Sunday, Sep 24

Making the Switch from GT to GTP

Saturday, May 13 358

By John Oreovicz

IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A factory-backed drive in a top-class prototype is considered the career pinnacle for sports car drivers. The new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is creating opportunity for a fresh generation of stars, most having graduated to prototypes from GT competition.


At the recent Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, only one of the six GTP drivers who earned a trip to the podium was older than 32. Last year, all six were factory-affiliated drivers racing GT machinery in the WeatherTech Championship and around the world, striving to get the call to be part of their manufacturer’s 2023 GTP program.


Now their dreams have come true, and they have been entrusted with racing the fastest, most technologically advanced prototypes in the world.

In that Long Beach sprint race, the No. 25 BMW M Hybrid V8 shared by 30-year-old Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly, age 32, just lost out to the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 driven by 28-year-old Mathieu Jaminet and 38-year-old Nick Tandy, the senior member of a podium that also included third-place No. 7 Porsche drivers Felipe Nasr (30) and Matt Campbell (28).


“It’s pretty cool for us as ‘GT guys’ to be up here,” observed De Phillippi. “Mathieu and I were door-to-door at (Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta) about five months ago, and now we’re here up on top on the podium. That’s pretty cool.”


De Phillippi joined BMW M Team RLL in 2018, notching four IMSA race wins in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) classes. Familiar with the team and with BMW’s corporate culture, the Californian’s biggest task was adapting to a bigger, more capable racecar in the LMDh platform prototype.


“It's been a great new challenge,” De Phillippi said. “Obviously, it’s a lot faster, for one. But the big thing is the drivability window, and the margin for error is next to nothing. Compared to a GT car, you can’t get away with a lot. There’s so much power that everything just happens quicker. It’s easy to get yourself in trouble fast in these things. You sit lower, it’s more rigid, so it feels faster. But it also is a lot faster.”


‘There’s a Lot of Information on Our Table Now’

Though just 30, Nasr boasts arguably the most diverse resume of all drivers in the GTP class, with experience in Formula 1 and two WeatherTech Championship titles in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, the predecessor to GTP.


Last year, while the Porsche GTP car was under development, Nasr served as endurance driver in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R (992) that Jaminet and Campbell guided to five race wins and the GTD PRO championship. It’s the sheer complexity of the hybrid-powered GTP cars that excites the Brazilian ace the most.


“Having driven sports cars for quite a few years now, this is one of the most advanced cars I’ve driven in sports car racing,” Nasr said. “To run the car on track as a driver, you have lots of different aids and things you can do on the steering wheel that influence your driving style – your stint plans and stuff like this, energy regeneration, how to manage that all. There’s a lot on our table now, a lot of information that we didn’t use to have in the DPi days.”


For Jaminet, who had no prior prototype experience, the biggest factor that eased his GTP adaptation was the similarity in controls between the Porsche 911 GT3 and the 963 prototype.


“The wheel and the radio button and the kill switch for the engine are all pretty much in the same position, so the transition is actually quite nice,” he remarked. “We have pushed for a couple of years to make this happen because it makes it easier for us drivers to jump from one car to another.”


Jaminet and Campbell continue to race 911-based Porsches around the world, including in the upcoming Nurburgring 24 Hours.


“As far as driving the cars, they’re just different,” Jaminet explained. “If they’re both in a good window, they’re both fun, just very different. You can’t really compare, but I also feel I didn’t have to change so much my driving style from one to the other. It suits pretty well both cars, but it ends up feeling very, very different.”


Doing the GTP-GT Double Is Draining

Porsche factory driver Laurens Vanthoor actually raced both Porsches in the space of 24 hours at Sebring in March. Vanthoor competed in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s 1000 Miles of Sebring in a Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, before tackling – and winning – IMSA’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring the very next day in Pfaff’s GTD PRO 911 GT3.


Starting the Sebring WEC race in a Porsche prototype was a career highlight for 31-year-old Vanthoor, who raced GT cars for Audi from 2013-16 before joining Porsche’s factory GT lineup in 2017.


“I was actually really excited like a kid,” Vanthoor recalled on his “Over the Limit” podcast. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for 10 years, when I was with Audi, and now it’s happening. I still get goosebumps when I think about it. It’s something I was waiting for, for a long time.”


Vanthoor described the marathon double as “exhausting” and admitted he was too tired to join the Pfaff crew to celebrate their class victory after the Twelve Hours.


“Sebring is quite physical,” he said. “You feel it in your muscles, and whenever I get out of the (GTP) car, I’m just tired because the speeds are high and there are so many things to do in the car and functions you have to manage. You can adjust so many things in the car, it’s so complicated, and at the moment, not everybody understands. So it’s a lot of thinking besides driving, and that’s the exhausting part.


“The warmup (in the GTD PRO 911) was a bit weird in the beginning – it felt like I was driving a bus!” he laughed.


Yelloly, a BMW contracted driver since 2019, believes that switching between the two cars requires an almost completely different mindset.


“I’m lucky enough I still get to do GTs in Europe, so hopping between the two is the perfect combination,” he said. “The driving styles I would say are quite different. It’s two entirely different mentalities you have to go about. You get the real door-to-door hitting people in GTs, but here (in GTP), the speeds are a lot higher and you have to be more careful.


“It’s quite a privilege to be able to jump between the two, like having the best of both worlds.”

Adam Sinclair

Adam has been a race fan since the first time he went through the tunnel under the Daytona International Speedway more than 30 years ago. He has had the privilege of traveling to races all across the state of Florida (as well as one race in Ohio), watching nearly everything with a motor compete for fame and glory, as well as participating in various racing schools to get the feel of what racecar drivers go through every week.  

Adam spent several years covering motorsports for, where he had the opportunity to see the racing world from behind the scenes as well as the grandstands. He invites everyone to follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus, and looks forward to sharing his enthusiasm for all things racing with the readers of

Be sure to tune in for his sports talk program, Thursday Night Thunder, where he discusses the latest in motorsports news with drivers, crew members, and fans. The show takes place (almost) every Thursday at 8:00 pm EST on the Speedway Digest Radio Network. 

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