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2018 IMSA Silly Season Update: GTLM

Sportscar365 looks at the confirmed and likely entries for the GT Le Mans class in the WeatherTech Championship next year…

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

In the latest Silly Season update, Sportscar365 looks at the confirmed and likely GT Le Mans class entries for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Corvette Racing — The 2017 GT Le Mans class championship-winning team is expected to remain with a largely unchanged effort next year, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and newly crowned drivers’ champions Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen all due back behind the wheel of the Pratt & Miller-run squad’s Corvette C7.Rs. No definitive word, however, has been given on the team’s endurance drivers. (2 cars confirmed)

BMW Team RLL — Bobby Rahal’s squad will continue with the German manufacturer for what will be its 10th season together, and fourth different BMW model to debut. Look for at least one change in the full-season driver lineup, with Connor De Phillippi rumored to be joining the team, possibly at the expense of either Martyn Tomcyk or Alexander Sims, who could be moved to BMW’s new FIA World Endurance Championship program. Kuno Wittmer, meanwhile, will not return for 2018, leaving a seat open for the endurance races. Drivers for the BMW M8 GTE program will be announced at BMW’s Sport Trophy awards night in Munich next month. (2 cars confirmed)

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing — Very few changes are also expected at Ford, despite all of the driver contracts being up for renewal. Look for Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook to all likely return to the wheel of the two Ford GTs. The shape of FCGR’s endurance lineup, however, could change, with Tony Kanaan unlikely to continue with the team amid his switch to AJ Foyt Racing in IndyCar. It’s understood a third or fourth entry for Daytona and Sebring, as was the case this year, remains a possibility. (2 cars confirmed)

Porsche GT Team — Porsche’s second year with the mid-engined 911 RSR will result in a revised driver lineup in IMSA, with both Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber set to return Stateside following the conclusion of the German manufacturer’s LMP1 program. They will likely replace Gianmaria Bruni and Laurens Vanthoor, who are likely to take seats in Porsche’s GTE-Pro effort in WEC. An additional works-entered car for the Rolex 24 has been ruled out by Porsche GT boss Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser. (2 cars confirmed)

Risi Competizione — The Houston-based team is likely to continue as the lone representative flying the flag for the Prancing Horse in GTLM. It’s understood a deal has not yet been fully reached for a full season campaign, but is expected to happen, despite Risi missing four races last year due to funding issues. Toni Vilander would likely continue, although questions surround the future of Giancarlo Fisichella at Ferrari, with the Italian believed of being courted by BMW. (1 car likely)

Additional One-Offs Unlikely for Daytona

The possibility of single-race entries for the Rolex 24 at Daytona appears to be unlikely at this point. AF Corse, which contested the 2016 race under the SMP Racing banner, has no plans to enter a GTLM car, while Aston Martin Racing has ruled out an early race debut for its new Vantage GTE model. WEC/ELMS stalwarts Proton Competition will also not make the trip to Daytona, after evaluating an entry for last year.

Full-Season Entry Projection: 8-9 cars
Additional Cars for Daytona: 1-2 

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

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Change it up

    November 22, 2017 at 9:29 am

    Hopefully Ford at least commits all 4 cars. Its weird BMW and Porsche wouldn’t enter at least 1 or 2 extra cars. Why wouldn’t you have Vanthoor race if he was in it last year? Im sure Bruni would love to experience the Rolex 24 after doing most of the IMSA season last year. Bring in the new Porsche rookie with Bruni and Vanthoor to round off a 3rd team. Also, BMW, testing all of your drivers at the Rolex would be the way to prep for the WEC, which doesn’t start till next summer, am I right?

    • Sol Shine

      November 27, 2017 at 1:33 pm

      I don’t know why Ford, or Ferrari for that matter, would even bother, the way they get jacked around with the BOP is ridiculous. Basically, this class is an exercise of BOPing down to the lowest common denominator, which is either the Corvette or BMW dinosaurs. Why bother building a state of the art innovative car to see it get killed by BOP and beaten by old tech cars? Racing is supposed to encourage innovation and progress, not discourage it.

      • Change it up

        November 29, 2017 at 12:11 pm

        Well, as explained in the history of racing, cars eventually approached the ability to go 200mph+ and made it extremely dangerous. If we just let every manufacturer build something that can go as fast as humanly possible it would be dangerous for drivers, teammates, and fans. Just enjoy the amazing racing that goes on in GTLM, it is by far better than Nascar and Formula 1 combined. I don’t like seeing 3-4 cars constantly winning races.

