Daytona lives up to GTP hype: 'Really exciting time for sports cars'

Sports Car News

A close top-class battle at Daytona proves the competition in sports car racing’s new Hypercar era is strong

Acura LMDh car Daytona 24 Hours

Acura emerged victorious on LMDh debut


Our first glimpse of the new era of sports car racing promises much for the season ahead. The more pessimistic racegoer at the 24 Hours of Daytona might have arrived doubting the reliability of the new GTP cars – most of which we’ll see in the Hypercar class in WEC – not to mention their speed or technological prowess given a new shared rulebook prioritises cutting budgets over pushing boundaries.

Yet when the chequered flag fell, the top four cars were separated by 11 seconds with some exciting jousts peppered across the final hours of the race. All but one of the top-level GTPs finished the race. Sure, BMW and Porsche suffered technical problems and the show was ultimately run by Cadillac and one-two winners Acura, both brands arriving with years of experience in IMSA’s premier class. But the paddock seemed united in its anticipation of the extra competition the new regulations will bring.

Neither Acura nor Honda will confirm plans for their car to appear in WEC, but you’d think it foolish for them to neglect the opportunity of Le Mans glory after this weekend’s showing. British driver Tom Blomqvist took the victorious Meyer Shank Racing car over the line, scoring himself and the team back-to-back Rolex 24 wins, making him a prime candidate to comment on how the new car compares to its predecessor.

Cadillac 2 LMDh car Daytona 24 Hours

Cadillac was next-strongest challenger after Acura

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“These cars are a lot more complex,” he tells Motor Sport. “There’s a lot more you can do as drivers to manipulate handling and balance. Yes, you’re a bit slower in the corners. It’s less seat-of-the-pants driving, especially in the higher speed turns. It’s a lot more technical now.

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“But hats off to all the manufacturers, IMSA and the regulations. It was pretty close. This is a really exciting time for sports car racing.”

His boss is pretty excited too. “The others are coming for us, and isn’t that amazing for our fans?” says David Salters, president of Honda Performance Development and orchestral in the Acura programme. “It’s real racing. Ding-dong right to the end, the whole 24 hours.”

Salter’s CV includes more than a decade at Ferrari’s F1 team. ‘I’ve been lucky enough to work on 19,750rpm screaming V10s,’ he says. “The last V10 I worked on made 650bhp from a normally aspirated 3-litre engine. This is more fun. There’s more to think about here. It’s really cool. And when it comes to spectacle, you watch this thing leave the pitlane as Tron and then warrgh, you hear the voice of God fire up, especially with the Cadillac.’

Spectators we spoke to were smitten by the Cadillac’s nat-asp V8 war cry, but were ultimately sold on all four GTPs and the aural and visual variety they once again offer IMSA, even enjoying the extra relevance a solely hybrid class of car brings. BMW and Porsche attracted large owners’ club meets to feverishly follow the M Hybrid V8 and 963, someone even sleeping at their Turn Four parking spot in a $170,000 911 GT3 when you’d presume a hotel room would have fallen easily into budget.

Porsche LMDh car Daytona 24 Hours

Porsche struggled for reliability


Porsche’s sole finisher came in 34 laps behind the lead Acura, but the team is under no illusions about how challenging IMSA and WEC seasons will be with a renewed breadth of competitors drawn in by enticing new regulations. “It’s great the competition is there,” says vice president of Porsche Motorsport, Thomas Laudenbach. “The challenge is extremely high. If you want to be up front, you can’t make any mistakes. Not with this many cars on the grid.

“We will not see a brand winning three or four times in a row, I believe that. And it’s great to race against the likes of Ferrari [in WEC]; we are really happy they took the decision to race again. I wouldn’t be surprised if our return was one of their reasons to come back in.”

BMW also had a tough Daytona but brought both cars home. “To develop a car like this in 18 months is quite challenging and we’ve had some ups and downs,” says its Head of Motorsport, Andreas Roos. “But we wanted to be here from the beginning.”

The unity of IMSA and WEC excites everyone, and not merely for the fact it’s drawn teams like these back with the ability to chase two series wins from one car. “I think we’re on the precipice of a new renaissance here, thanks to the people in charge,” says Chip Ganassi, whose team runs two of the Cadillacs in IMSA this year.

“When the people in the United States and the people in France were able to get together on rules to a common standard, all of us in the industry thought, ‘wow, this is going to be great’. The excitement is obvious with the manufacturers and the fans. I heard this morning that Le Mans is sold out of tickets, and I’ve never heard that before.”

He’s right, and the Rolex 24 scored its record attendance over the weekend, too. Sports car racing’s future really does look bright.