Le Mans Field Filled with IMSA Superstars

By Holly Cain
IMSA Wire Service
 The world-renowned 24 Hours of Le Mans runs this weekend at Circuit de la Sarthe an ocean away in France. But the starting grid is loaded with familiar names from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
WeatherTech Championship class leaders Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor head the two-car Corvette Racing contingent at Le Mans. Pipo Derani and Olivier Pla, rivals in the WeatherTech Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, are teammates in Le Mans’ Hypercar class.
Then there’s Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque, WeatherTech Championship DPi teammates who are competing against each other in the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class at Le Mans. They’ve led the WeatherTech Championship DPi standings throughout the 2021 season after opening the year with a Rolex 24 At Daytona victory in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura.
Kevin Magnussen will make his Le Mans debut teaming in an LMP2 car with his father, sports car legend Jan Magnussen, for the first time. A top-tier assortment of other IMSA regulars will be on the grid as well.
Derani, co-driver of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi in the WeatherTech Championship, and Pla, co-driver of the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura DPi, make up two-thirds of the driver roster for the No. 708 Glickenhaus 007 Hypercar at Le Mans.
The defending LMP2 winner, United Autosports, is back with three ORECA 07 Gibsons. Albuquerque is back in a United LMP2 to defend the Le Mans win, teaming with Phillip Hanson and Fabio Scherer. Their car brings wins at both Spa and Monza this year as the team tries to repeat its FIA World Endurance Championship title.
“Coming out to Le Mans as a winner is a bit more special,’’ Albuquerque said. “I think it takes some pressure out because we have won it already before. We have won the first two (WEC) rounds (of 2021), so that’s a good sign we are one of the favorites for the wins.
“But again, Le Mans is unique and special and there are a lot of strong competitors, so we need to stay humble, have the same approach as last year, which is to do our best. It’s going to be Fabio’s first year and his pace this season has not been a problem, so I really think we have a great lineup with Phil as well.”
That LMP2 class is the largest in the field with 25 cars. The Magnussen father-son pair will drive the No. 49 High Class Racing ORECA 07 along with fellow Danish driver Anders Fjordbach. Ricky Taylor, Renger van der Zande, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis and Felipe Nasr – all WeatherTech Championship DPi regulars – will also be competing in this class.
Another LMP2 to watch is the No. 24 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA entry with co-drivers Gabriel Aubry, Simon Trummer and 2020 WeatherTech Championship LMP2 champion Patrick Kelly, who earned the Le Mans berth by winning the 2021 Jim Trueman Award as the top sportsman driver in the WeatherTech Championship.
Corvettes, Porsches and Ferraris fill the GTE Pro class, with WeatherTech Championship regular Cooper MacNeil joined by Porsche stalwarts and past WeatherTech Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) champions Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19.
Bamber set fastest time in the opening Le Mans test session. The top seven cars – including the two mid-engine Corvette Racing C8.Rs that lead the WeatherTech Championship’s GTLM class this season – were separated by less than half a second.
The Corvettes were unable to compete last year at Le Mans, snapping a 20-year run for the historic marque that featured eight class victories in three generations of front-mounted engines. With a track record like that, the Corvettes go into the weekend with hope and confidence. Corvette Racing scored a 1-2 finish in the GTLM class at the Rolex 24 in January, featuring a driver lineup identical to what they will use this weekend. Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg share the No. 63 Corvette, with Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims in the No. 64.
“It always is nice to go back somewhere when you’ve been away for a year, so it’s great to be back at Le Mans,’’ said Garcia. “One of last year’s biggest disappointments was not going to Le Mans. Conditions were what they were. We couldn’t go with the schedule shuffling, and in the end, it wasn’t possible to go.
“That knowledge of the C8.R around Le Mans would be an advantage going into this year’s race,’’ he continued. “But we can overcome that. Even though this is our first time there with this car, we’ve done many races in IMSA with the C8.R. There are a lot of laps and miles already on it.’’
The IMSA paddock will be sending an accomplished list of additional competitors to the Le Mans GTE Am class, including Ben Keating, Scott Andrews, Mikkel Jensen, Ross Gunn, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Harry Tincknell and Felipe Fraga. Robby Foley, who currently holds a share of the WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) points lead, was a late addition to the Le Mans GTE Am entry list in the No. 46 Team Project 1 Porsche.
Free practice and qualifying are set for Wednesday, with the green flag falling for the twice-around-the-clock race at 10 a.m. ET Saturday.
Adam Sinclair