Summer stretch kicks off IMSA title battle in GTLM

June 27, 2018

Summer stretch kicks off IMSA title battle in GTLM

June 27, 2018

Try this on for size, in looking at the scope of an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season for the GT Le Mans class.

IMSA’s GTLM class raced just four times in five months. Starting this weekend, it’s now set to race five times in the next eight weekends.

Meanwhile, three of the four factory-supported teams are coming off the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That event is a huge grind from preparation and logistical standpoints.

For Michelin technical partner teams, the “summer stretch” on a run of five classic road courses will craft the championship picture after a parity-filled first four races.

Three of the four full-season manufacturers: Ford, Porsche and Chevrolet Corvette, have won races. The fourth, BMW, has a class-leading two pole positions plus podiums and fastest laps with its new car.

Seven of the eight full-season driver lineups are separated by just 13 points. This means the championship is wide open heading into this stretch.

In the manufacturer’s championship, just six points covers all four manufacturers. Porsche has 126, Ford 125, Chevrolet 123 and BMW 120.

The first four races have thrown four wildly different race formats and track types at the series. Back-to-back endurance races at Daytona (24 hours) and Sebring (12 hours) create the “36 Hours of Florida.” The Daytona track features high banks and is an infield road course with a significant oval portion. Sebring’s legendary bumps force so much respect for all competitors.

The first two sprint races then followed at Long Beach and Mid-Ohio. Long Beach is the shortest race of the year at just 100 minutes, and the only street course race on the calendar. The return to Mid-Ohio presented the first true natural flowing terrain road course event of the year, It was also the first “standard length” two-hour, 40-minute race.

Now, we come to five classic road courses in the next eight weeks. Four of them are standard race length but this weekend at Watkins Glen International, it’s the exception. It’s a six-hour race that is Round 3 of the North American Endurance Championship.

Watkins Glen underwent a repave job in 2016 that made the track much smoother and faster. At 3.4 miles, it’s one of the longest tracks on the calendar.

The annual trip to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, formerly Mosport, occurs a week later. It’s just over 2.4 miles and like Watkins Glen, features a lot of elevation change.

Lime Rock Park’s 1.5-mile bullring comes at the end of July after a week off. Without the Prototype class present, it’s a GT class-only showcase event.

The long, fast and flowing Road America 4-mile track is the first weekend of August. That venue represents an incredible race-to-race change from Lime Rock.

Another GT-only event, the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway, caps off the summer stretch on August 19.

Last year, BMW scored back-to-back wins at Watkins Glen and CTMP. Then Porsche won Lime Rock, Ford at Road America and Corvette at VIR.

This is a stretch that rewards preparation and rolling off the truck strong. Even with practice during the week, the better the baseline setup is, the easier it is to carry the momentum through the race weekend.

And like always in GTLM, it’s usually anyone’s guess as to who will win.

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