  2. Tim

    November 22, 2017 at 10:36 am

    if de phillippi goes to bmw any word on who might succeed him at land?

  3. jason

    November 22, 2017 at 11:06 am

    The Ford situation is interesting since Pla is with the ESM Nissan for Daytona. Somewhat disappointed that Porsche won’t go with a 3rd car AND that AMR won’t run Daytona.

  4. Kevin

    November 22, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Surprised to see fisichella might leave Ferrari.

    • Mike S.

      November 22, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      Yeah Fisi is the biggest surprise. GTLM not changed much really except different drivers a bit. It won’t get bigger car counts only in one off endurance races.

    • TE

      November 23, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      He is fast,but tends to make mistakes at inopportune times. Also often seems to have more problems with tire deg than most over a stint.

  5. Overtake24

    November 22, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    It’s pretty amazing that it will be the 7th straight season of the same four full season drivers together for corvette. 17th year for Gavin, 15th year for Magnussen, 10th year for García, and 8th year for Milner. That kind of consistency isn’t very common in sports car racing with so many teams coming and going and so many driver changes.

    • DC

      November 22, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      We had that kind of consistency with Audi, and most of the Porsche’s factory drivers have stayed with the team over the course of their career (not counting the loans to other teams, like Bernhard and Dumas to Audi).

  6. David Chaste

    November 22, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    Kuno Witmer gets no love. If Conner Dephilipi does indeed get a full time bmw seat it would be a bit of a slight to say the least.

  7. David Chaste

    November 22, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    The best GT racing in the world might be loosing its luster just a bit. The WEC’s GTE pro will surpass IMSA’s in numbers for the first time. The GTLM entry list was very predictable, and with the Joest and Penske Juggernauts in Prototypes, primary focus will be directed there instead.

    • Sestom

      November 22, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      The best GT racing in the World is the Blancpain Series…

      • Davy

        November 22, 2017 at 3:31 pm

        Actually it is Super GT.

        • Sestom

          November 22, 2017 at 3:40 pm

          Super GT are proto and not GT.

          • KW

            November 24, 2017 at 2:15 pm

            Super GT have the same regulations as DTM. These are no GT cars, as they are not at all based on a series production car, but on a standadized carbon fibre chassis and a drivetrain which has nothing to do with a series production engine. It only has a silhouette which reminds of a series production car. So this is closer to DPi than to GT.

        • Dave

          November 22, 2017 at 11:48 pm

          Agreed!

      • David Chaste

        November 23, 2017 at 4:25 am

        They use customer cars. The drivers are up to par in skills, but some of the teams are not quite there. In IMSA GTE and WEC GTLM pro, teams like Corvette, Aston Martin, AF Corse, etc have the expertise to build a factory P1 car and maybe even an F1.

        Not many gigs beat racing for a manufacturer backed teams.

        • Sestom

          November 23, 2017 at 11:58 am

          IMSA GT = 8-9 cars PRO / 4-5 brands

          Blancpain GT = +20 cars PRO / +10 brands

          M-Sport = Bentley / Grasser = Lamborghini Squadra Corse / Karspersky = AF Corse / HTP = Mercedes / WRT = Audi / RJN = Nissan / Rowe = BMW

          More Platinium drivers in Blancpain GT Series

    • jason

      November 22, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      That is only because Ferrari has 2 cars in WEC and 1 in IMSA. Corvette and Aston Martin offset each other. It was appropriate that they battled for the win at Le Mans this year since both makes are loyal to their one series while the other makes run in both full time in some aspect.

      And its obvious that IMSA GTD is stronger than WEC GTE Am

    • John Cray

      November 23, 2017 at 4:30 am

      Agree, GTLM could up the interest a little in the face of renewed competition from DPi/P2, and GTE Pro in WEC. Failure to attract AMR and A F Corse, and to attract at least one additional entry from Ford, Chevy or Porsche for Daytona and Sebring suggests lack of manufacturer excitement in the PR and marketing opportunities.

      The huge success of the Blancpain Endurance Series in Europe also offers the challenge of increasing publicity with the wider range of semi-works teams and comparatively low costs; hence the rumoured entry of the Manthey Team’s two semi works Porsche in BES Pro.

