Climbing the Ladder: Blossoming IMSA Talent Well on Display in 2024

By Tony DiZinno

IMSA Wire Service

Beyond the flagship IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, seven ladder series give fans and interested onlookers a chance to discover the wide swath and array of talent present in a single paddock.

While no race weekend holds all series on a single weekend, some combination of IMSA’s two Challenge series (Michelin Pilot Challenge and VP Racing SportsCar Challenge) and/or five single-make series (Ferrari Challenge North America, Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, Mustang Challenge, Porsche Carrera Cup North America and Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by Michelin) frequently serves up a tasty appetizer of competition prior to the main course.

The talent development is important too as some of the WeatherTech Championship stars begin to enter the latter stages of their career. In just the first racing weekends of the season at Daytona International Speedway in January, it was apparent that those present within IMSA’s ladder ranks have already made impacts in other series.

Drivers and teams have an ability to progress as their circumstances allow, and the natural progression was on display in Daytona to start.

This month, there are two more Florida race weekends ahead, this week in St. Petersburg (for the VP Racing Challenge) and next week at Sebring International Raceway (Michelin Pilot Challenge, Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, Mazda MX-5 Cup and Porsche Carrera Cup North America ahead of the WeatherTech Championship finale).

Here’s a six-pack of examples of young drivers on the rise to begin 2024:

Riley Dickinson

With 11 wins from 16 races, Dickinson, 21, controlled the 2023 Porsche Carrera Cup North America series en route to that championship, following in the footsteps of previous champions Parker Thompson (2022) and Sebastian Priaulx (2021). And like both, he’s in a different series now.

Thompson and Priaulx have both advanced into the WeatherTech Championship (more on that in a moment), and Dickinson took his first step to doing so in his Michelin Pilot Challenge series debut at Daytona.

Sharing the No. 91 Kellymoss with Riley Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport with fellow young drivers Michael McCarthy and Brady Golan, Dickinson learned and completed his first fuel-saving effort in real-time to score a surprise victory.

“The aggressive nature of the drivers around you is the same as I have seen throughout my career in the Porsche one-make series,” he explained. “What is different is that it isn’t always the same driver or the same car around you.”

Seb Priaulx

Priaulx, 23, the inaugural Porsche Carrera Cup North America champion, is set for his sophomore WeatherTech Championship season driving the No. 77 AO Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R (992) in the GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) class. He had by far his best weekend at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, scoring the class pole and sharing his entry with Laurin Heinrich and Michael Christensen to finish second in class.

Priaulx, son of several-time touring car champion and sports car veteran Andy Priaulx, has been on a methodical but intentional development path in the IMSA ranks. Prior to Carrera Cup, he was a race winner in Michelin Pilot Challenge. In both series, he won on his debut weekend.

Daniel Morad

Morad, 33, had a quietly dynamic weekend in Daytona to start his 2024 season. A past Porsche GT3 Cup Canada champion (2016, before the series evolved into Carrera Cup North America), Morad delivered a podium double in both Michelin Pilot Challenge and the WeatherTech Championship.

He finished second in the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 he shared with Bryce Ward in the Michelin Pilot Challenge race, his full-season program. As fourth driver for the Rolex 24 in the team’s No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3, he brought the car home to the checkered flag in GT Daytona (GTD) to secure his second Rolex 24 class victory (2017, GTD).

Steven Aghakhani

Aghakhani’s entry into VP Racing Challenge at Daytona couldn’t have started any better. He entered the weekend off a one-year hiatus and without ever having raced a prototype. But in his Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) debut in his No. 6 MLT Motorsports Ligier JS P320, he went two-for-two in the pair of 45-minute sprint races.

Like others on this list, Aghakhani is young but experienced. He’s 20 now, but at 15 made headlines as the youngest driver to ever compete in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America. He won 10 races in three seasons, captured a Lamborghini World Finals title and made his WeatherTech Championship debut in a Mercedes-AMG GT3 at Long Beach in 2021.

Luca Mars

Mars made his Michelin Pilot Challenge debut in the second race of 2022 at Sebring and immediately made waves with his early pace and poise, his first race after turning 16. A maiden podium capped off his rookie year at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, and a second-place finish at Road America in 2023 moved him one spot closer to a potential first win in that series.

Now closing in on turning 18, he opened 2024 with a bang. In the brand-new No. 59 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4, he swept both VP Racing Challenge GSX races in Daytona, the first after starting last and the second after starting from pole. He followed that up by teaming with Bob Michaelian to finish eighth in the Grand Sport (GS) class in the No. 59 KohR Mustang in the Michelin Pilot Challenge race.

Connor Zilisch

Zilisch, 17, is on the NASCAR track with a developmental contract in hand from Trackhouse Racing, but he’s been an immediate standout in his sports car races the last couple years. A Mazda MX-5 Cup race winner and championship challenger, the teenager was one of the breakout stars of the 2024 Rolex 24 with a class win in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA 07. When he races in IMSA competition, whatever the series, he’s a must-watch.

Watch these drivers and others in IMSA’s Challenge and single-make series on Peacock and for the remainder of the season. You never know who the next star might be ascending the ladder.