The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship concluded its 2023 season this past weekend with the 26th running of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. The ten-hour race has a history of dramatic finishes and this year’s race was no exception. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing race for most of the BMW teams, though Turner Motorsport did have a strong second place finish in the GTD class. All in all, it was a very successful debut season for the new GTP prototype class and for the M4 GT3s competing in the GTD class.
BMW Team RLL came into the Petit Le Mans with a shot at winning the GTP championship with the #25 entry of Connor De Phillippi, Nick Yelloly, and Sheldon van der Linde, who joined the team as a third driver for this race. You never know how things are going to play out in a ten-hour race, but the #25 certainly had some opportunities to be in the running at the end. As the race played out, attrition and accidents impacted some of the other GTP entries and the championship battle ping-ponged back and forth amid thirteen caution periods.
A crucial moment in the race that ended up having a major impact on the championship hopes for the #25 car came after a pit stop, when Sheldon van der Linde started to exit the pits behind Alexander Sims in the #31 Cadillac that would go on to win the championship. Both of them went past the red light at the end of pit lane, but Sims hit the brakes when he realized he had run the red light and van der Linde ran into the back of him. Both were given penalties for running the red light, but van der Linde was also given an addition penalty for hitting Sims. It set them back a lap and they were fighting to recover from it for the rest of the race. A slow pit stop due to a fuel sensor issue also set them back further.
The #31 Whelan Engineering Cadillac would finish in sixth, which was enough to clinch the championship, while the #60 Meyer-Shank Racing Acura would win the race. The #25 BMW M Hybrid V8 ended up seventh, with the #24 of Philipp Eng, Augusto Farfus, and Marco Wittmann one spot behind them in eighth. For the season, De Phillippi and Yelloly finished sixth in the drivers’ championship, while Farfus and Eng finished eighth. “Overall, the season was pretty successful,” said Team Principal Bobby Rahal. “We had five podiums, including the victory at Watkins Glen. When we look back where we were a year ago it has been crazy, and we reacted well to the challenges we had. Like it is in every first year, there was a lot to learn and we learnt a lot. Thanks to everyone for their hard work. Now we are looking forward to next season and it will be a very exciting year.”
The highlight of the BMW teams at this race was a strong second-place finish in the GTD class from the #96 Turner Motorsport M4 GT3, driven by Robby Foley, Patrick Gallagher, and Michael Dinan. Foley and Gallagher ended up finishing fourth in the drivers’ championship, which was won by the Paul Miller Racing duo of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow in the #1 M4 GT3. The Paul Miller team clinched the GTD team and driver championships in the previous race at Indianapolis, but still had a good shot at the Endurance Cup championship at Road Atlanta. Unfortunately, they had to retire the car after tangling with a GTP car that damaged the steering rack. The #97 Turner Motorsport M4 GT3 of Bill Auberlen, Chandler Hull and Thomas Merrill finished in seventh. The #78 Forte Racing Lamborghini won the GTD class in the finale.
The 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship starts on the weekend of January 25th-28th with the biggest race of the year, the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The series has already released a list of season entries for 2024 and as expected, the pair of BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8s will be back in the GTP class. Paul Miller Racing will move up to the GTD Pro class with the M4 GT3, while Turner Motorsport will compete in the GTD class with the M4 GT3. News on drivers are yet to be announced. —David Haueter
[Photos by LAT Images]