The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship takes a final trip to the streets of Belle Isle. (IMSA photo)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship takes to the streets of Belle Isle for the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic for the final time this weekend.
The unforgiving 14-turn, 2.3-mile circuit has witnessed many a memorable moment featuring some of sports car racing’s legendary marques, teams and drivers competing over the years.
Who can forget the epic battle between the Corvettes of Ricky Taylor, Joao Barbosa and Richard Westbrook in 2014? Or last year’s frantic duel for the win between the Cadillacs of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kevin Magnussen and Action Express Racing’s Pipo Derani?
But it’s back to the future in ’23, as next year’s race will be staged on some of the very downtown streets that hosted the original Detroit Grand Prix in the ‘80s.
With recent history in mind, it’s expected to see the Cadillac’s take the top step.
After all, when Magnussen and Derani finished 1-2 last year at the wheels of the No. 01 Cadillac V-Performance Academy and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillacs, it marked three out of the past four races on Belle Isle that have gone Cadillac’s way.
And if this season’s first street race — the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach — is any gauge, Cadillac will again be the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) marque to beat on Belle Isle. The No. 1 and No. 2 Cadillac Racing entries finished 1-2 in Long Beach, ahead of the No. 5 JDC Miller MotorSports Caddy.
While the Ganassi and JDC Miller cars will almost certainly be in the mix for the win, Action Express also has a lot of Detroit hardware in its trophy case. The esteemed Olivier Pla joins Derani behind the wheel this weekend for the first time in the No. 31 Cadillac.
However, it’s also worthwhile to consider that Acura broke Caddy’s hold on Motown in ’19 when an Acura Team Penske ARX-05 took the win. Two Penske Acuras bested all but one Cadillac on Belle Isle in ’18.
The No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura is currently riding a two-race win streak and is in search of another victory.
Likewise, Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian has been getting closer and closer to getting the No. 60 Acura back to victory lane after kicking off the season with a win in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
On the GT Daytona (GTD) front, any of the seven manufacturers could take King of the Isle honors this weekend.
If there is a favorite, it would be the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn — the defending GTD winners on Belle Isle.
On the other hand, the needle might just as easily swing the way of BMW, Lexus or Mercedes. Each manufacturer is fielding a pair of entries this weekend compared to the singleton efforts of their competitors.
BMW is coming off a 1-2 finish at Mid-Ohio, thus Robby Foley and evergreen Bill Auberlen will look to make it two in a row for the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3. Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers, who finished second at Mid-Ohio in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW, also have the confidence boost of winning on the streets of Long Beach in April.
Vasser Sullivan is out to score its first win of the campaign, with Aaron Telitz and Frankie Montecalvo in their familiar No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3.
However, it’s all change in the sister No. 17 Lexus, as Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood take over for Richard Heistand and the injured Jack Hawksworth. Barnicoat and Kirkwood teamed with Hawksworth for a fourth-place GTD PRO finish at the Rolex 24 in January, so it’s not as if they find themselves in unfamiliar territory.
Kirkwood will also be competing in the IndyCar race at Belle Isle this weekend.
Then there’s the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R of Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen. Championship leaders heading into Mid-Ohio, they will be looking to rebound from a disappointing weekend and move back up the points standings at Belle Isle.