How rare is it for a driver or drivers to win an IMSA championship without winning a race, as Corvette Racing co-drivers Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia did in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans class?
Pretty rare, as it turns out.
Since the first year of the American Le Mans Series in 1999 and including all Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and WeatherTech Championship seasons, there have been a total of 121 driver championships handed out.
Magnussen and Garcia were the third and fourth drivers to win championships without a race win, joining Elliott Forbes-Robinson and Craig Stanton.
EFR as he’s widely known, took the first-ever ALMS LMP championship in 1999, and the closest he’d come to a race win was a runner-up result in the season-opening Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Forbes-Robinson pointed out that keys to the title were top-six results in all eight races that year in the Dyson Racing Riley & Scott Mk III. He spent most of the season co-driving with Butch Leitzinger, but also shared a car with James Weaver, hence the solo title.
“We just tried to hang in there for all of them and it worked out for us,” Forbes-Robinson recalls. “We had an older car than the other folks and it just worked out. It was one of those things, but it doesn’t diminish it. I’ve had championships I’ve won where I won three-quarters of the races, but a championship still comes out a championship, no matter what happens.”
Stanton’s winless championship season came in the Rolex Series GT class in 2005. After opening the year with a fourth-place showing in the No. 73 Baldwin-Tafel Racing Porsche alongside co-drivers Jack Baldwin, Jim Tafel, Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis, Stanton moved to Synergy Racing for the remainder of the year with David Murry as his co-driver.
He had a total of eight top-five results, with a season-best showing of second in a six-hour race at Circuit Mont-Tremblant. He won the title by a single point over Marc Bunting and Andy Lally, who finished one position behind him and Murry in the season finale at Mexico City.
Stanton had a front-row seat for the final battle between Murry and Lally. He started the race in the No. 80 Synergy Porsche before finishing the team’s No. 81 entry. He earned points in the No. 80 machine.
“It came down to the last race and the last lap,” said Stanton following that race. “David is my hero. He did an unbelievable job. I started out my stint driving the No. 80 car and I drove my heart out.
“David carried on and he drove as hard as he could against the BMW and (Pontiac) GTOs. And I hopped back in the No. 81 car and finished out the race right behind them. I was literally third in line, right behind them. I had the best seat in the house to see David do an unbelievable job.”
Whereas Forbes-Robinson and Stanton won their championships “alone,” Magnussen and Garcia did it as a full-season driver pairing. And what a pairing it has been.
This was their third championship together, as they also won the final ALMS GT championship in 2013 and took last year’s WeatherTech Championship GTLM title. They’ve also won plenty of races together, 14 to be exact, beginning with a Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring win in 2009.
But this year’s title was won mostly through consistently strong results – eight podiums in 11 starts – and a little bit of good fortune in the end. Garcia made an uncharacteristic mistake late in the Motul Petit Le Mans and hit the wall at pit exit, removing the car from contention for the win, although the Corvette Racing team was able to make enough repairs to keep the car running to the finish.
The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook could have taken the title away with a finish of second or better after Garcia’s mishap and were running strong around sunset before fading to a fifth-place result.
As a result, Magnussen, Garcia and the No. 3 team are repeat champions.
“You know, sometimes it isn’t in the cards to win a race for different reasons,” Forbes-Robinson says. “Sometimes you have issues. Sometimes you don’t have a fast-enough car. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
“But when it comes time and you get down to that last race – ‘cause I know the anxiety in those pits was pretty high, especially after Garcia had his problem – you try and still win that championship. You’re doing everything you can to make it happen.”
Garcia acknowledged the day before Motul Petit Le Mans that doing everything you can to win the championship may not necessarily entail winning a race.
“It’s been kind of a strange season for us,” he said. “We’re used to winning at least once or twice a year and that hasn’t happened. I think we’ve been close to winning at least three or four and we probably deserve those wins, but at the end, what counts is those points.
“There have been quite a few years when we’ve won three or four races and we end up not winning the championship, so I think maybe it’s time to do the opposite.”
And that’s exactly how it turned out, albeit maybe not exactly how the team drew it up. Nevertheless, a championship is a championship.
“It’s fantastic,” Magnussen said. “It’s not the last. I think next year we’ll go for some wins also.”