(image credit: Morgan Rhodes)
Yo. The 2018 IMSA season is just days away from kicking off on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. This pleases me. The feature class continues to build momentum with great teams, great manufacturers and great drivers flooding to the top-level prototype category. A mix of ten fulltime DPi and six LMP2 machines headline one of the most highly anticipated seasons in sportscar racing history starting off with the 36 hours of Florida at Daytona and Sebring and first two races of the NAEC championship.
Wayne Taylor Racing and Cadillac are the defending champions, but WTR sees a shakeup in the team with Ricky Taylor leaving to join Acura Team Penske. Renger van der Zande takes his place to help Jordan, Wayne and Company go for back-to-back titles. The car also sees a slight shakeup as it moves from a 6.2L, V8 to a 5.5L V8 built by ECR. If the Roar tells us anything this 5.5L is still extremely fast and gives WTR a fantastic chance to win it all once again. The black #10 has a huge target on it’s back, but the team is up to the challenge.
Action Express Racing returns with two Cadillac DPi VRs, but also sees a shakeup in the lineup as Felipe Nasr joins Eric Curran in the #31 as Dane Cameron, like Ricky Taylor, joins the Penske program. The #5 will have Felipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa driving full time as Christian Fittipaldi becomes the team’s sporting director but the veteran racer will continue to race for the team in the NAEC championship. Action Express only took one win in 2017, but looks poised to get back on top.
Spirit of Daytona Racing, who will be with their third manufacturer since the start of the 2017 season, is the final Cadillac program on the grid with Matt McMurry and Tristian Vautier driving. The blue #90 raced the first half of 2017 with a Multimatic/Riley LMP2 with lackluster performance before switching to Ligier machinery with much better results. Joining the Cadillac Club for 2018 should see the team be one of the favorites on the grid and now be fully confident in the car they have.
Tequila Patron ESM comes back with their two Nissan DPi and riding on a wave of momentum after a fantastic finish to the 2017 season taking the win at the season finale round at Road Atlanta and also claiming victory during August’s event in God’s country at Road America. Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel join forces in the #2 with Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek in the #22. The Nissan-powered DPi was mid-pack during the Roar, but with improvements for the cars reliability shown during 2017, ESM will be a very strong contender this season from the get-go.
The famed Joest program takes over the Mazda DPi effort with Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell, Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez driving for the full season. The team withdrew the cars in 2017 to revamp the car and work on engine reliability and with Joest’s background, you can expect a strong challenge. The #55 Mazda showed great pace at The Roar running in the 1:37s and if the improved reliability is real, the sky is the limit.
One of the most highly-anticipated programs to the IMSA field is from Acura Team Penske with Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves driving full-time. The ARX-05 is obviously a brand-new car for 2018, but this is Penske we’re talking about. With this team and this driver lineup, how can they not be one of the favorites to claim the title in their inaugural season? Look for both the #6 and #7 machines to fighting for the podium at Daytona.
Moving to the LMP2 contenders we have JDC-Miller Motorsports enhancing their game up two ORECA 07s. Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg will pair in the #99 GAINSCO-liveried car with Simon Trummer and Robert Alon running the fan-favorite #85 Banana Boat entry. The team failed to win in 2017 but showed consistent speed and will be one of the darkhorses to challenge the DPi machines for podiums and wins. The #85 finished 4th overall in 2017, can they make the jump into the top 3?
PR1 Mathiasen joins forces with AFS for 2018 in their Ligier JS P217 where Sebastian Saavedra and Gustavo Yacaman will drive for the full season. With the right hands on the wheel the Ligier showed to be extremely fast but the team will need consistency to contend for wins in 2018.
The 2017 LMPC champions, Performance Tech, are making the jump to LMP2 in an ORECA with James French and Kyle Masson driving. The team nearly went perfect in 2017’s LMPC season, but the top class is a whole new ball game and there will be quite a steep learning curve for the #38. Luckily Performance Tech is one of the more talented programs in the series so they should be able to deal with any ambiguity that comes at them in their first season in the top class.
Also jumping from the LMPC ranks will be BAR1 Motorsports who takes over the recently-updated Multimatic/Riley LMP2. No drivers are confirmed for the full season as this point, but Eric Lux and Marc Drumwright will drive at Daytona. The chassis struggled mightily in 2017, but the team is optimistic for the improvements coming. There are still a lot of unknowns as the said upgrades were not ready in time for the Roar so this will be one program to watch as the season goes on.
Former LMPC team and most-recently GTD team CORE Autosport will contend in the feature class with a ORECA LMP2. Jon Bennett and Colin Braun pair in a true Pro/Am lineup, but this team has shown to be extremely impressive and will surprise a lot of people through the season. With Romain Dumas and Loic Duval slated to drive for the Daytona 24, a win would not be out of the question to kick off the season.
A full season of grid of 16 cars in the top class is showing the trajectory for the series in what should be one of the greatest seasons of IMSA racing to date. IMSA’s tech department showed in 2017 they have the BoP between the DPi and LMP2 contenders dialed in and we’ll see some fantastic racing between the prototype teams. With partial season entries and extremely impressive lineups from United Autosport and Jackie Chan DCR Racing, we’re in for a treat. Hello, IMSA.
The 2018 seasons kicks off this weekend (January 27th) with the green flag flying at 2:40pm ET for 24 hours of pure racing gold.