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Season Review

Sportscar365’s Prototype Drivers of the Year

Sportscar365 selects its top prototype drivers from the various classes…

Photo: James Moy/Toyota

LMP1 – Kamui Kobayashi

Over the four FIA World Endurance Championship races held this year, Kobayashi was a leading light in Toyota Gazoo Racing’s six-man LMP1 driver lineup.

The Japanese driver’s speed and focus were integral to the No. 7 Toyota crew coming out on top against the No. 8 during the second half of the 2019-20 season.

While Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez were helpless against success handicaps at Circuit of The Americas, they overcame their larger penalty compared to Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima by winning the 6 Hours of Spa.

All three drivers starred in Belgium, while Kobayashi’s contribution was his composure when the rain arrived to keep the No. 7 ahead despite a safety car bringing the No. 8 into view.

He then took pole for the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a 3:15.267 lap time that was two-tenths quicker than his effort from the previous year, despite pedaling a car that had been made seven kilos heavier by the WEC’s Equivalence of Technology regulations.

Although technical misfortune once again prevented the No. 7 from winning at Le Mans, the title went its way at the 8 Hours of Bahrain where Kobayashi set the fastest lap and moved his car beyond the range of the No. 8 in the middle portion of the race.

Kobayashi’s extra-curricular activities should also be noted: he won the Rolex 24 at Daytona for the second time in January with Wayne Taylor Racing and was also strong in the early stages of the Total 24 Hours of Spa for the HubAuto Racing Ferrari squad.

After the end of the LMP1 era, new world champion Kobayashi will surely be considered one of the category’s greats. All that remains is that elusive Le Mans win.

Honorable mentions: Sebastien Buemi (Triple 24H Le Mans winner, 2nd in WEC), Mike Conway (WEC champion), Jose Maria Lopez (WEC champion), Bruno Senna (impressive for Rebellion, stood out at Le Mans)

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

DPi – Ricky Taylor

In the third and final year of Team Penske’s Acura DPi program, Taylor managed to revisit the form that saw him win the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship title with Wayne Taylor Racing.

Having performed in the shadow of teammates Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya over the last two seasons, Taylor and Helio Castroneves emerged as the top Acura duo this time around, winning four times on their way to clinching the title by a single point.

Their campaign took a while to get off the ground after a rocky pair of races at Daytona, while a seventh-place finish at Sebring meant they were a lowly eighth in the standings after three rounds.

However, their fortunes quickly turned after Taylor charged to pole at Road America, setting up the first of three consecutive victories for the No. 7 Acura ARX-05.

Noteworthy moments from Taylor were central to the next two wins including his pursuit and dispatch of Cameron for the lead at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, and his use of GT traffic to hold off Felipe Nasr in a tense run to the checkered flag at Mid-Ohio.

Taylor was also involved in the year’s most controversial moment when he and Nasr’s co-driver Pipo Derani clashed whilst battling for the lead at Motul Petit Le Mans.

For all the drama that caused, the Penske driver did well to put the rhetoric behind him by returning to victory lane in the next race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and taking pole for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring where the title was sealed.

Honorable mentions: Harry Tincknell (12H Sebring winner, 3rd in standings with Jonathan Bomarito), Helio Castroneves (IMSA champion), Renger van der Zande (became repeat Rolex 24 winner, 2nd in standings with Ryan Briscoe)

Photo: United Autosports

LMP2 – Filipe Albuquerque

Albuquerque was at the forefront of United Autosports’ double championship-winning LMP2 season and was the standout competitor in the class this year.

The Portuguese driver was at the top of his game both individually and as a key contributor to a team that won its category in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the European Le Mans Series.

Albuquerque’s 100 percent record in ELMS qualifying was nothing short of extraordinary: he took pole for the first four races, creating a streak that stood at six events when the final two rounds of the 2019 season were factored in.

That pace was carried through into the races as Albuquerque and Phil Hanson claimed consecutive victories at Spa, Paul Ricard and Monza to secure the ELMS title.

Albuquerque’s combination of sheer speed and composure also contributed to United’s WEC wins at COTA, Spa and Le Mans with Hanson and Paul di Resta.

The 35-year-old’s starring LMP2 drives earned him a return to full-season IMSA competition for 2021, sharing Wayne Taylor Racing’s Acura with DPi champion Taylor. 

Honorable mentions: Nyck de Vries (rapid for Racing Team Nederland, G-Drive Racing), Phil Hanson (WEC, ELMS champion), Mikkel Jensen (3rd in ELMS for G-Drive), Antonio Felix da Costa (2nd in WEC for Jota Sport)

Photo: Jakob Ebrey

LMP3 – Wayne Boyd

While most of the headlines went to Albuquerque and the LMP2 side of United Autosports’ program, the team also had one of the LMP3 category’s leading drivers on its books.

Ex-Formula Ford ace Boyd has been a member of United’s LMP3 crew since its maiden season in 2016, but his fifth campaign with the team stood out far above the rest.

Like Albuquerque, Boyd claimed four pole positions on his way to winning three races and securing the ELMS title with his co-drivers Tom Gamble and Rob Wheldon.

The Northern Irishman was particularly strong at Spa, where he took pole for the ELMS four-hour race by a huge margin of 0.885 seconds and also set the fastest lap in the Michelin Le Mans Cup contest held at the Belgian circuit on the same August weekend.

Boyd’s double program in the ELMS and Le Mans Cup kept him very busy in 2020 and gave him plenty of track time to extract the most out of the new Ligier JS P320 Nissan.

While the Le Mans Cup program didn’t produce any podiums, Boyd’s pace was evident as he topped qualifying for the first Road to Le Mans race.

This was the year in which Boyd’s LMP3 talents stood out and suggested that the Silver-rated driver would also impress in a higher prototype category if given the chance.

Honorable mentions: Niko Kari (4th in ELMS, strong sports car debut), David Droux (3rd in ELMS for Realteam Racing), Laurents Hoerr (Le Mans Cup champion, Road to Le Mans 1 winner), Matt Bell (IMSA Prototype Challenge champion)

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Best Bronze – Patrick Kelly

As one of only two drivers – the other being his teammate Simon Trummer – to run the entire points-paying season, it would be easy to suggest that Kelly’s IMSA LMP2 championship win came as a formality.

But the designated Bronze-rated driver of the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson certainly earned his accolade with pace that would likely have made him the man to beat even with a populous full-season car count.

Race after race, Kelly out-ran his fellow Bronze drivers in the opening stint. He also took pole for all six of the rounds that he contested.

His performances gave the impression of someone who had been in the category for several seasons, but remarkably this was Kelly’s first full year of racing in 12 years following his recovery from injuries sustained in a road traffic accident.

Further to winning the title, Kelly was IMSA’s Jim Trueman Award recipient this year, granting him an automatic invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having shown what he can do in IMSA, Kelly will no doubt be keen to head over to France next summer to pit himself against the best Bronzes from the other championships.

Honorable mentions: Roberto Lacorte (fastest Bronze in three of four WEC races), Alexandre Coigny (top LMP2 Bronze in ELMS, 2nd in 6H Spa), Nicolas Maulini (2nd in Le Mans Cup, scored an ELMS podium at Monza)

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