By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
Many changes have come about for the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and they will debut at this weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. The Prototype class from the 2018 WeatherTech Championship is no more, having been split up after the 2018 Petit LeMans into two: Daytona Prototype International (DPi) and Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2). Let’s take a look at the differences between classes before we get into the competitors.
LMP2 is strictly pro/am while DPi is the pro-rated class. The LMP2 class is for prototypes that compete in the LMP2 category of the FIA World Endurance Championship, meaning that a team can run the same car in both championships with minimal changes. The DPi class is manufacturer-based, with automakers taking an FIA-homologated LMP2 tub from either Onroak, ORECA, Multimatic or Dallara and using their own engine with custom-designed bodywork for the prototype. Acura, Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan are the four manufacturers currently in DPi. Manufacturers can have customer teams if they so desire with Cadillac being the only manufacturer with customer teams.
Now let’s get into the competitors. We’ll start with DPi since they’re the top class and we’ll go in order from fewest competitors per manufacturer to most.
Nissan ran last year with two cars from the Extreme Speed Motorsports stable but after Tequila Patron ended their sponsorship, the team was unable to find a new sponsor and the Nissan DPi machines went to CORE Autosport. CORE is running one car with a retro Nissan livery that goes back to the Japanese manufacturer’s glory days in IMSA in the late 80s-early 90s.
Acura is back with a duo of Team Penske ARX-05 DPi entries with one change from last year’s driver lineup. Graham Rahal stepped aside after feeling he was too tall for the cockpit. Alexander Rossi replaces him in the No. 7 lineup alongside Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor. The No. 6 entry remains unchanged.
Mazda Team Joest has two entries again this year with a few changes to the driver lineup. Olivier Pla replaces Spencer Pigot as the additional endurance driver for the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup while Timo Bernhard joins the No. 77 RT24-P DPi lineup for the Rolex 24. Leena Gade also joins the No. 77 car as lead engineer and the team looked very fast in pre-race testing at the Roar Before the 24.
Cadillac has six entries in the class which is double the amount they had last year. The familiar three from last year are back with Wayne Taylor Racing having perhaps the most star-studded lineup in the class with Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi joining Renger Van Der Zande and Jordan Taylor. Action Express Racing has their differently branded Mustang Sampling and Whelen Engineering DPi entries back and are looking to repeat their 2018 success, especially with this being Christian Fittipaldi’s last race before retirement.
Joining the Cadillac brigade are JDC-Miller Motorsports and Juncos Racing. JDC-Miller ran two LMP2 entries last year in the Prototype class and have pro-am lineups in both cars. Juncos Racing also has a pro-am lineup but unlike JDC-Miller, this is their very first sports car race. The Speedway, Indiana based team had a sixth, fifth and fourth in three of the sessions at the Roar. They may be a team to look out for if you’re looking for an outside shot at a top-five finish.
In LMP2, all four entries use the same Gibson engine mandated by the FIA for the class while each team decided to use the ORECA chassis of the allowed suppliers.
DragonSpeed has two entries in the class. One entry has former Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado and Indianapolis 500 competitor Sebastian Saavedra while the other entry has new IndyCar competitor Ben Hanley and three-time LMP2 class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Nicolas Lapierre.
Performance Tech Motorsports has an all amateur-rated lineup while PR1 Mathiasen has Enzo Guibbert as its sole pro-rated driver.