It’s the last race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship, and the 10-hour event at Michelin Raceway Road America set this year for Nov. 13 has been responsible for some of the best, and some of the most brutal, competition in any sports car event.
Why watch? Read on.
Dr. Don Panoz, the man most responsible for the nicotine patch, bought the 26-year-old track in 1996 and proceeded to sink a lot of money into the facility, a twisty 2.54-mile road course with 12 turns, though it seems like more.
It’s a difficult track to master, as evidenced by multiple crashes in Friday’s IMSA Michelin Challenge series finale and in IMSA WeatherTech qualifying Friday afternoon.
Panoz died in 2018, but by then NASCAR had acquired the track, as well as Sebring International Raceway, also a Panoz property. But it was Road Atlanta that was the closest to Panoz’s heart. He would be pleased with the current Road Atlanta, a track arguably too old-school for today’s fast IMSA cars, with every lap of Petit run like it was the last lap of the race.
It may not produce the best race of the 2021 season, but we wouldn’t bet against it, especially with a healthy entry list of 43 cars in five classes. Panoz designed the race just as the name suggests—a mini Le Mans—and this year’s field is just that.
The tight points battle for the Daytona Prototype championship got tighter with Friday qualifying that had Felipe Nasr place the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac on the pole with a time of 1 minute, 8.678 seconds, just ahead of the No. 55 Mazda of Harry Tincknell.
The points awarded for being the fast qualifier brought the Action Express team just eight points behind the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Acura.
Bottom line, after a hard-fought, season-long battle, it comes down to this: Whichever car beats the other wins the championship. It is, by the way, Nasr’s last ride in the Action Express car. Pipo Derani is the other Action Express driver battling for the victory. Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque are the points-leading Wayne Taylor drivers.
Speaking of last rides, tune in to watch Porsche factory driver Patrick Long take his final race for a full-time team, as he moves into a testing and ambassador-like role to other Porsche drivers in the series.
Long, 40, has been a professional racer for half his life, and he decided not to seek a season-long ride in 2022.
“I still love to race, to make a Porsche do what I want it to do and, most of all, to win. But that passion is now more fulfilled by taking part in the bigger picture,” he said. “To support the brand that has supported me and to help usher in a future of Porsche Motorsport that holds true to where Porsche came from.”
Long essentially took over the role with Porsche after Hurley Haywood’s retirement, becoming the only American factory driver for the marque. His last ride comes in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports 911 GT3R, which starts mid-pack on the GT Daytona grid. He’s fourth in points.
Want some big names? Former NASCAR champ and current IndyCar driver Jimmie Johnson is in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac, and his race strategist is Chad Knaus, the crew chief who led Johnson to his seven NASCAR Cup championships. Johnson shares the car with Kamui Kobayashi, the FIA World Endurance champion.
IndyCar is contributing more major players with Scott Dixon helping out in the No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac. Simon Pagenaud will serve as the third driver for the Ally Cadillac.
Alexander Rossi joins Taylor and Albuquerque. Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves will team with Dane Cameron in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura. Sebastien Bourdais is in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac.
So long, Mazda Motorsports. This will be the final race for the No. 55 Prototype, as the company’s downsizing of its racing program continues. Harry Tincknell, Jonathan Bomarito and Oliver Jarvis will ride the very fast four-cylinder into the sunset, which qualified second for today’s race. They’d love to go out with a win.
This is also our last look at the storied GT Le Mans class, which carried over from the American Le Mans Series, which Don Panoz founded in 1999, before it was absorbed by NASCAR and IMSA.
It has had as few as three cars this season – two factory-backed Corvettes and a mostly privateer Porsche, but this time around, there are the two Corvettes, two fast BMWs and an all-star Porsche team joining the familiar WeatherTech Porsche for a six-car sendoff. Next year, GT Le Mans will be dovetailed into the GT Daytona GT3 class, which becomes Pro-Am. Qualifying was close: Jesse Krohn’s BMW, then a Porsche, then a Corvette.
The Motul Petit Le Mans airs live on Nov. 13 beginning at noon ET on NBC, moving to NBCSN at 3 p.m., continuing until the race ends at 10 p.m. Complete coverage is also available on IMSA Radio at IMSA.com.
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