DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There’s plenty of reason to be excited that the new GTD PRO class has attracted a 13-car field for the Rolex 24 At Daytona – the opening round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
That’s more than double the six entries that contested last year’s twice-round-the-clock Florida enduro in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class that GTD PRO replaces this year. But the expanded GTD PRO grid hasn’t come at the expense of IMSA’s popular GT Daytona (GTD) class, because the GTD field for the Rolex 24 has also grown from 19 to 22 cars this year.
While IMSA is obviously thrilled with these positive developments, two-time defending GTLM class champions Corvette Racing might be even more pumped up.
The two-car Corvette effort fought against a dwindling GTLM field over the past couple years, as many competing manufacturers adapted their racing programs to the FIA standard GT3 platform. In 2021, the Nos. 3 and 4 Corvette C8.Rs sometimes squared off against just one class competitor – the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19.
The WeatherTech Porsche is back in GTD PRO for 2022, and the team is also fielding a pair of Mercedes-AMG GT3s at Daytona in partnership with Proton Competition. Porsche’s factory GTD PRO partner team is Pfaff Motorsport, the defending IMSA GTD champion.
Meanwhile, BMW’s factory effort with Team RLL returns with a vengeance, fielding two brand-new M4 GT3s with works-supported drivers. Lexus/Toyota Racing Development will also join the GTD PRO grid, along with similar factory supported entries from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin. So, where there just two or three manufacturers represented last year in GTLM, there will be eight to kick off the 2022 GTD PRO season at the Rolex 24.
In addition to adapting the GTLM specification Corvette C8.R to the worldwide GT3 specification, Corvette Racing is developing a production version of the car for sale to customer teams in the future. Laura Klauser, sports car program manager for General Motors, relishes the challenge of going up against the expanded 2022 field.
“We want a full field,” she declared. “It’s so satisfying when you do really well when you’re up against a full field, because then you know you brought your ‘A game’ – you did everything correctly, you hit all your marks and you brought home the win. You’re not just the last car standing.
“Having a high volume of competitors really makes each win that much more special,” Klauser added. “I think it’s going to challenge us to think in different ways and to try different things and get more creative.”
Corvette drivers Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor are equally excited as they embark on their quest for a third consecutive IMSA championship to follow up their GTLM achievements in 2020 and ’21.
“I’m looking forward to 13 cars to battle,” said Taylor. “I miss battling on restarts and starts and strategy wars – just the actual racing side of what we had in the past.”
“It’s going to be great to have the competition,” Garcia added. “Lots of manufacturers are in the class, and it looks like almost every one of the 13 cars is capable of winning the race. It’s definitely going to be a big battle.”
In some ways, Corvette is at a disadvantage because the other manufacturers in GTD PRO have been building GT3-specification cars for years – for generations, in the case of Porsche and BMW. Those manufacturers, along with GTD competitors Acura and Audi, have a considerable head start in terms of developing and racing the GT3 platform. And they are bringing a host of factory supported drivers.
“I’m super happy to be joining Pfaff in GTD PRO,” said Mathieu Jaminet, who co-drove the winning WeatherTech Racing Porsche in the 2021 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. “It was really my priority to race fulltime in the USA in 2022, and to be racing with the reigning GTD champions is a privilege. Our goal is clear; we’ve got all the ingredients to be up front, so the target is to try and win the championship. Obviously, we are always looking at the big races, so Daytona and Sebring are also on top of my list.”
BMW is similarly confident. Retooling the marque’s IMSA program to pursue the 2022 GTD PRO championship while developing an LMDh prototype for 2023 and beyond was one of the final accomplishments of outgoing BMW M Motorsport boss Mike Krack prior to his recent move to lead the Aston Martin Formula 1 team.
“I am confident that we will be very well prepared going into the GTD PRO premiere of the IMSA series,” Krack stated. “Almost all of our BMW M works drivers have already contested the 24 Hours of Daytona and will be working together to find the perfect set-up for the BMW M4 GT3 during the Roar Before The 24.”
Based on past GTD performances in the Rolex 24, Lamborghini is likely to be another strong GTD PRO contender. The Italian marque triumphed at Daytona in 2018, ‘19 and ‘20.
Florida-based TR3 Racing is a fairly young team, but it is quickly expanding thanks to support from Lamborghini.
“The 24 Hours of Daytona has a special meaning for us and following four podiums in a row we have the aim to fight for the top positions again,” said Giorgio Sanna, Lamborghini’s head of motorsport. “This race will also open the partnership between Lamborghini and TR3 Racing, an experienced team that I’m sure has the potential to take good results.”
Also keep an eye on Lexus, which will split its two-car effort between GTD and GTD PRO in 2022 after fielding two GTD cars since 2017 – the last four years in association with Vasser Sullivan Racing.
“Racing in IMSA has helped strengthen awareness and consideration of Lexus performance models amongst our dealers, owners, and competitors alike,” said Andrew Gilleland, group vice president and general manager – Lexus Division. “Our momentum is rapidly growing and everyone at Lexus is excited to race for an IMSA championship. We know we’ve got something special here and we’re excited to get out and earn our first GT championship together beginning with the Rolex 24.”