The 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season comes to an end this weekend with the 24th Annual Motul Petit Le Mans. The 10-hour endurance race at Road Atlanta will feature plenty of sportscar action, with several drivers that have ties to the NTT IndyCar series.
Drivers from five different racing classes will hit the 2.54-mile, 12-turn natural terrain road course. A total of 43 entries will be aiming for a class victory this weekend to end the season on a high note. Seven cars in the top division will be chasing the overall win.
The Daytona Prototype International (DPi) class will have several IndyCar drivers in the mix. Chip Ganassi Racing has a three-car lineup in the No. 01 Cadillac featuring Renger van der Zande, Kevin Magnussen, and Scott Dixon. Sebastien Bourdais will be with the Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports team in the No. 5 Cadillac with Tristan Vautier and Loic Duval.
Alexander Rossi will be with Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura entry. Jimmie Johnson and Simon Pagenaud will be teammates with Kamui Kobayashi in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac Racing machine. Meyer Shank Racing will have four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Montoya in the No. 60 Acura with Dane Cameron.
The prestigious 10-hour season finale is normally run in late September, but with the change to this year’s schedule, nearly half of the endurance race will be held at night on a 2.54-mile road course with very little track lighting.
“The more of the race at night time, the more the chances that contact can happen,” said Albuquerque. “Going through Sector 1, you dive into that little chicane, and that’s when bad luck happens, that opens more to that contact. You can’t have it. If you’re a lap down, you’re done. It’s hard to get laps back, and it’s a small lap as well, if you need to come in to replace the nose, you can easily lose a lap. You need to be sharp to avoid a mistake.”
The trio of Albuquerque, Taylor, and Rossi is aiming to be perfect as they try to protect the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura’s 19-point lead in the DPi standings over the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac of Action Express with drivers Pipo Derani, Felipe Nasr and Mike Conway.
“It is a different mindset because unlike in IndyCar, you can’t be self-centered,” said Rossi. “You can’t just make the decision, ‘I’m going to go 100 percent and take all the risks I would in an IndyCar,’ because in this circumstance it’s almost not your call. You have to have the bigger picture in mind, which is helping to bring the championship home for Acura, for Wayne Taylor and for Filipe and Ricky.”
The Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class has five entries and the Prototype 3 (LMP3) class has ten cars entered. Spencer Pigot will be in the No. 30 entry with Rasmus Lindh in the No. 38 car. Andretti Autosport has a strong lineup in their No. 36 entry with Jarett Andretti, Oliver Askew, and Josh Burdon.
The GT Le Mans (GTLM) class has six cars entered this weekend as WeatherTech Racing is fielding a second Porsche 911 with Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Fred Makowiecki. Corvette Racing will have both of their C8.R machines aiming for yet another victory. BMW Team RLL will have both of their M8 GTE cars back in action one final time.
The largest class is once again GT Daytona (GTD) with 15 entries. Vasser Sullivan will have Frankie Montecalvo, Zach Veach, and Robert Megennis in the No. 12 Lexus and Aaron Telitz, Jack Hawksworth, and Kyle Kirkwood back in the No. 14 car. Katherine Legge will pilot the No. 88 Porsche along with Rob Ferriol and Andrew Davis for Team Hardpoint.
There are more storylines throughout the entire field that will play out on Saturday at Road Atlanta.
- All on the Line: The championships in all five WeatherTech Championship classes – Daytona Prototype international (DPi), Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) will be decided. Three are still up for grabs. The points leaders in LMP2 (Ben Keating and Mikkel Jensen in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07) and GTLM (Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R) need just start the race to clinch their respective class crowns.
- LMP3 Pits Newcomer Versus Veterans: Prototype rookie Gar Robinson and the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 have a 50-point lead in LMP3, but with 10 entries in the class, nothing is certain. The No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier and co-drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun are lurking close behind and keeping the pressure on.
- Three-Horse Race in GTD: A trio of teams will duke it out for the GTD championship. The No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R is 50 points ahead of the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3. The No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin GT3, at 177 points back, still could pull out the title but needs everything to go its way in the 15-car class field.
- GTLM Curtain Call: The Motul Petit Le Mans serves as the final race for the GTLM class, with the 2022 introduction of the GTD PRO class to better align with international GT3 specification racing. No. 3 Corvette drivers Garcia and Taylor are on the cusp of their second consecutive GTLM championship to send the class out with a bang.
- New Points Format for 2021: The WeatherTech Championship points structure has changed this season, with each race finishing position earning 10 times the points it received a year ago. Where a class winner took home 35 points in 2020, the reward is now 350 points. Second place in a race now earns 320 points, third place nets 300 and downward from there. In addition, points are now distributed in qualifying, with 35 going to the pole winners in DPi, LMP2, LMP3 and GTLM, and to the fastest car in the second GTD qualifying session (see below). Points descend from second downward through the qualifying results.
- Revised GTD Qualifying Format: This season, the GTD class conducts two qualifying sessions. The first is for the Motul Pole Award and starting grid position, with a Silver- or Bronze-rated driver in each car. Following a mandatory driver change, another 15-minute session will take place to decide qualifying points for the class. All other classes in action on a race weekend will have a single, 15-minute qualifying session that determines both grid position and points.
- IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup Championships: Along with the season titles earned, the Motul Petit Le Mans is also the last of the four longer races that are part of the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup. Using a different scoring system with points awarded at designated junctures throughout the race, the championships in all five classes of this prized competition are still undecided heading into the race. The No. 10 Acura team and co-drivers Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Alexander Rossi currently lead the DPi standings; the No. 52 PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA and drivers Ben Keating, Mikkel Jensen and Scott Huffaker lead LMP2; the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier team and drivers Gar Robinson and Scott Andrews lead the LMP3 standings; the No. 3 Corvette Racing C8.R and drivers Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia lead GTLM; and the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche team and drivers Patrick Long, Trent Hindman and Jan Heylen lead in GTD. Points toward the Michelin Endurance Cup will be awarded at the four- and eight-hour marks in addition to the finish at Motul Petit Le Mans.
Television coverage begins at Noon ET on NBC, which will air the first three hours of the event. NBC Sports Network will carry the remainder of the race starting at 3 PM on Saturday. The event will also be available on TrackPass and IMSA TV while IMSA Radio (XM 202, SiriusXM Online 992) will also have flag-to-flag coverage of the event.