Words and images by Matthew Boyce
Action Express Racing has claimed the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTP class championship following a chaotic and eventful season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. The No. 31 Cadillac V-Series.R of Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims finished in sixth overall which was enough to claim the GTP class title after incidents throughout the race claimed the numerous teams in contention for the title.
The final race of the 2023 season saw the departing No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura ARX-06 of Colin Braun, Tom Blomqvist and Helio Castroneves take the overall victory ahead of the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac of Sebastian Bourdais, Renger van der Zande and Scott Dixon. With a top two finish for Cadillac, the 2023 manufacturers championship was wrapped up as well.
The race was ultimately decided with just over an hour to go after the No. 31 Cadillac of Pipo Derani and the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport driven by Filipe Albuquerque made contact into turn one. Albuquerque attempted a daring move in traffic around the outside of the No. 31 Cadillac, but the No. 31 ran out of room at the exit of the corner which pushed the No. 10 off the track. Albuquerque was not able to keep the car out of the barriers, resulting in a heavy impact with the wall. He was later transported to a local medical facility, although he walked to the ambulance under his own power. After a review, IMSA decided that no action was required for the incident.
In the LMP2 class, the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson of Ben Keating and Paul-Loup Chatin claimed the class championship after a third place finish. Their title win came after their closest competitor, the No. 11 TDS Racing Oreca pairing of Mikkel Jensen and Steven Thomas, had their race come to an early end after the car was involved in a crash with three hours and 20 minutes remaining in the race. The No. 04 CrowdStrike by APR entry driven by Ben Hanley, Nolan Siegel and George Kurtz claimed the race victory.
LMP3 class honors were wrapped up at the drop of the green flag, as Gar Robinson captured the class championship by simply starting the race. With his teammate Felipe Fraga, the No. 74 Riley Ligier were in contention for the class win all afternoon and evening, but late race contact with the eventual race-winning No. 30 Jr III Racing Ligier of Garett Grist, Dakota Dickerson and Bijoy Garg resulted in race ending damage for the No. 74. The win for Jr III Racing comes as the team intends to exit the series after the elimination of the LMP3 class for the 2024 season.
The GTD Pro class championship was also clinched at the drop of the green flag as the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat only had to start the race to win the title. Their race, however, was short lived as Barnicoat spun the car on cold tires after a pit stop. The spin caused Barnicoat to collide with an advertising board off track severely damaging the Lexus machine ending their race.
The GTD Pro class win at Road Atlanta was captured by the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo driven by Daniel Juncadella, Jules Gounon and Maro Engel after Juncadella held off a charging Pfaff Porsche of Kevin Estre to secure the class victory. Estre, who was drafted by the Pfaff team for the season ending Petit Le Mans, claimed second place with co-drivers Patrick Pilet and Klaus Bachler. The win was the fourth of the season for the WeatherTech Racing team.
While the GTD championship was wrapped up before the start of the race by the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing team, GTD class honors were won by the No. 78 Forte Racing powered by US RaceTronics Lamborghini driven by Loris Spinelli, Misha Goikhberg and Patrick Liddy. Their win came after the team overcame two penalties in the eighth hour, the first of which coming after Goikhberg was penalized for spinning Roman De Angelis. Their second penalty occured after the team began working on the car outside of the teams pit box.
A late-race crash involving the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche handed second in the GTD class to the No. 96 Turner Motorsports BMW M3 GT3 of Robby Foley, Michael Dinan and Patrick Gallagher. The final spot on the GTD podium was claimed by the No. 77 Wright Motorsports Porsche of Alan Brynjolfsson, Trent Hindman and Max Root. Brynjolfsson, who announced last month that he would be taking a hiatus from racing next season, claimed a podium with his Wright Motorsports teammates.