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DAGYS: IMSA’s Silly Season in Full Swing

John Dagys explores some of the expected off-season moves in IMSA…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

While there’s still two races to go in this year’s season, the talk of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship paddock has largely already shifted to 2018, in what’s shaping up to be some of the biggest off-season changes in recent years.

From the arrival of Team Penske and Acura, to a rejuvenated Mazda effort with Joest Racing and a number of LMP1 factory drivers on the market, the so-called “silly season” is already in full swing, with a number of key moves set to be made in the coming weeks.

Musical Chairs in Prototype

The first domino to fall came last month when Penske confirmed Juan Pablo Montoya and reigning Prototype champion Dane Cameron to its first Acura ARX-05 DPi, leaving a full-time seat to fill in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

Cameron, however, won’t be the only change within the Action Express squad, with Christian Fittipaldi reportedly set to move to an endurance-only role and Filipe Albuquerque, its current Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup driver, poised to take over full-time driving duties of the No. 5 car alongside Joao Barbosa.

Ex-Formula One driver Felipe Nasr, meanwhile, is expected to be confirmed as Cameron’s replacement in the No. 31 entry with Eric Curran.

One of the two remaining season-long seats to be filled at Penske, meanwhile, is set to throw off another set of dominos, with Ricky Taylor poised to make the move from his family’s Cadillac operation to the new Acura effort.

Taylor will likely be joined by Helio Castroneves, whose tug-of-war with IndyCar appears to have now gone in favor of a full-season IMSA program, with the Brazilian having tested the Acura DPi earlier this week at Sebring.

Ricky Taylor’s pending departure from the champions-elect Wayne Taylor Racing squad leaves another seat to be filled, with names such as Brendon Hartley having been mentioned, although no firm candidate appearing to be in place.

Hartley, the current FIA World Endurance Championship leader, is understood to be also pursing options in both IndyCar and Formula E, with a deal with Chip Ganassi Racing the likely outcome.

Alex Lynn, who teamed with Ricky and Jordan Taylor for victory at Sebring, meanwhile, is not an option for a full-time replacement due to the Englishman’s new Formula E gig with DS Virgin Racing, with at least two rounds, including Sebring, set to clash with the WeatherTech Championship.

Mazda is the other big question in the Prototype class, with Joest’s involvement likely to bring in at least one new face to the driver lineup.

The team tested ex-Audi LMP1 driver Rene Rast earlier this week at Hockenheim, although the German is unlikely to commit to a full season campaign due to his DTM commitments, where he currently sits third in the title race.

Both Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito, who also were part of the shakedown, are expected to continue, although the status of Joel Miller and Tom Long remains up in the air.

As of the publishing of this article, only Tequila Patron ESM and the newly announced CORE autosport Oreca 07 Gibson entry have fully confirmed lineups, with both teams remaining with its 2017 drivers.

And with a possibility of more than 15 prototypes on the grid next year, that leaves a lot still to-be-decided.

Changes Likely in GTLM

While BMW, Corvette, Ford and Porsche are all set to return, there will likely be some shakeups in at least two of the driver lineups.

Porsche, which faces a surplus of factory drivers amid the end of its LMP1 program, is likely to see the biggest change, with both Gianmaria Bruni and Laurens Vanthoor expected to move to its WEC GTE-Pro effort.

That is likely to open the door for LMP1 refugees Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber to return Stateside for a full-season campaign. Both will rejoin the CORE autosport-run team for next month’s Motul Petit Le Mans, as a potential hint towards 2018.

BMW will also likely have a revised driver lineup with its new M8 GTE cars, with Martin Tomczyk rumored to move to the new MTEK-run WEC effort.

It would leave a seat open for former GTLM champion Kuno Wittmer, who has been BMW’s endurance driver for the last two years and chomping on the bit for a full-time drive with the German manufacturer.

While all Ford drivers’ contracts, both in IMSA and WEC, are up at the end of the year, no major changes are expected within the lineups, with the same to likely be said at Corvette Racing.

WeatherTech to Scuderia Corsa?

The GT Daytona class could see as many changes as in Prototype, although most deals are still in a very fluid state.

What appears to have already been firmed up, however, is WeatherTech Racing’s move to Scuderia Corsa for 2018, which would effectively take the seats of current championship leaders Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan.

It’s believed Cooper MacNeil, and likely Gunnar Jeannette, will pilot the team’s Ferrari 488 GT3, in what will remain as a single-car operation for the California-based squad.

That essentially puts the defending GTD champions, who are on the brink of locking up back-to-back titles, on the market, in what could trigger a whole new set of dominos.

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Change it up

    September 22, 2017 at 11:34 am

    If only Christina Nielson could return with Aston Martin and drive the new Vantage in the GTLM class next season for IMSA, my ultimate satisfaction in the GTLM class would be complete! That would make up for the loss of Risi in GTLM if that happens. If that doesn’t work at least bring Christina and Balzan back in with the rumored Risi GTD venture!

