Almost nine months after the green flag waved on the Rolex 24 At Daytona, this weekend’s Motul Petit Le Mans will see the checkered flag come down on the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. (IMSA Photo)

What to Watch For: Petit Le Mans

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Almost nine months after the green flag waved on the Rolex 24 At Daytona, this weekend’s Motul Petit Le Mans will see the checkered flag come down on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

And what a season it’s been. From the debut of the exciting new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class and continuing support for the GT classes by the world’s elite marques to strong television ratings, social media presence and on-site attendance, classic events and a welcome return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 2023 has been nothing short of an unqualified success. 

Nevertheless, there is plenty of unfinished business to take care of by 9:40 p.m. ET Saturday when the checkered flag waves.

First Impressions

You only get one chance to make a first impression, or so the saying goes. Similarly, you only get one chance to win an inaugural championship, in this case the new GTP class. Every one of the competing marques – Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche – have visited victory lane this year, and the top three marques and teams come to Georgia separated by just five points.

Pipo Derani, Alexander Sims and the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac Racing V-Series.R lead Filipe Albuquerque, Ricky Taylor and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport by a mere three points with Mathieu Jaminet, Nick Tandy and Porsche Penske Motorsport’s No. 6 Porsche 963 a further two points in arrears, and Nick Yelloly, Connor De Phillippi and BMW M Team RLL’s No. 25 BMW M Hybrid V8 33 points adrift of the Porsche. The No. 7 Porsche 963 with Felipe Nasr and Matt Campbell and No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura ARX-06 with Tom Blomqvist and Colin Braun are both mathematically in the mix as well. While it pretty much boils down to a winner-take-all slugfest on Saturday, with championship points at a premium, there’s lots more on the line in Friday’s qualifying session than bragging rights and the slightest edge in starting positions.

Plenty More to Play For

While the fierce battle for GTP supremacy takes center stage, there’s plenty more to play for at Michelin Raceway this weekend. Yes, Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow and the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3, Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat and the Vasser Sullivan No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3, and Gar Robinson and the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 have officially or effectively wrapped up the GTD, GTD PRO and Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) titles.

On the other hand, the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) championship is a three-way fight among the No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA LMP2 07 (Mikkel Jensen and Steven Thomas) and the similar No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (Ben Keating and Paul-Loup Chatin) and No. 04 Crowdstrike by APR (Ben Hanley and George Kurtz) ORECAs.

Meanwhile, the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup titles are very much up for grabs across the board. In GTP, the No. 31 Engineering Cadillac leads the No. 10 Acura and the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac, while Crowdstrike by APR has just a two-point advantage on PR1 Mathiasen in LMP2. Andretti Autosport, AWA and Sean Creech Motorsport are all within striking distance of LMP3 class-leading Riley Motorsports. Over in GTD PRO, the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 tops the standings ahead of Corvette Racing’s No. 3 Corvette C8.R GTD, the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus and Heart of Racing’s No. 23 Aston Martin Vantage GT3. And in GTD, the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin enjoys the narrowest of leads, a single point over Korthoff Preston Motorsports’ No. 32 Mercedes, with the BMW M4 GT3s of Paul Miller Racing and Turner Motorsport and Magnus Racing’s No. 44 Aston Martin in the mix.

Star Gazing

Although sunset is slated for 7:05 p.m. Saturday, fans will be able to do plenty of star gazing long before darkness falls. That’s because IMSA’s regular cast of stellar talent will be joined by top magnitude drivers from other series; drivers like 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button (No. 5 JDC-Miller MotorSports Porsche 963), IndyCar champions Scott Dixon (No. 01 Cadillac Racing) and Josef Newgarden (No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport), four time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves (No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura), Australian Supercars champion-turned-IndyCar winner Scott McLaughlin (No. 8 Tower Motorsports ORECA) and 24 Hours of Le Mans winners Alessandro Pier Guidi (No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3) and James Calado (No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari).

The Fittipaldi dynasty will be represented by Haas F1 test driver Pietro Fittipaldi (No. 51 Rick Ware Racing ORECA), while the likes of former champions Joao Barbosa (No. 33 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier), Jan Heylen (No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R) and Laurens Vanthoor (No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport) will make welcome returns to IMSA competition on the weekend. 

So, no need to pack your telescope if you plan to do some star gazing at Michelin Raceway this weekend. And while a pair of binoculars might come in handy to occasionally monitor the on-track action from a distance, given Friday’s driver autograph session (noon ET) – not to mention the open paddock – fans will have plenty of opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the world’s finest race drivers throughout the weekend.