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The IMSA WeatherTech Championship Sports Car Series returns to the streets of Detroit on Saturday. (IMSA photo)

What To Watch For As IMSA Hits Detroit

DETROIT — On Saturday, the 2024 calendar flips to June and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Chevrolet Detroit Sports Car Classic kicks off a hectic summer stretch of IMSA content across the country and in Canada.

In June alone, the 100-minute sprint race starts the festivities at Detroit.

Then next week, four IMSA-sanctioned series shift to the repaved Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, while two other IMSA one-make championships head to Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

A bevy of IMSA drivers and teams will make the trip the following week to France for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and then the week thereafter five IMSA series, including the WeatherTech Championship, go to Watkins Glen Int’l for a packed weekend.

Before all of those succeeding events, though, comes the new 1.654-mile, nine-turn downtown Detroit circuit that features a lot of unknowns and a number of intriguing storylines.

It’s only June, but the two classes competing in Saturday’s race – Grand Touring Prototype and Grand Touring Daytona Pro – are at vastly different stages in their 2024 championship campaigns.

GTP will have 55 percent of its season complete by Saturday afternoon, while GTD PRO will only have 40 percent complete. 

Detroit marks the fifth of nine races in 2024 for GTP and fourth of 10 for GTD PRO. Three of the remaining races for both classes are IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events.

Entering the weekend in GTP, Dane Cameron and Felipe Nasr in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 hold a 50-point lead over Jack Aitken and Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R.

Four podiums in as many races have propelled the Penske Porsche ahead of the No. 31 pair, which has three Motul Pole Awards and three runner-up finishes but no wins yet this season. 

The GTD PRO championship battle is only just coming into focus after Laurin Heinrich and Seb Priaulx roared to the top of the standings in “Rexy,” the No. 77 AO Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R on the heels of team and drivers’ first WeatherTech Championship race win which came at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

That pair leads Ben Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth in the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 by 56 points. 

Barnicoat is on a street course hot streak of his own having won three straight street course races with three different drivers in two classes. He won with Parker Thompson at Long Beach this year in GTD, with Hawksworth at Long Beach last year in GTD PRO and with Kyle Kirkwood in GTD on the old Belle Isle Park layout in 2022.

As in Long Beach, Vasser Sullivan is adding a second car to the lone GT class – this time for Thompson and Frankie Montecalvo in the renumbered No. 15 Lexus RC F GT3 – to double the team’s chances of victory success. Conquest Racing brings its GTD car into GTD PRO this race as well with Daniel Serra and Albert Costa Balboa in the No. 35 Ferrari 296 GT3; these two additions bring the GTD PRO car count up from its full-season nine cars to 11 this race.

Anytime IMSA heads for the Motor City, the hometown manufacturers move to the front of the queue from a storyline standpoint. Of the 21 cars entered, six have immediate ties to Detroit. There are two Cadillac V-Series.R GTP cars, along with two new Chevrolet Corvette Z06 GT3.Rs and two Ford Mustang GT3s in GTD PRO.

“The Cadillac V-Series.R has been the car to beat in IMSA, so I’m sure it will be competitive there as well,” said Renger van der Zande, co-driver of the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac who at Long Beach extended his streak of at least one victory in each of his 11 IMSA seasons. “It’s a home track for GM, which makes it special for us as Cadillac Racing drivers to see if we can perform to the maximum and win the race.”

Ford, somewhat surprisingly, hasn’t featured in WeatherTech Championship races at Detroit. Its previous generation Ford GT raced in GT Le Mans, a class that frequently skipped Detroit since most teams sent their cars to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

This marks the second and last race for the “Champion Spirit” special livery and the Ford Multimatic Motorsports team will be keen to match Proton Competition in getting its first top-five result with the new Mustang GT3 on a street course, as Proton achieved that in Long Beach.