The WeatherTech Championship Heads to America’s Heartland
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After opening the season with a quartet of events on (or near) the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship makes its initial appearance in America’s heartland with this weekend’s Lexus Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio.
The sinuous 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has everything you could ask for in a natural terrain circuit, including “technical” sequences of tight corners, a couple quick sweepers, a long straightaway and blind brows alenty. Four of the five WeatherTech Championship classes will be in action this weekend: Daytona Prototype international (DPi), Le Mans Prototypes 2 and 3 (LMP2 and LMP3) and the fiercely ultracompetitive GT Daytona (GTD).
The Acura ARX-05s of Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian come to the Buckeye State with a head of steam in the wake of a dominating 1-2 performance at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca a fortnight ago, one that left them knotted atop the DPi standings. Given that WTR is the defending winner at Mid-Ohio – not to mention Acura has won four straight there – the No. 10 Konica Minolta entry would have to be penciled in as the favorite. Of course, Pataskala, Ohio-based MSR would like nothing better than to notch its first win for the team at its home track.
And lest we forget, the three teams fielding a total of four Cadillac DPis are itching to break Acura’s stranglehold on Mid-Ohio – Whelen Engineering, JDC-Miller MotorSports and Cadillac Racing, the latter a two-car effort spearheaded by the inestimable Chip Ganassi racing. In particular, the No. 01 Cadillac V-Performance Academy entry bears watching given that, with three disappointing finishes bracketing a victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van de Zande are in a “must-win” mode if they are to entertain any hopes of challenging for a championship.
What more can be said about GTD? With a host of world-class marques competing for class honors on any given weekend, picking favorites let alone a winner is akin to playing the lottery. Eight manufacturers will be vying for the class win at Mid-Ohio.
In keeping with its title sponsorship of the event – and with the GTD PRO class getting the weekend off – Lexus has doubled its GTD program for the weekend with Vasser Sullivan entering the Lexus RC F GT3 normally campaigned in GTD PRO being renumbered from 14 to 17 for this weekend to run alongside the No. 12 Lexus for Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo that is in for the full GTD season. Jack Hawksworth, who scored back-to-back Mid-Ohio GTD wins in ’19 and ’20, and holds Mid-Ohio’s GTD lap record, is co-driving the No. 17 with Richard Heistand and gives Lexus a formidable 1-2 punch this weekend.
Which is not to say a Lexus win is a foregone conclusion. Just ask Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley and Turner Motorsport, who captured the GTD win last year in the No. 96 BMWs; or Wright Motorsports’ Jan Heylen and Ryan Hardwick, who stormed to the GTD win two weeks ago at WeatherTech Raceway in the No. 16 Porsche 911 GT3 R to become the one and only squad in the GTD class to repeat as winners so far this season. Then again, Acura, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, McLaren and Mercedes-AMG will be looking to break into the “W” column this year and, given the topsy-turvy nature of GTD, who would bet against them?
It figures to be a busy weekend in LMP2 and LMP3, particularly for those LMP3 teams who also plan to contest Saturday’s IMSA Prototype Challenge race. Running what amounts to a doubleheader is a double-edged sword.
Certainly, there’s added expense in what is formulated to be a relatively low-cost entry-level prototype series. On the other hand, the additional track time could well give double-dipping teams Jr III Racing, Performance Tech Motorsports, Forty7 Motorsports, Sean Creech Motorsport, MLT Motorsports and AWA an edge come Sunday’s “main event,” particularly the trio of drivers – Dan Goldburg (Performance Tech), Lance Willsey (Sean Creech) and Ari Balogh (Jr III) – who plan to contest both races.
On the LMP2 side, Tower Motorsport will be going for two in a row following the No. 8 ORECA LMP2 07’s win at WeatherTech Raceway, even as the No. 11 and No. 52 of class powerhouse PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports look to make amends for their uncharacteristic failure to make the podium two weeks ago.
One also cannot overlook the current LMP2 points leaders in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA that finished third in the season’s first points-paying event at Sebring and second last time out at WeatherTech Raceway. Will the upward trajectory to the top of the podium continue this weekend at Mid-Ohio?
Then there’s the No. 81 DragonSpeed USA ORECA, which begs the question: “How long before a former WeatherTech Championship/IndyCar champion, two-time Indianapolis 500, NASCAR and seven-time Formula One winner – Juan Pablo Montoya – pays a return visit victory lane?”
We’ll learn the answer to these questions (and many more) at the Lexus Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio. If you can’t be there in person, be sure to catch all the action on USA Network, Peacock, IMSA.com/TV Live and/or IMSA Radio this weekend.