The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship closed out its 2021 season with the Petit Le Mans ten-hour race at Road Atlanta this past weekend. The race was also the final event for both the M8 GTE and the M6 GT3 race cars, which will both be replaced by the new M4 GT3 in 2022.
The M8 GTE competed in the IMSA GTLM class from 2018 through this season, with the undisputed highlights being the wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in both 2019 and 2020, as well as the championship in the 2020 Michelin Endurance Cup, which awarded points for the four big endurance races at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, and Road Atlanta.
BMW of North America and BMW Team RLL chose to only compete in the four Endurance Cup races this year and celebrated podium finishes earlier in the season at Daytona, Sebring, and Watkins Glen, but there were only a few other cars in the class during the season, with the pair of Corvette Racing C8.Rs and the WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR.
The M8s got off to a good start in their final race at Road Atlanta, with Jesse Krohn putting the #24 M8 GTE on the pole. Both M8 GTEs then led the Petit Le Mans finale at times but ultimately didn’t have the pace of the Porsche 911 RSRs, which finished one–two in the GTLM class. The #24 M8 GTE of John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, and Augusto Farfus finished on the podium in third. “It was a bit of a surprising podium at the end, but it is really nice to sign off the BMW M8 GTE with a successful weekend—qualifying on pole and finishing on the podium,” said John Edwards. “We desperately wanted to win that one after last year’s heartbreak when we were leading in the last hour before being pushed off the track. But it is a positive end to the era of the M8. Now we are looking forward to the BMW M4 GT3 and hopefully we can celebrate of the same success with that car.”
The #25 M8 GTE of Connor De Phillippi, Bruno Spengler, and Philip Eng had a DNF after De Phillippi was involved in an incident late in the race. “A tough race today,” said De Phillippi. “We were a bit out of strategy trying to make up for some of the deficit we had in the pits. We were pushing as hard as we could. Before the incident there were a few prototypes behind me. I thought one of them would be right behind me, but he went into the pits. I left a bit too much space in the last corner, got on the marbles and went off. I was just a passenger at that point. Of course, it’s very disappointing to end the M8 program for our car on that note. I feel bad for the guys.” The GTLM class season championship was won by Corvette Racing.
Turner Motorsport had a disappointing final race with the M6 GT3, which was especially difficult for the team after watching the Michelin Challenge GS class championship slip away on Friday when Bill Auberlen was involved in an accident with a Mercedes while fighting for the lead.
Robby Foley qualified the #96 M6 GT3 third in the GTD class at Road Atlanta, just two-hundredths off pole, and the car stayed toward the front of the class for a good portion of the race with Foley, Auberlen, and Aidan Read doing the driving. It all came to an end just after four hours of racing, when a major pileup took out seven cars, including the M6 GT3, as Auberlen clipped the wall while trying to work his way through the carnage. The Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 won the GTD-class race, and the class championship was won by the Pfaff Motorsport Porsche team.
Turner Motorsport raced the M6 GT3 in 91 races over six seasons. They never won a championship with the car, but achieved 26 podium finishes, including eleven wins. Two of those wins came this year at Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen, and the team was in the hunt for the championship until the penultimate round at VIR when they were knocked off the track by a Corvette late in the race.
The 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opens with the Rolex 24 at Daytona in late January. Expect more on the 2022 season next week.—David Haueter
[Photos courtesy BMW Motorsport.]