Shortly after the checkered flag fell on Saturday’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Detroit’s Belle Isle, there was a rush for the airport. More than a third of the drivers in the field were headed straight for France to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, joining more than a dozen of their fellow IMSA regulars who compete in LMP2 or GTD Pro. In all, more than two dozen WeatherTech Championship regulars — drivers running a full season, or all four Michelin Endurance Cup races — will take part in the 90th edition of the famed French endurance race.
Add in the drivers serving as a fourth driver at Daytona or other one-offs during the year, and that number climbs much higher. There is a very good chance that a driver familiar to IMSA fans will be standing on the podium at Circuit de la Sarthe Sunday afternoon.
American-flagged Glickenhaus Racing has Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Olivier Pla, Romain Dumas and Pipo Derani among its driving strength for Le Mans. Motorsport Images
Among those fighting for the overall victory could be Olivier Pla, Pipo Derani and Richard Westbrook, all driving for Glickenhaus Racing — Pla and Derani in the No. 708 Glickenhaus 007 LMH and Westbrook in the No. 709. While they’re not the favorites — that probably falls to Action Express Racing Michelin Endurance Cup regulars Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi in the No 7 GR010 HYBRID Toyota — they have a good shot.
“I did it last year for Glickenhaus and it was a great debut,” said Westbrook. “Both cars ran flawlessly but didn’t quite have the pace to really take the fight to Toyota; but it seems over the winter they made a lot of improvements. The BoP, for sure, is better. So we’re closer to Toyota. I think we can go into it a lot more confident that we can at least fight on performance for a win and that’s all we want to do. We know the car’s got reliability, but you never know in a 24-hour race. Just the slightest of small problems can escalate.”
For many of the competitors, it’s a glimpse into the future as they prepare for LMDh. Team Penske is competing in LMP2 to get a fresh taste of Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship in preparation for running the Porsche LMDh car next year. For others, the cars they’re driving now will be the cars they may be racing against next year.
“It’s a great opportunity to be in both sides of of the new regulations, sampling the LMH with Glickenhaus,” said Derani. “And then soon, hopefully, the LMDh with Cadillac. It gives the perspective of the two sides and how to how to deal with it and how to race against each other. But as a driver, going back to Le Mans, it’s always good, especially when you’re fighting in a top class. And as a driver, it’s the last one I need to win. I’m going to Le Mans with, I’d say, a little bit of a chance to at least fight for for the overall win.”
Filipe Albuquerque lends his skills to United Autosports in LMP2 at Le Mans. Rainier Ehrhardt/Motorsport Images
LMP2 is full of IMSA competitors with a shot at victory. Alex Lynn, Oliver Jarvis, Josh Pierson (No. 23 ORECA) and Filipe Albuquerque (No. 22 ORECA) are all driving for LMP2 powerhouse United Autosports USA. Ricky Taylor, Le Mans native Sebastien Bourdais, Tristan Vautier, Stephen Thomas and Mikkel Jensen are also racing in LMP2.
The only drivers going to Le Mans for the same team in roughly the same car, although in a different class, are Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor, with their IMEC compatriot Nicky Catsburg in the No. 63 Corvette Racing C8.R. They’ll be joined by normal teammatesTommy Milner and Nick Tandy, who competed only at Daytona this season before concentrating on WEC. With Alex Sims, the No. 64 Corvette was on top of the test day time sheets for LMGTE Pro. Across LMGTE Pro and Am, eight other of their GTD and GTD Pro compatriots will be represented, including Renger van der Zande switching from a prototype to a GTE Am JMW Motorsport Ferrari with Michelin Pilot Challenge regular Jason Hart.
Other familiar names in the GTE category include Frederick Schandorff (Kessel Racing Ferrari); Matt Campbell (Proton Competition Porsche); Cooper MacNeil and Julien Andlauer (WeatherTech Racing Porsche); Jan Heylen (Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche); Brenan Iribe, Ollie Millroy and Ben Barnicoat teaming up in the Team Project 1 Porsche; and Ben Keating in the TF Sport Aston Martin. Plus, Riley Motorsports is running the No. 74 Ferrari in GTE-Pro, with a squad that includes LMP3 competitor Felipe Fraga.
The 90th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans begins at 10 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday. The good news, after the rush to France, is that many of the drivers will have a nice long break before the WeatherTech Championship regroups at Watkins Glen International for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen in three weeks.