  2. 7D3

    September 22, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Of course daddy’s boy, Cooper MacNeil, is moving to another car and team, and on top of that force one of the top driver pairings in Nielsen/Balzan out of their rides.
    Cant wait til 4 races into next season him complain about BOP and then go to PWC again like the spoiled child he is.

    • tracer

      September 22, 2017 at 12:47 pm

      To be fair, that’ll probably happen closer to round 6. 😉

      • Doug P

        September 22, 2017 at 6:38 pm

        My bet is round 2 or 3. Shameful.

    • David Chaste

      September 22, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      Christina is Daddy’s girl too you know. So is Madison Snow, and many others in GTD have inherited their wealth.

      • Cosmo DeLuca

        September 22, 2017 at 5:58 pm

        I think the point is that most others act like adults.

      • 914 nickd

        September 23, 2017 at 8:23 pm

        Who cares where the money comes from? If you or Daddy’s got it and you can drive. Bring it on! At least Madison can drive. Look at today! Another pole!!! Woohoo!!!

  3. tracer

    September 22, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    While P and GTLM look set to go from strength to strength next year, the biggest question mark seems to be the future of GTD and whether it will provide a stable platform for both existing and potential teams looking to move up from CTSC. At the moment there appears to be a wide gulf between the budget required for teams in the various ladder series to move up to GTD. My hope is that the trickle down effect of IMSA’s exposure from the top classes will trickle down to more funded drivers and sponsors willing to make the leap into GTD, but whether that will occur remains to be seen. At the moment, GTD appears to be in a state of consolidation between teams and funded drives, which will likely see the class contract next season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if we have quality entries top to bottom. However, it’s somewhat troubling to see the coming crest of the wave of growth from the last two years. If anything, I only see the continued issues in Pirelli World Challenge leading to some of those teams taking a second look at GTD. All in all, 2018 should be a banner season for IMSA. Let’s hope the series continues to handle the situation well.

    • jason

      September 22, 2017 at 12:54 pm

      Yeah we are about to lose Stevenson (closing doors) and CORE (to LMP2), but GTD of course has the GT3 platform which is a world wide formula. I get this feeling there will teams that will come and take there place. GTD seems to have the biggest turnover from year to year. Since inspecting the IMSA series in the past 5 years.

      • tracer

        September 22, 2017 at 1:13 pm

        I’m with ya in hoping that someone fills the void left by Stevenson as far as the Audi camp are concerned. It wouldn’t be a great look for the class to not have a single full season Audi entry considering the strength of Audi GT3 programs worldwide. The same can be said for BMW as well, as I expect Turner will reduce their program to TPNAEC events in addition to maybe the GT-only affairs.

  4. Mark - Toronto

    September 22, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    Hmm…interesting Taylor move. I was harboring a hope that Jenson Button may have been an outside shot for a ride with Honda at Penske.

  5. Bog Hammer

    September 22, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    What is Shank up to for next year?

    • tracer

      September 22, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      Continuing with the NSX in GTD.

    • Fabio

      September 22, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      Staying at GTD with the NSX, but not as a factory effort.

  6. Dave

    September 22, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Lots of questions, few answers. Too bad money talks in the case of Weather Tech. We know that Christina and Sandro drive circles around most in the field. No more championships for Corsa if this happens.

    • David Chaste

      September 22, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      Corsa themselves are a top team. Christina and Balzan are good. But considering Scuderia Corsa has won the title 2 years in a row with completely different lineups you have to believe the team environment reeks of quality. So they might catapult Cooper and Gunnar up the standings like they did their 2 previous lineups.

      • David seems lost and talking out his donkey

        September 28, 2017 at 2:07 pm

        Completely different lineups how exactly? It was Christina and Alessandro in 2016 as well so what was different exactly??

    • David Chaste

      September 22, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      Christina is loaded. Corsa charges more to their customer once they come back having won a title with the team. So christina is paying premium fare. If she wins again with them it will go up again.

  7. jason

    September 22, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    As far as the offseason is concerned I kind of just let GTD play itself out until we get the entry list for the Roar. Just so much turnover there.

    Prototype and GTLM are much more feasible to track. Hence why Johnny D’s GTD section at the bottom is so short. No point to speculate on anything GTD related in my mind.

  8. kv

    September 22, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    IF RICKY TAYLOR in fact goes to Penske/Acura,HELIO qould be the perfect mentor to school m on driving an INDYCAR,and isee INDY IN RICKYS portfolio !

  9. yallkeepbelievingthiscrap

    September 23, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Someone I know at HPD says the Ricky to Penske is highly unlikely.

    Besides, why would he leave daddys team and the series favored car?

    Talk about spoiled rich brats.

    • Jareth Belanger

      September 23, 2017 at 6:45 pm

      INDY.
      Staying in WTR is to accept being seen always in the shadow of his brother Jordan.

    • Ricky wants to run Indy as well

      September 28, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      I love the I know more than you that goes on here and tenths. If pretty much all the sportscar reporters have heard hints about it, there’s prob some rumblings there. Plus the drivers are contracted to Penske, NOT HPD and if you think Penske has given up control over driver choice I have a few bridges I can sell you.

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