Season in Review: GTP Class Lives up to Hype All the Way to ’23 Finish

By John Oreovicz

IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s fair to say that 2023 was the most anticipated season of North American sports car racing in memory, if not in history.

 

IMSA’s Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class, which introduced brand new cars built to a formula called LMDh, featured an innovative and cost-effective hybrid energy management system that created relevance to the passenger car industry, as well as storylines on the racetrack.

 

GTP produced not only the freshest and arguably most exciting race cars competing in the world in 2023, the battle for the class crown in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was indisputably closer and tenser than any other major form of motorsport.

 

Six driver pairings, representing all four competing GTP manufacturers – Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche – entered the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in championship contention, with the top three entries separated by just five points.

 

Perhaps not surprisingly in a year hallmarked by innovative technology, consistency proved to be the key to the title. The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac V-Series.R with full-season drivers Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims and endurance pilot Jack Aitken won just once (at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring), but two additional podiums (WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen International) and damage limitation elsewhere was enough to secure a second IMSA championship for Derani and first for Sims.

 

The title clash reached a dramatic peak with just over an hour remaining in the 10-hour Petit Le Mans endurance classic, when Derani and longtime rival Filipe Albuquerque (No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06) came together in Turn 1. Derani made it through the corner with light damage and the No. 31 Cadillac was able to finish sixth, while Albuquerque made heavy wall contact and was eliminated from the race.

 

That gave the No. 31 a 21-point cushion in the final standings, adding to the championship trophy Derani earned in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class in 2021.

 

Cadillac’s victory in the manufacturer championship was more clearcut over Porsche and Acura, with Sebastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande and the No. 01 Cadillac Racing entry adding a race win at WeatherTech Raceway and podiums at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Petit Le Mans. The American marque also swept IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup driver (Derani, Sims and Aitken), team (No. 31) and manufacturer honors.

“It’s been an amazing 16 months, with so much work behind the scenes from every manufacturer,” Derani remarked, referring to the nonstop development teams undertook to ready the hybrid GTP cars for competition and battle throughout the 2023 season.

 

“It took so much work to get to this championship, countless hours of missing sleep – so much effort from everyone. To be here after what I believe is the most incredible season finale for the championship, with four manufacturers fighting for the championship, it shows how tough and how competitive the championship is.

 

“To be the one leaving with the trophy as the first manufacturer’s championship is fantastic,” Derani added. “It’s amazing to be a part of the Cadillac team.”

 

The championship was the second in three years for Derani and Action Express Racing, the team that prepares the Whelen Engineering Cadillac. Cadillac also won the Prototype championships in 2017 (with Wayne Taylor Racing) and ’18 (Action Express).

 

“I think what makes this one special is that the Cadillac family took on a different look this year,” said Chris Mitchum, director of Race Team Operations for Action Express Racing. “I have to give a huge thank you to Chip Ganassi Racing (entrant of the No. 01 Cadillac) because truly they sacrificed and helped us as a team as much as we could have ever helped them. It truly was one, unified team. Competition is healthy, and I think for GM to bring our teams together was truly special and we’ve proven it now.”

 

Other Manufacturers Took Championship Battle to the End

The No. 10 Acura, with drivers Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor, failed to win a race but still took the championship fight to the very last hour of the season. Their season highlights were second place at the Rolex 24 and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and third at Road America.

 

The elephant in the championship room was the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura, driven by Tom Blomqvist and Colin Braun with Helio Castroneves as the endurance driver. They led the series with three race wins and two other podiums, but Honda Performance Development self-reported that the No. 60 team was found after winning the Rolex 24 to have illegally manipulated tire pressures. It was subsequently assessed a 200-point penalty, leaving Braun, Blomqvist and the No. 60 to finish third in the final standings, just one point behind the No. 10 Acura.

 

The No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 and drivers Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy also had their championship bid tempered by a postrace penalty. They won at Long Beach in April and their title quest really appeared to be gaining momentum when they won the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in June, only for the car to fail technical inspection due to illegal skid plate wear and be moved to the rear of the class in the finishing order. The penalty cost the No. 6 Porsche 130 points; it finished just 42 points back in the final standings, tied with Porsche Penske Motorsport’s No. 7 car and drivers Matt Campbell and Felipe Nasr.

 

BMW also had a successful initial GTP campaign, with Connor De Phillippi, Nick Yelloly and the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 assuming the victory that the No. 6 Porsche lost at Watkins Glen. De Phillippi and Yelloly claimed additional podium finishes at Sebring, Long Beach, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Indianapolis to finish sixth in the standings, just 46 points out.

 

The on-track competition in GTP couldn’t have been closer in 2023, and 2024 could be even better as the cars undergo additional development for speed and reliability. With Lamborghini joining the category in 2024 and Aston Martin set to follow suit in 2025, the future looks extremely bright for top-level sports car racing in North America.

Adam Sinclair