The 2019 IMSA season came to a close just last month at Road Atlanta, but already the teams and drivers are hard at work ahead of January’s Rolex 24 Hours, which kicks off the 2020 IMSA campaign.
Last season was full of twists and turns, with spectacular racing throughout the calendar year. It was a fitting tribute to IMSA, which celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Scott Atherton, IMSA’s President who retired at the end of the year after a 34-year career in the sport. Thus, IMSA’s 51st season next year feels like it will mark the start of a new era.
It would be easy to overlook next year, because DPi 2.0 (which will debut in 2022) is closing in, the new regulations currently being discussed by teams and manufacturers alike to shape the future of the WeatherTech Championship’s top class. But John Doonan, the former head of Mazda Motorsport who has moved in to take over as President has other plans. He’s hard at work to ensure that we have a huge grid packed with world-class teams and drivers to watch come January. There is still plenty more news to come, but thus far it looks like all four classes will be backed with storylines to follow.
In DPi, Mazda and Acura will return, both marques full of confidence that they can challenge for wins at the big races and titles after they took huge strides in 2019. The big turnaround was clearly in the Mazda camp. Further development work during the winter ahead of the season paid off.
After a slow start to the season, with another round of disappointing trips to Daytona and Sebring things began to pick up and the team took three straight wins from Watkins Glen onwards to break their duck. The breakthrough at ‘The Glen’ proved many things, that the team could work a good strategy and that the RT-24P was capable of being both fast and reliable in an endurance race. It was one of the most memorable races since the turn of the century in IMSA, which provided a hugely popular result in and around the paddock.
The target therefore, is a victory at Daytona. We know from testing and qualifying at Daytona this year that the RT24-P suits the circuit – it broke the all-time lap record. Now, if the drivers keep it clean and the car stays reliable, then they have as good a chance as anyone in the field. Penske Team Acura meanwhile, will return to Daytona for a third time with the same set of drivers, and a pair of ARX-05s that have been put through a huge test programme at the Floridian circuit since the end of the 2019 season. Roger Penske will be frustrated that wins at Sebring and Daytona has eluded his team in the first two years of its DPi programme. His track record shows that he can turn things around. If he does then that would break Cadillac’s streak of DPi victories at the Rolex 24.
What does Cadillac’s effort look like in 2020? That’s still forming. But 2019 Rolex 24 winner Wayne Taylor Racing returns with a fresh line-up, former Ford GTLM factory driver Ryan Briscoe joins returnee Renger van der Zande for the full season, the duo joined by Toyota WEC star Kamui Kobayashi and another ex-Ford driver Scott Dixon for the big 24 Hour to start the season. Action Express is concentrating on a single Cadillac this season, but it is going to run with a formidable line up once again.
Elsewhere, the other classes have seen boosts.
The GTLM category will be in the spotlight at Daytona when Corvette Racing debuts its hotly-anticipated C8.R. The new, mid-engined V8, will sound rather different to its predecessors, but it will still be loud, and stand out in the huge field that looks to be assembling.
GTD too will see many returning teams and drivers across a slew of manufacturers. Like NASCAR? Well the 24 will be treated to an appearance from Kyle Busch, a superstar in his own right, who has scored a Lexus GTD drive with Aim Vasser Sullivan. He joins a long list of stockcar stars that have taken on the Rolex 24 over the years. Jeff Gordon won the race overall just two years ago, will Busch, who is likely to bring a horde of supporters with him, be another NASCAR talent to leave Florida with a ‘watch’?
The biggest surprise is LMP2. Last year just four cars raced at Daytona and just two saw out the season. But a change to the category’s calendar (which is shorter than before) has sparked a surge in interest. Right now, PR1, Performance Tech, Era Motorsport, DragonSpeed and Rick Ware Racing have all confirmed entries, and better still, more announcements are expected.
Still not sold? From experience, I can say that the Rolex 24 has to be seen to be believed. It is a sportscar event, that like the Nürburgring 24, Le Mans 24, and Sebring 12 Hours, has its own character. It feels box office, it feels like you’re witnessing history. Standing in the infield under the floodlights, with fireworks going off overhead, surrounded by some of the most hallowed strips of race track in North America, filling your ears with sound of the sound of 50+ sportscars, is something you don’t get elsewhere. Sitting atop the collosal grandstand on the pit straight, with a view of the entire circuit, is also something that should be on every motorsport fan’s bucket list.
For 11 months a year, Daytona International Speedway is a NASCAR cathedral, visited by people from all over the world for its association with stock car racing. But in January, it’s a temple of endurance. You can shrug it off as ‘just an oval’, but you’d be wrong. There’s a whole lot more to it than that when IMSA’s trucks take over the paddock in January.
Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar
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