DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The defending champions of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class might be behind in points this season, but the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 team plans to go out swinging.
The No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier, with drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun, enjoys an 83-point lead both in the driver and team standings over 2021 champion Gar Robinson and his No. 74 entry. With up to 10 LMP3 entries expected for the Motul Petit Le Mans on Oct. 1, it presents the possibility of a 140-point difference between finishing first and last in class at the season finale. Even the No. 30 Jr III Racing Ligier, at 119 points behind the No. 54, is mathematically, albeit remotely, still in the hunt.
For Robinson and the No. 74 Riley Ligier, the task at hand is straightforward. If they win at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, the No. 54 must finish fifth or worse (also dependent on qualifying points earned) to repeat as class champions.
“Our mindset last year was win Petit Le Mans, and that’s our mindset this year,” said Robinson, who has co-driven with Felipe Fraga, Scott Andrews, Michael Cooper and Kay van Berlo this season. “Whatever happens behind us to CORE and stuff is out of our hands.
“We have a pretty good feel for the track and this race. If what happened last year happens this year, then we got it. Crazier things have happened. It’s not impossible.”
CORE had a problematic race at Michelin Raceway last November and did not see the checkered flag. Robinson and the No. 74 – who went into the 2021 finale with the points lead – won the race and captured the inaugural LMP3 crown.
“I think they (CORE) will give us a good run at Petit,” Robinson said. “Whatever happens, happens. Our driver lineup is spectacular, and our crew guys and team are ready to go, but so are theirs.
“It’s not ours to lose this year and I think that makes it a little easier, honestly. It makes it easier mentally and a lot more rewarding if it pays off. The only thing we can do is try our best and just go for it.”
Braun is feeling some of that pressure as the leader of the pack. He said the dynamics of the course, including a good chunk of night driving, coupled with all five WeatherTech Championship classes competing, raise the percentage of what can go wrong.
“It’s never easy or a sure thing when you go into one of these long endurance races,” Braun said. “Anything can happen. With multi-class racing and the length of the race, we can’t take anything for granted. We are going to be heads down, focused in and doing our normal deal.”
Each team has won two points-paying races this season. Braun, Bennett and the No. 54 won at Mid-Ohio and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Robinson won with Fraga and van Berlo at Watkins Glen and with Fraga in the most recent race at Road America. The No. 74, with Robinson, Fraga, van Berlo and Cooper behind the wheel, also won the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona that doesn’t award points toward the season championship.
Braun and Bennett are chasing their third WeatherTech Championship title together, so the pressures of a decisive race are nothing new. As has been the case in the other endurance races this season, George Kurtz will be the third driver of the No. 54 at Michelin Raceway.
“CORE has really been on top of it all season long,” Braun said. “The guys have been working really hard. We have been in these positions before. We have been ahead in points and behind in points going into the last race.
“You’ve got to be smart. You don’t want to change a whole lot of things that have been working and put you in the position you’re in. I think it’s just a matter of us keeping our heads down and staying the course.”
And maybe keep an eye on Robinson and the No. 74.
“It’s a long race,” Robinson said. “It’s 10 hours. A lot of things can happen.”