Expanded LMP2 Field Adds Depth to WeatherTech Championship

By John Oreovicz

IMSA Wire Service

Amongst the unpredictability of racing in general and the Rolex 24 At Daytona in particular, at least one prediction heading into the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship opener held true. The Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class is headed toward a full-bore battle for the 2024 championship.

A hefty field of 13 cars was entered at Daytona International Speedway, with eight leading the race at some juncture. Five finished on the lead lap after 24 grueling hours, led across the finish line by the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07 shared by Ryan Dalziel, Dwight Merriman, Christian Rasmussen and Connor Zilisch.

The increased class size is due in part to LMP2 being eliminated from the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) other than the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class no longer part of the WeatherTech Championship. Eleven of the 13 LMP2s that competed at Daytona are scheduled to contest the full season, the others committed to the five IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds.

Era Motorsport is one of the WeatherTech Championship’s mainstay carryover LMP2 teams that relishes the challenge of 2024’s larger and deeper field. The new class entries include a two-car effort from United Autosports, the team co-owned by McLaren CEO Zak Brown which has expanded its part-time WeatherTech Championship presence with a driver lineup that includes two-time series LMP2 champion Ben Keating and ex-Formula 1 pilot Paul di Resta.

Riley Motorsports, which made the transition from LMP3 to the faster and more sophisticated LMP2 cars, invited ex-F1 star Felipe Massa to join regular drivers Gar Robinson, Felipe Fraga and Josh Burdon at Daytona. Sean Creech Motorsport, which also made the move from LMP3 and includes IMSA great Joao Barbosa in the driver lineup, is the only team fielding a Ligier chassis as opposed to the more common ORECA.

Toss in returning LMP2 stalwarts including CrowdStrike Racing by APR, TDS Racing, Tower Motorsports, DragonSpeed and reigning team champion PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports that’s now aligned with Polish standout Inter Europol, and it bodes for an intense LMP2 season.

“We’re very excited about the level of competition – growth for the class is good all around,” said Era Motorsport founder Kyle Tilley. “Plus, competing against the best teams from WEC gives us a benchmark, and helps us all to raise our game.”  

“It’s a big field this year for LMP2 – it’s deep,” added the versatile Keating. “It’s deep. There’s a lot of testing going on by all the teams. It’s going to be very special.”

Drivers of All Types, Ages and Skillsets Come Together in LMP2

The growth of the LMP2 class demonstrates the key role it plays in sports car racing. Drivers span the spectrum – Keating, a 52-year-old car dealer, is one of the most successful Bronze-rated drivers in modern sports car racing. Zilisch and Rasmussen, who are 17 and 23, respectively, anchored Era’s winning Daytona effort in the key hours leading to the finish.

“Christian is a beast in this car, and Connor, you just can’t say enough about him,” Dalziel said.

Dalziel is a prime example of the “typical” LMP2 driver. After running in open-wheel Formula Atlantic for three years, the Scotsman bounced between opportunities in sports cars and Indy cars. For the last 15 years, he’s enjoyed a varied and successful sports car career around the world, including an overall Rolex 24 win (2010) and an LMP2 class victory at Le Mans (2012). He’s a big fan of the class, which provides a versatile platform for drivers of all skill levels.

“It’s always had the ingredients of a great class and it’s huge in Europe and the FIA WEC, so it’s nice to see IMSA and the U.S. racing scene embracing it, because it’s such a good car,” Dalziel commented. “It’s a tricky car to get right, but it’s a very easy car to get wrong. It’s very sensitive. When you get it wrong, it’s a bit of a handful. Other than probably the Acura ARX-03B from the Patrón days, I think it’s the best car I’ve ever driven.”

Although the ORECA chassis has been thoroughly developed, Dalziel believes there is still scope for improvement. The influx of quality teams in 2024 will push the bar higher.

“With a spec car, spec engine, spec gearbox, there’s obviously only so many things you can tune on it,” he said. “With the European teams coming over, it’s gotten increasingly tighter. There were multiple races last year where you looked at the results at the end and the fastest laps between the top five cars were within a couple of tenths. There’s still enough stuff that you’re allowed to scratch on the cars with geometries and shock builds and such.

“It’s also kind of a different year,” Dalziel added. “I’ve never done five endurance races, and our season is only seven total races. It’s almost like you focus more now on the endurance races, because if you score well on them, you just need to finish the sprint races to win the championship.”

Massa, who won a total of 11 F1 races and finished a close second to Lewis Hamilton in the 2008 championship, was delighted with his first experience with IMSA, the Rolex 24 and LMP2 cars.

“I think it was a great challenge and a great experience,” Massa said. “I was always trying to do one time this race. Here I am – maybe it will be one of many, I don’t know. But really enjoying the moment.

“You have so many great drivers who have been part of this world for so many years – drivers that maybe had everything to be in Formula 1 but maybe didn’t have the opportunity,” he added. “But also Formula Indy drivers and many other championships that are really strong. At the end, when you put together the level of the drivers racing here, it’s pretty high.”

The next round of the WeatherTech Championship, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac, is also the next round of the Michelin Endurance Cup. Race week is set for March 13-16 at Sebring International Raceway.