Thursday, July 25, 2024

Season Class Preview: Will Plaid Still Be in Style in GTD PRO?

What do you get when you take sports cars built to the international GT3 standard, combined with factory engineering support and works-affiliated, Gold- and Platinum-rated drivers? The GTD PRO class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Aston Martin, Corvette, Lexus, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche will all field factory-supported entries in GTD PRO in 2023, joined by Ferrari and Lamborghini at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the other three rounds of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.

Last year, Pfaff Motorsports drivers Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet guided Pfaff Motorsports’ No. 9 “Plaid Porsche” to the most dominant championship performance of IMSA’s five classes. They won five of 10 races, including the Rolex 24, and finished on the podium at three other venues, building enough of a points cushion that they only had to start the season finale to clinch the title. Pfaff took 11 of the outgoing 991 generation of the Porsche 911’s 14 IMSA race wins since 2019, and also won the 2021 GT Daytona (GTD) championship.

For 2023, Jaminet and Campbell have graduated to the top level of the Porsche Motorsport Pyramid – with Porsche Penske Motorsports, driving the Porsche 963 LMDh hybrid prototype in the WeatherTech Championship’s new GTP category.

Pfaff will defend its GTD PRO crown with a pair of new drivers, Klaus Bachler (in his first full season of IMSA competition) and 2015 IMSA GT Le Mans class champion Patrick Pilet, piloting the latest 992 generation of the Porsche 911 GT3 R. Porsche factory driver Laurens Vanthoor, who came out second best (actually, third) driving the KCMG Porsche in an epic last-lap duel with Jaminet at the 2022 Rolex 24, joins Pfaff for the four Michelin Endurance Cup rounds. Vanthoor is no stranger to the Pfaff squad, having won the 2021 GT Daytona (GTD) title for the team alongside then-co-driver Zacharie Robichon.

Pfaff’s top two challengers from last year’s campaign return with lineups intact. Ben Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth, winners in 2022 at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in the Motul Petit Le Mans, are back in the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3.

Corvette Racing expects to build on the foundation of its first GTD PRO effort that produced a major win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and two other podiums for drivers Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor. Longtime Corvette stalwart Tommy Milner is the No. 3 team’s choice for endurance events.

Ross Gunn and Alex Riberas bounced back strongly from a rough start to their 2022 campaign in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3, winning at Long Beach and in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and taking second place at Lime Rock Park. David Pittard is the team’s endurance driver.

Meanwhile, Cooper MacNeil has stepped down as a fulltime driver of the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, but he will be onboard with the new pairing of Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella at the Rolex 24, along with works pilot Maro Engel.

The all-new Ferrari 296 GT3 will make its world competition debut at the Rolex 24, with Risi Competizione fielding the No. 62 entry for drivers Daniel Serra, Davide Rigon, James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi. Lamborghini is also rolling out a significantly refreshed EVO version of its Huracán GT3; the No. 63 Iron Lynx machine, set for all four Michelin Endurance Cup rounds will be driven by Romain Grosjean, Andrea Caldarelli, Jordan Pepper and Mirko Bortolotti. Grosjean, the ex-Formula 1 driver who now competes full time in IndyCar, has been named a driver for Lamborghini when its LMDh prototype program debuts in 2024.

With the addition of the Battle on The Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the GTD PRO slate grows to 11 races in 2023. Two of those events feature GT3 cars as the overall headliners – the FCP Euro Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park and the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway.

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