  8. Mike S.

    November 22, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    GTLM takes $6-10 million a year to run. GTD isn’t that far behind those numbers either right now (lower but return wise not really that much) and catching GTLM fast so these GT grids are pretty much not going to change drastically year to year to the upside. Another reason why protos are looking better its a better return and cost is right in line for that return if you can afford it. But that will only last until the budgets get pushed ever higher every year by Joest/Penske space race and it will come back to earth in a few years just like any market its the same.

    • jason

      November 22, 2017 at 2:18 pm

      I got ideas for that. GTLM should be faster than it is and I think it can be. GTD teams can get a reprive on their budgets if IMSA takes the Laguna Seca round away. That track is tight already and that is a big trip out west they won’t have to make.

      • Dan

        November 22, 2017 at 5:09 pm

        Jason, Stop it with the constantly wishing GTLM would win overall. GTLM cars will not win overall unless petit le mans 2015 conditions happen again and with Michelin taking over from continental in 2019, that isn’t going to happen. Also making the cars faster will run up costs via wear and tear being more rapid than it already is. As for getting rid of one race lets not even talk about the fact is Laguna Seca, will not help anything.

        • jason

          November 22, 2017 at 11:00 pm

          I know about GTLM, your point is correct. But more performance is never a bad thing regardless. And if you took Laguna out for GTD then those teams won’t have to go out west at all during the season which will cut major expenses for them. Also we have seen P/GTLM only races at Laguna work out pretty darn good in the past.

          • Matt

            November 24, 2017 at 10:43 am

            Jason you forgot about long beach

    • David Chaste

      November 24, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      GTLM does not take 6-10 million to run. The cars cost more than P2 cars. All teams make updates for some specific tracks. The sum of the parts that a GTLM team goes through in a season could be 6-10 million.

      • KW

        November 24, 2017 at 2:18 pm

        True for GTE-Pro, but the budget for a GTE-Am team in FIA WEC is lower.

  9. JeffB

    November 26, 2017 at 12:57 am

    I’d be disappointed to see Alexander Sims leave IMSA. He did so well last season with Bill Auberlen and it feels like Bill has had a new teammate just about every year for the better part of the last decade, most of whom were new to North America on top of it.

  10. Anthony Thomas

    November 28, 2017 at 6:28 am

    I am not sure why budgets are constantly brought up. ROI in Sports Car Racing is low because there has been little growth in it’s fan base. Also it’s fan base is quite affluent so there are limited opportunities to sell to it.

    This means your advert request during broadcast is lower than most sports. You have to bring in companies to ad buys. IMSA/Fox Sports can’t just call it’s number like the NFL does.

    This means less overall money. This is why the panels of most of the GTLM cars are blank.

    Risi’ Ferrari was featured in a Quaker State TV ad a few years ago. But those types of product connections to the race track are rare.

    Weather Tech is what it is and Blancpain is what it is. Mostly there for rich blokes and OEM’s to come play. The factories come and go and with that grid counts fluctuate. We just happen to be in a space where the growth is happening in IMSA P2 and GT3 world wide. People complain about the cost of GT3/GTD as if it getting too close to GTLM cost. This is the price of teams looking for speed in a class that some complain there no finite rules…

    GT3 will continue to grow as long as rich blokes are willing to put down 3/4 of million for cars and spares package unless your Strakka and then it’s 1-2 million in just hardware alone. I’m fairly sure blessed teams like HTP and Rowe are given sizable discounts, along with factory drivers.

    Speaking of Strakka and it’s switch to Mercedes Benz with Benz’s DTM program coming to an end, I guess I know where many of the drivers are going. But for this year I wonder where the Benz drivers are coming from. Lance Dave Arnold is one of the few that don’t have a regular ride in Blancpain. Ranger’s IMSA commitments likely will keep him out of Blancpain until maybe Spa 24.

    I know some of the young British drivers that Strakka had in their cars will continue and Jazman Jaffar is quite comfortable with the Benz GT.

    Anyway some minor movement in GTLM stateside, mostly at BMW. Why would BMW go after Fishi? They have plenty of drivers to pull from… Even so losing him isn’t a big deal, look how many fast Ferrari drivers are in Blancpain.

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