IMSA aces are here, then there
IMSA aces are here, then there
Want to know how good the drivers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race here at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca really are?
A quick look at the record books and the entry list for the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hour race makes it easy to see why international insiders hold the WeatherTech Championship, and especially the powerful GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, in exceptionally high regard.
For starters, a pair of the 2015 overall Le Mans winning drivers Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, are here aboard the pair of Porsche North America factory GTLM entries.
They will be back at Le Mans next month along with their WeatherTech Championship co-drivers Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki aboard a pair of GTE-Pro class factory Porsches.
Over on the Corvette Racing side of the paddock house, you will find the defending Le Mans GTE-Pro champions, Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner. Gavin has five wins at Le Mans and Milner already has two.
Their Corvette Racing teammates Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen have proven their talents at Le Mans with three and four wins there, respectively. As a team, Corvette Racing has eight wins at Le Mans.
Joining the Corvette squad at Le Mans will be brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor who wheel the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP in the Prototype class here.
Jordan was part of Corvette’s 2015 win at Le Mans and Ricky will join Magnussen and Garcia this year.
The Risi Competizione Ferrari team is also headed to Le Mans for the first time in several years.
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander have each won twice at Le Mans. The Risi team has three Le Mans wins on its glittering record.
All four of the Chip Ganassi Racing Ford Performance drivers will be aboard the new Ford GTs at Le Mans. Dirk MÃ¼ller, Joey Hand and Richard Westbrook all have podium finishes there. This will be the third trip, and hopefully the charm for Ryan Briscoe.
“The best case scenario is to go to Le Mans with the same team, car, drivers, and tires that you race with here in the WeatherTech Championship,” said Chris Baker, director of motorsport, Michelin North America.
“That way you can focus on the circuit, the competition, the different rules and procedures, such as pit stops, and get in the rhythm of the race.
“The competition at Le Mans is very tough and the race itself presents tremendous challenges.
“The organizers reserve slightly more than half of the entries for teams entered in the FIA World Endurance Championship so you are taking on top competitors from Europe and Asia.”
The GTLM drivers won’t be the only IMSA regulars headed to France this June.
Michael Shank Racing team and drivers John Pew and Ozz Negri will make their first appearance at the 8.47 mile French circuit in the LMP2 class with a Ligier Honda.
Ben Keating will step out of his familiar Viper for a drive in an Oreca Nissan LMP2 entry where he will be joined by Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Goossens.
Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen will be joined by Marc Miller aboard a WeatherTech sponsored Proton Competition GTE-Am class Porsche. All have previous experience at Le Mans.
They will be joined in GTE-Am by the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari team led by Bill Sweedler, Jeff Segal and Townsend Bell. The trio successfully combined for a podium finish in 2015.
Although not entered at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring winning Patron ESM team of Scott Sharp, Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Ryan Dalziel will be looking for success in the LMP2 class with a pair of Ligier Nissans.
“Standing on the podium at Le Mans is an experience that every racer wants and no one ever forgets,” said Baker.
“The teams and drivers competing here in the WeatherTech Championship can race with anyone in the world, and they prove that every year at Le Mans.”