Motul Petit Le Mans – Redemption

[Jack Webster Photo]

[Jack Webster Photo]

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship started the season with the grueling Rolex 24 at Daytona, and in between that race and the season ending 10 Hour contest at Motul Petit Le Mans, there were countless stories of triumph and tragedy, victory and defeat, damnation and redemption.

This race saw the end and the beginning of several eras – the first season of GTP competition, the last season of LMP3 in the WeatherTech series, the last season for Corvette Racing as a factory team and the end of MSR’s association with Acura.

It has been a trying season for the Michael Shank led race team, which was penalized after the Rolex 24 win for rules infractions, related to reporting of tire pressure settings. No need to go into details here, the facts are well known. The team kept the win, but gave up all the prize money, lost 200 points and was fined $50,000. To make matters worse, it appeared all season long that Acura would likely abandon the team at the end of the season, regardless of their achievements after Daytona. Did the punishment fit the crime? Who can say? All we know is that MSR knuckled down and did what they needed to do all season. They were the only team to score 3 overall wins in 2023, with victories at the Rolex 24 and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and finally capping the season off with victory at Motul Petit Le Mans. In the last hour of Petit, they literally went from last to first in GTP and held on for a fine and popular victory. The driving team of Tom Blomqvist, Colin Braun and Helio Castroneves combined talents for the win. On the podium, everyone looked like the weight of the world had been lifted off their shoulders. Redemption for the team at Petit.

Michael Shank said it best: “I don’t even know what to say right now. The crap this team’s been through this year. I have to thank Acura and all the crew and drivers. It’s too much. It’s just too much. I’m so happy. So happy.”

They are stepping aside from IMSA competition for the time being, but are certain to be back in 2025. Word has it that they are having serious discussions with Alpine about a GTP program – stay tuned. MSR is a fan favorite – they will be back. “Quit” is a word that is not in Michael Shank’s vocabulary.

Here are all the class winners from Motul Petit Le Mans.

GTP: #60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura ARX-06
Drivers: Tom Blomqvist, Colin Braun, Helio Castroneves
LMP2: #04 Crowdstrike Racing by APR ORECA 07 Gibson
Drivers: George Kurtz, Nolan Siegel, Ben Hanley
LMP3: #30 JrIII Racing Ligier JS P320
Drivers: Garett Grist, Dakota Dickerson, Bijoy Garg
GTD-PRO: #79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Daniel Juncadella, Jules Gounon, Maro Engel
GTD: #78 US RaceTrtonics Lamborghini Hurcan GT3 EVO2
Drivers: Misha Golkhberg, Loris Spinelli, Patrick Liddy

Going into Petit, any of 4 GTP manufacturers could have won the championship, but in the end, it was Cadillac and the Whelen Engineering team taking top honors, with Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims taking the driver’s title. The Porsche challenge fell by the wayside, as the Penske team tried to fight back all day from on track incidents and the Wayne Taylor Raciing #10 crashed out when Filipe Alburquerque tried to pass Derani on the outside of Turn 1 late in the race.

In other championships, in LMP2 Ben Keating (who we just did a feature story about) and Paul-Loup Chatin won the driver’s title with a solid 3rd place at Petit Le Mans. Keating once again set the pace, taking pole position in the class with a blistering lap as time expired in qualifying.

In the final season of LMP3, Gar Robinson locked up the driver’s title after a stellar performance all season long.

In GTD-PRO, this season marked the end of the Corvette factory team, as next year Corvettes will be in the hands of privateers. Ben Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth took the championship for Vasser Sullivan and Lexus, with the WeatherTech Racing team a close second.

Finally, in GTD, Bryan Sellars and Madison Snow won the championship for BMW, with a brilliant multi-win season. The Paul Miller Racing team was flawless all season long and the championship was secured by just starting Motul Petit Le Mans.

What else is there to say? The IMSA WeatherTech Championship keeps going from strength to strength. Season long entries for next year are set, with a record 48 cars set for the full season and a capacity field of 57 have signed up for the Michelin Endurance Cup. WeatherTech and VP Racing Fuels just extended their sponsorships through 2030 and Michelin is signed up through 2028. The new Lamborghini GTP car is expected by Sebring next season and down the road, new GTP cars are coming from Aston Martin, Alpine and likely others. Under the leadership of John Doonan, IMSA has grown and continues to grow. Record crowds are showing up at the events, TV viewership is up, worldwide interest is continuing to grow. The sky seems to be the limit.

Forget longing for the past, we are right now living in the new golden era of sports car racing.

Enjoy the ride.

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