An early look ahead to IMSA 2020 through mid-November
An early look ahead to IMSA 2020 through mid-November
As the calendar is in mid-November, 2019, lineups and programs are starting to come into focus for the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. But, plenty of questions remain.
At Acura Team Penske, the motto of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” applies. The team keeps the same six drivers as in 2019. Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron are back to defend their championship. Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor resume in the second ARX-05. Indianapolis 500 winners Simon Pagenaud (No. 6) and Alexander Rossi (No. 7) round out the lineups as endurance drivers.
Wayne Taylor Racing switches its program a bit with Jordan Taylor’s departure to Corvette Racing. Ryan Briscoe arrives to replace him in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, alongside Renger van der Zande, back for a third season. Scott Dixon, like Briscoe, joins WTR from the Ford Chip Ganassi GT effort as third driver with Kamui Kobayashi back for the Rolex 24 At Daytona only in an attempt to defend his win.
Action Express Racing scales back to a single full-season car. Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr remain in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac. With Filipe Albuquerque shifting from the now-departed No. 5 car to the No. 31 as its new Michelin Endurance Cup third driver, the team has a very potent lineup. It remains to be seen whether Whelen veteran Eric Curran gets the call as fourth driver at Daytona.
Mazda has not formally announced its driver lineup or its vendor team, with multiple reports noting a potential change of team after the opening “36 Hours of Florida.” Alas, the manufacturer itself has affirmed its commitment to the RT24-P program and has already been testing for 2020 with Harry Tincknell and Tristan Nunez, among others. A continued intriguing question this “silly season” is if or when a third, customer Mazda DPi could appear.
Additional Cadillac customer teams JDC-Miller Motorsports and Juncos Racing are yet to affirm their lineups or number of races.
The Nissan DPi appears set to fall from the grid entirely as CORE autosport ended its DPi program at this year’s Motul Petit Le Mans.
GT LE MANS
Corvette Racing has won this class’ race to announce drivers for 2020. The only change in its lineup is a big one, with Jordan Taylor replacing team veteran Jan Magnussen. The remaining three drivers (Antonio Garcia, Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin) remain intact for Chevrolet’s major shift to its new mid-engine C8.R, formally presented at Motul Petit Le Mans.
Porsche GT Team also has a new car with its second generation 991, the latest 911 RSR, which tested last week at Sebring. Drivers are usually announced at Porsche’s Night of Champions in Stuttgart, Germany in December. The 2019 champions Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor would love a chance to defend in the U.S. They led a 1-2 over the sister car driven by Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy. Of note, Porsche has several either Junior drivers or Young Professionals in its stable. Might any get the opportunity to race more in North America?
BMW Team RLL’s M8 GTE has rapidly shifted from the newest car in class to the oldest, as it prepares for a third season. Like fellow German brand Porsche, its lineup and program is generally announced at its year-end celebration in Munich in December.
While a Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE return is anticipated for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, its participation in future races remains an outstanding question. Rest assured after its dominant performance at Motul Petit Le Mans though, Giuseppe Risi’s program can win whenever it races.
The class could triple in size for 2020, although that only would mean an increase from two cars to six, all but one being ORECA 07 Gibsons. Platinum drivers can only race at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, a race which counts towards LMP2’s Michelin Endurance Cup season only, and not the regular season LMP2 title. Meanwhile, IMSA has mandated a Bronze driver for all races next season.
Both of this year’s full-season teams, Performance Tech Motorsports and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, have expressed their intent to continue. PR1/Mathiasen has explored the possibility of a second car as well, although if or when that would come online remains unclear.
At least three other cars will join them starting at the Rolex 24. Last year’s race winners DragonSpeed is set to run two cars, one for itself (Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman as confirmed drivers) and one supporting vintage racer Kyle Tilley’s new Era Motorsport team. Add in a planned debut for NASCAR veterans Rick Ware Racing with an ex-Riley Multimatic Mk. 30 Gibson for the Michelin Endurance Cup and that sees further cars in the field.
Generally this class takes a bit longer for programs to come together. This often stems from the FIA driver ratings system, where teams are waiting to see whether drivers are rated Silver or Gold.
Alas, several teams have already confirmed or strongly hinted at their lineups.
Meyer Shank Racing has confirmed Matt McMurry and Mario Farnbacher in the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 Evos. McMurry will replace Trent Hindman in this car. The team has tested other drivers, including its full-season IndyCar driver Jack Harvey, at Daytona earlier this month. But it remains to be seen how they’ll slot additional drivers between its two anticipated cars and for which races.
Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports brings in Lawson Aschenbach and Gar Robinson, formerly of Lone Star Racing, to share the No. 74 Mercedes-AMG GT3. The pairing got off to a good start with a win in the non-points Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore at Sebring. Ben Keating has told Sportscar365 that rather than run another Mercedes-AMG of his own, he’ll join this pairing for Michelin Endurance Cup race rounds.
Turner Motorsport raced at the Encore with one of its BMW M4 GT4 cars. The team plans to run its aging but still venerable BMW M6 GT3 again in GTD. Provided Robby Foley remains a Silver-rated driver, he is a strong candidate to resume alongside Bill Auberlen. Auberlen tied Scott Pruett for IMSA’s all-time lead in race wins with his 60th at Motul Petit Le Mans.
While the team has not formally declared its intent of series, Wright Motorsports provided a strong hint of its plans by running one car at the Encore for Ryan Hardwick, Max Root and Jan Heylen. Hardwick and longtime Wright driver Anthony Imperato, who dipped his toe in the WeatherTech water with a pair of starts this year, will be split between two Porsche 911 GT3 Rs. It would not be a surprise if this team’s program, like other Porsche ones, gets formally announced in December at Porsche’s Night of Champions.
AIM Vasser Sullivan will return with a pair of Lexus RC F GT3s. Parker Chase’s first run with the team at Motul Petit Le Mans was a strong indicator of a potential full-time role in 2020, likely alongside Jack Hawksworth. NBC Sports reported during its Petit Le Mans broadcast that its IndyCar race analyst, Townsend Bell, will return to this AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus with Frankie Montecalvo next season. The biggest story here may well be reigning and two-time NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Busch confirmed as a Rolex 24 extra driver next year.
Following a Sportscar365 report about GRT Grasser Racing Team’s planned full-time arrival to IMSA, Grasser’s first Lamborghini lineup was revealed with Katherine Legge and Christina Nielsen. The entry will be called GEAR Racing, with GEAR standing for Girl Empowerment Around Racing.
While the team hasn’t officially confirmed it, Scuderia Corsa drivers Cooper MacNeil and Toni Vilander have posted on social media their intent to continue together for a second season in the WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3.
Compass Racing raced the full WeatherTech Sprint Cup this year with its McLaren 720S GT3. The team is poised to repeat that effort again in 2020.
Other teams that raced in 2019 that have yet to sort their 2020 plans include Sprint Cup GTD champs PFAFF Motorsports, along with past series champs Paul Miller Racing, and veteran race-winning squads like Park Place Motorsports and Starworks Motorsport.
With Keating and Magnus Racing not expected to return at least on a full-time basis, there may be some new teams that step up.
Rumors of an Aston Martin and/or more Porsches from Alegra Motorsports have also made the rounds. As ever, whether they progress beyond the talking stage to an actual entry is subject to budgets getting approved and finalized.
More than half a dozen extra Rolex 24 entries appeared this year to provide a 23-car grid, by far the most voluminous of four classes.