By John Oreovicz
IMSA Wire Service
The 2023 rollout of the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship couldn’t have gone much better.
Four competing manufacturers created modern, relevant racing cars, combining diverse internal combustion engine solutions with a common set of energy-harvesting hybrid components. Entries from Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche proved racy – and more importantly – reliable from the start. A vintage season of competition saw all four manufacturers visit Victory Lane, with Cadillac, Whelen Cadillac Racing and drivers Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims claiming the championship in the first year for the new formula.
How can IMSA improve on that? The same way the competing manufacturers work on improving their race cars, with tireless work producing steady incremental refinements that add up to noticeable gains.
While the manufacturers vie to make their cars faster and more efficient on the racetrack, IMSA is striving to deliver value to participating manufacturers and partners along with excitement to a growing sports car audience.
“We need to make smart decisions, not in a vacuum here in Daytona, but with our global partners technically around the world, as well as our teams here, and with our fans in mind,” said IMSA President John Doonan. “Their experience – how they take in our content or their engagement with us, and their loyalty – has to be absolutely the No. 1 priority now and forever more.”
Here’s a look at the 2024 GTP contenders:
Cadillac – Detroit Thunder
Defending champion manufacturer Cadillac continues with the same two V-Series.R entries prepared by the Whelen/Action Express Racing team (No. 31) and Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 01). The Ganassi driver lineup of Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande with Indy car legend Scott Dixon for IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds remains intact, while Derani is joined full time in 2024 by Jack Aitken (the team’s endurance driver in ’23), with ’22 IMSA titlist Tom Blomqvist on board for endurance rounds.
“One of the things that we’re excited about with our carryover program for ’24 is we’re able to focus on the car and understanding it more as well as making sure we have all the support on the GM and Dallara side ready to help the teams be successful,” said General Motors Sports Car Manager Laura Wontrop Klauser. “Our race schedule in 2023 kept us busy, which was phenomenal because you can’t have a better test than a race to see what you can do with the car. It will be nice to be back at Daytona and focus on a test plan.”
Bourdais believes that Cadillac and all the participating GTP manufacturers will be far more prepared entering the 2024 campaign, which should lead to faster lap times.
“Toward the end of the season with the couple of tests we had, we started to learn more about the car and what makes it go and what doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s just going to take time. People think we’ve had a lot of testing, but it was all centered toward homologation and reliability. We’re still really green on knowledge of the car as far as designing setups and getting performance out of it.”
Porsche – Sleeping Giant
Porsche was tied atop the charts (with Acura) with three WeatherTech Championship race wins in 2023 but fell 16 points short of besting Cadillac for the manufacturer championship.
“Although it’s a shame that we didn’t crown our maiden season in the IMSA series with a title, all in all the season was positive,” said Thomas Laudenbach, vice president of Porsche Motorsport. “The results in the second half of the season were clear evidence of a huge improvement throughout the year. With three wins and two poles in the first year of competition with the Porsche 963, we can stand proud.”
Though the pair of Porsche Penske Motorsport 963s will look visually identical in 2024, Porsche has made several modifications under the skin. Full-time drivers for the No. 6 remain Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy, while Dane Cameron swaps seats with Matt Campbell and returns to IMSA to join Felipe Nasr in the No. 7 after a year competing for Porsche’s FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) effort. Both entries include new Michelin Endurance Cup drivers – Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 6, Campbell and Penske Indy car driver Josef Newgarden in the No. 7.
Porsche is the only manufacturer that to date sells its prototype to customer teams – a pair in the WeatherTech Championship. Proton Competition fields No. 5 for drivers Neel Jani and Gianmaria Bruni, while the returning Tijmen van der Helm is partnered by Richard Westbrook in JDC-Miller MotorSports’ renumbered No. 85.
“The competition in North America was close and gripping for the whole 2023 season,” Laudenbach stated. “Every manufacturer added highlights and the championship was full of suspense until the very last round. It was a spectacle for the fans and a treat for everyone involved. This year we will be back in full force with all the experience we’ve gained.”
Acura – V-6 Outlier
The Acura ARX-06 often appeared to be the fastest car in 2023 with Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor coming up just short of claiming the driver championship and Meyer Shank Racing bookending the season with wins in the only V-6-powered entry in a field of V-8s. For 2024, there are significant changes in the Acura effort, as Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti takes over responsibility for running both factory entries. Each car will feature a Taylor brother in the driver lineup; Ricky Taylor and Albuquerque continue in their traditional No. 10, with Brendon Hartley completing the slate for endurance rounds and Indy car ace Marcus Ericsson added for the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The new No. 40 car is helmed full-time by Jordan Taylor and Louis Deletraz, with Colton Herta (endurance) and F1 world champion Jenson Button (Rolex 24) also on board.
“It’s been so cool to see WTRAndretti grow this year,” commented Ricky Taylor. “Obviously last year with the new GTP program, it grew quite substantially since DPi, and then this year, again, growing to a two-car team. It’s been interesting to see how everybody contributes to figure out how to optimize our two cars and to learn the most and to work together. The great thing is I feel like the team has maintained that sort of tight-knit feel, so it still feels like a family. Everybody’s been super-fast getting up to speed.”
BMW – Catching Up Quickly
BMW was the last manufacturer to commit for 2023 and found itself playing catch-up early in the season. But if anything, the BMW M Hybrid V8 was the most consistent of the four manufacturers’ cars across all racetracks and race formats.
For 2024, BMW will join Porsche and Cadillac competing in both IMSA and WEC. As of early January, BMW had not yet revealed its international driver pairings from a pool of 20 contracted pilots. For the Daytona test in December, Jesse Krohn and Augusto Farfus were joined by Dries Vanthoor in BMW M Team RLL’s No. 24 car, with Maxime Martin in the No. 25 with returning Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly.
“Our testing work with the BMW M Hybrid V8 for the WEC entry continues to make very good progress,” said Andreas Roos, head of BMW M Motorsport. “It’s clear that having the vehicle in both race action in the IMSA series and testing here in Europe is a benefit. The dual pool of experiences benefits all sides, BMW M Team WRT (in WEC) as well as BMW M Team RLL and our BMW M Motorsport engineers.”
Lamborghini – The Newcomer
Starting at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March, the GTP field will include a new contender for the final four rounds of the Michelin Endurance Cup. Like BMW, Cadillac and Porsche, Lamborghini is planning a dual IMSA/WEC attack with its new SC63 prototype. The electric green racer was fast in preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway with drivers Andrea Caldarelli and Romain Grosjean, and Lamborghini’s participation will only add to the excitement surrounding GTP in the future.
The 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is led off by the 62nd running of the Rolex 24, Jan. 25-28 at Daytona International Speedway. Action begins with the Roar Before the Rolex 24, including testing and Rolex 24 qualifying, also set for DIS from Jan. 19-21.