What to Watch For: Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N

By David Phillips

IMSA Wire Service

From iconic venue to iconic venue, the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship rolls along. What could top a season-opening trifecta featuring Daytona International Speedway, Sebring International Raceway and the hallowed streets of Long Beach?

Try historic and spectacular WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, which has challenged most of the world’s greatest sports cars, teams and drivers since 1957. Many of those current cars, teams and drivers will gather at the 11-turn roller coaster this weekend for the Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N. Want some things to keep an eye on as they take on the famous road course? We’ve got you covered.

On a GTP Roll

The event marks the sophomore appearance of the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class at WeatherTech Raceway, following a debut of the hybrid powertrain prototypes that saw the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R take its first and only win of the ’23 campaign. That same Cadillac Racing squad comes back this year on a roll, having captured the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in April.

But there are no guarantees of a return to the winner’s circle. After all, last year’s victory ended Acura’s bid for a fifth straight win at WeatherTech Raceway and the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06 already has a win in this season’s books. The No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 has notched a win this season as well, while the pace of the two BMW M Team RLL BMWs – if not necessarily their fortunes – has been on the upswing, notably at Long Beach where the No. 25 BMW H Hybrid V8 qualified on the front row. 

What’s more, there’s a wild card in the reckoning, given that work began on repaving the entire 2.238-mile circuit soon after last year’s race. If post-Long Beach testing is any indication, track records in the three classes competing this weekend will plummet.

Just ask Sebastien Bourdais.

“Grip has gone up a lot,” said the defending race winner (with co-driver Renger van der Zande). “It’s probably going to be at least a couple of seconds faster and it’s always an awesome feeling when you drive a repaved track. I’ve always enjoyed Laguna, but the tire degradation was high and the grip was quite low at the end of the cycle of the old pavement. So, now it’s full force, maximum attack and commitment, so it’s a ton of fun to muscle those GTP cars around. You should see some pretty incredible speeds around the weekend.”

GTD Return to Status Quo or No

Long Beach saw Winward Racing’s No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 domination of the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class come to an end. Winners at Daytona and Sebring, to say nothing of closing out the ’23 season with a victory and a second place, Winward had no answer for the No. 89 Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC F GT3 in Southern California. Then again, neither did the rest of the GTD field. Back on what is likely more “Merc-friendly” turf – witness last year’s pole position – the Winward Mercedes surely rates among this weekend’s favorites. That said, all 15 GTD entries will be competing on the same new pavement as the GTP (and GTD PRO) cars. As with the other classes, whoever best comes to grip (so to speak) with the new track surface will likely be spraying champagne on Sunday. 

Porsche figures to provide stiff competition with a trio of 911 GT3 Rs from the Andretti, MDK and Wright teams looking to repeat the success Porsche enjoyed last year when the marque grabbed the win and a third place. Ditto BMW and Turner Motorsport, which finished runner-up in ’23 and whose BMW M4 GT3 will bear the No. 557 in celebration of the team’s 557th race with the Munich-based manufacturer, most ever for a team representing the Bayerische Motoren Werks AG.

GTD PRO Battle Resumes

After taking the weekend off at Long Beach, the GTD PRO class returns to action and will likely see a shakeup in the class standings. That’s because the class-leading No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari only plans to contest the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races, opening the door for other competitors to rise to the top of the class pecking order. The next five teams in the standings are clustered within 32 points of each other, and four will be in competition this weekend.

At the risk of being redundant, the new pavement will come into play in GTD PRO as well. Teams like Heart of Racing and Vasser Sullivan – with entries in both GTD PRO and GTD – may enjoy a slight edge because they’ll have cars competing in both classes and will have double the data to analyze in quest of the ideal setup. And what of Corvette and Mustang? With entries in both classes as well (though for different teams), they stand to reap similar benefits.

All told, it adds up to an intriguing weekend of sports car racing on the Monterey Peninsula. Be sure to follow all the action on NBC and Peacock, IMSA.com/TVLive and IMSA Radio. 

Speedway Digest Staff
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