The Roar Returns: 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Season Preview

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By: Christian Ryan

As the Roar in Daytona echoes to silence, the tension of a new season looms. 2017 brought a new era of world-class competition to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the introduction of the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) alongside its already established GTLM and GTD classes. With this thrilling combination already having a season under its belt, engines will soon roar back to life for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The new season brings new teams, drivers, and expectations. As this new test rolls around January 27, this is what fans new and old can expect to see across the series’ 12 events and three classes of competition.

Prototype

If 2017 belonged to Cadillac, it also belonged to Wayne Taylor Racing and the Taylor brothers, Ricky and Jordan. Of Cadillac’s seven wins in the 10 round championship, the family run team claimed five - all consecutively to start the season - en route to the class championship. Despite the dominance of the preview season, 2018 brings a new challenge as Ricky Taylor has joined the newly formed Team Penske prototype squad in the new Acura ARX-05. Time will tell if Jordan will maintain Cadillac and WTR’s dominance, or if Ricky and the iconic Penske team will take the series by storm.

Team Penske enters the series with arguably the most star-studded lineup. Dane Cameron has made the switch from a successful run in the Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac to share a seat with racing journeyman and Champ Car champion Juan Pablo Montoya. Another IndyCar icon bolsters Penske’s arsenal with Helio Castroneves sharing the seat with defending champion Ricky Taylor.

Echoing 2017’s performance, all signs continue to point to a dominant Cadillac as their teams - primarily Wayne Taylor Racing, Whelen Engineering Racing, and Spirit of Daytona Racing - topped all Roar Before the 24 testing and qualifying sessions. However, as the later stages of 2017 belonged to Nissan-powered Tequila Patrón ESM and strong performances by the JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LMP2, coupled with the added competition of Acura and Mazda, a number of teams will look to dethrone the dominant Cadillac teams.

The class will be bolstered in the Rolex 24 with the appearance of Formula 1 stars Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll, competing for United Autosports and Jackie Chan DCR JOTA, respectively.

GTLM

Entering 2018 on a run of two consecutive GTLM titles, all eyes are on Corvette Racing once again heading into the season. Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia return to the seat of the No. 3 Corvette that has brought them so much success, after their 2017 run saw them claim three wins. As they narrowly edged out the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims, the title wasn’t without a run for their money.

Currently putting the Corvettes under the most pressure is Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. Running first and third in Roar Before the 24 qualifying, Ganassi’s No. 66 Ford outran the No. 3 Corvette by only 0.03 seconds. Ganassi enters the 2018 Rolex 24 as the defending race champions, meaning their success in testing may not necessarily translate into supremacy over the Corvettes in 2018.

The Porsche factory team sits behind the Ford and Chevrolet in testing, but ahead of BMW and Ferrari-based teams. Having already claimed a win as well as fifth and sixth in the driver’s championship with the likes of Patrick Pilet and Laurens Vanthoor in 2017, the team will hope to at least continue the pace and challenge as a top team in GTLM.

The GTLM class will bring more excitement from IndyCar, as series icons Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon will pilot the No. 66 and 67 Ganassi Fords, as Bourdais returns to the event as a defending champion as well as having claimed second in the 2017 12 Hours of Sebring. Indy Lights star Colton Herta, son of Bryan Herta, will make his debut in the series for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s BMW.

GTD

The Ferraris of Scuderia Corsa appear to be completely in control of GT Daytona. The team is building off of its third consecutive IMSA title, looking to repeat in a big way in the 2018 season. However, a key element of their past two titles - Denmark’s Christina Nielsen - has made the move to a Porsche ride with Wright Motorsports. With Nielsen and the Wright car outperforming the Ferraris in the Roar tests, it’s anyone’s guess whether it could be Scuderia Corsa or Christina Nielsen continuing a title streak.

The addition of Team Penske and the Acura ARX-05 could bolster the profile of another notable Acura team: Michael Shank Racing. Claiming two victories in their first season entry to IMSA GTD, the team got a handle of the series quickly and hope to build on that success in 2018. They will face opposition from Riley Motorsports, whose Mercedes-AMG entries also hit their stride in 2017.

Continuing the trend of other classes, the GTD class will also feature major drivers from around the world of motorsport throughout 2018. These include A.J. Allmendinger, Townsend Bell, Jack Hawksworth, and Sam Bird.

Multi-series racing icon Scott Pruett announced at the onset of the Roar Before the 24 that the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona would be his last start in professional motorsport. After 50 years of competition, the 57-year old five-time Rolex 24 winner is ending his storied career at his most storied event.

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