to race against each other. But as a driver, coming back to Le Mans is always good, especially when you’re fighting in a premier class. And as a driver, that’s the last one I need to win. I’m going to Le Mans with, I would say, a small chance of at least fighting for the overall victory.
LMP2s are packed with IMSA competitors with a chance to win. Alex Lynn, Oliver Jarvis, Josh Pierson (ORECA #23) and Filipe Albuquerque (ORECA #22) all drive for United Autosports USA. Ricky Taylor, Le Mans native Sébastien Bourdais, Tristan Vautier, Stephen Thomas and Mikkel Jensen are also racing in LMP2.
The only drivers going to Le Mans for the same team in roughly the same car, albeit in a different class, are Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor, with fellow IMEC driver Nicky Catsburg in the #63 Corvette Racing C8.R. They will be joined by normal teammates Tommy Milner and Nick Tandy, who only competed at Daytona this season before focusing on the WEC. Along with Alex Sims, the #64 Corvette topped the test day timesheets for LMGTE Pro. In LMGTE Pro and Am, eight more of their GTD and GTD Pro compatriots will be represented, including Renger van der Zande who upgrades from a prototype to a JMW Motorsport Ferrari GTE Am with Michelin Pilot Challenge regular Jason Hart.
Other household names in the GTE class include Frederick Schandorff (Kessel Racing Ferrari); Matt Campbell (Porsche Proton Competition); Cooper MacNeil and Julien Andlauer (WeatherTech Racing Porsche); Jan Heylen (Porsche Dempsey-Proton Racing); Brenan Iribe, Ollie Millroy and Ben Barnicoat teaming up in Porsche Team Project 1; and Ben Keating in the Aston Martin TF Sport. Additionally, Riley Motorsports runs the #74 Ferrari in GTE-Pro, with a team that includes LMP3 contender Felipe Fraga.
The 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will start on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. The good news, after the rush to France, is that many riders will have a nice long break before the WeatherTech Championship regroups at Watkins Glen International for the Six Hours of Glen of Sahlen in three weeks.