A Host of Rising Racers Have Climbed the IMSA Ranks to the Top-Tier Class

By Mark Robinson

IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The talent pipeline within the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is never more evident than it will be in 2023.


Drivers for the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class provide the perfect example. While there are a number of established prototype aces on the list, there’s also an impressive roster of rising stars making their initial forays into the top-level class.


Mathieu Jaminet. Matt Campbell. Alexander Sims. Louis Deletraz. Get to know the names because they each will play pivotal roles in determining the success of their respective GTP teams. But how did they get here and, just as importantly, what do leading teams look for when seeking out that next great talent?


Jaminet and Campbell have climbed the Porsche driver pyramid, winning the WeatherTech Championship GTD PRO class championship in 2022 to catapult into rides in Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963s this year. Sims impressed enough in a Corvette Racing GTD PRO program that he’s been added to fellow GM brand Cadillac’s LMDh lineup. Deletraz caught the eye of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport driving a Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), enough that the Swiss driver was named WTR’s third driver for endurance events in the Acura ARX-06.


Then there’s Colin Braun, a bit of a renaissance man making his second, or really third, climb to the pinnacle of sports car racing. Braun, who made his IMSA top-tier prototype debut literally half his lifetime ago at age 16 in 2005, will share the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura ARX-06 in the upcoming season with Tom Blomqvist.

Now 34, Braun (on left in photo with teammates Blomqvist and Helio Castroneves) provides likely the best perspective on what it takes to get to the top. It’s a combination, he says, of talent, making connections within the paddock who go to bat for you, perseverance and surpassing expectations when given the opportunity.


“For me, it was about exceeding those expectations and really delivering quickly that kind of kept things moving in the right direction,” Braun says. “That was kind of the pressure in the situations that I was used to throughout my career, given the different opportunities that presented themselves.”


Braun cites the example from when he was 16. After starting in a pair of GT races, he earned the opportunity in a Daytona Prototype for Essex Racing, not known as a frontrunning team.


“I was able to go in at VIR in one of my final races in that car and challenge for the win of the race,” Braun recalls. “Everyone was like, ‘Holy cow, that’s exceeding expectations,’ and I think that’s sort of what opened Tracy Krohn’s eyes. And obviously he hired me and it was a successful deal. That was for sure one of those instances big time.”


Now a respected veteran driver, Braun has 22 career IMSA wins and three championships. It’s a résumé that Deletraz, the 25-year-old Swiss driver, hopes to mimic. A former test driver in Formula 1, Deletraz helped John Farano and Tower Motorsports capture the WeatherTech Championship LMP2 title last year with a pair of wins, including the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Two days after that triumph, Deletraz was turning test laps in the No. 10 Acura LMDh.

Deletraz knew officials from several teams were monitoring his progress during the season, but WTR won out.


“What I really liked of Wayne Taylor is he came to me, and he clearly showed me he wanted me in the team,” Deletraz said. “Endurance (racing) is obviously teamwork, and the way they approach things I think they also see the same in me. I come here to win, I want to win everything I can and do the best possible and they have the same mentality. When you share those values, the performance, and obviously I enjoy it because it’s my passion, it’s what made a difference because there are many good drivers out there.”


Mike O’Gara approaches it from the team perspective. As director of operations at Chip Ganassi Racing, he and other team leaders are always on the lookout for budding talent. And with names like Zanardi, Montoya, Franchitti and Dixon having delivered a mountain of trophies to the team in different disciplines, there’s proof in their process.


O’Gara says CGR seeks drivers who find a way to win at all levels.


“We feel like there’s an intangible on knowing how to win a race,” he explains. “That’s more than just driving a race car quickly or fast. It’s the whole mentality, the whole mindset on taking care of your car, getting through traffic. Chip’s mantra is ‘Do the obvious things right.’ He says that before every race in every race meeting. Our theory is if there’s a driver that’s talented and he does the obvious things right, he’s going to end up on the podium – probably on the top step of the podium a lot.


“You can have a kid with some talent but in the best equipment and he does fine, but the people you’ve got to look for is people that may not be in the best equipment … but they’re figuring out how to take that equipment and win races. Those have been the most successful drivers that we’ve had here.”


Which of the drivers new to the top prototype class will take that next step to greatness? Only time and a rigorous 2023 schedule will tell. First up is the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 28-29.

Adam Sinclair