IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship: 2018 Season Review

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Action Express Racing (1); Chip Ganassi Racing (2); Michael Shank Racing (3)

It’s always a long, strange trip from the start of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Daytona International Speedway in January to its annual visit to Road Atlanta in October. With so many opportunities for drivers to make mistakes, the title chase can take on many forms from the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona to the championship-concluding Petit Le Mans, and 2018 was no exception.

In the end, though, IMSA always crowns a set of worthy champions, and that’s exactly what happened once again this year. Action Express Racing’s Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran held off CORE autosport’s Colin Braun and Jon Bennett in the championship-headlining Prototype class, while Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen topped GT Le Mans and Paul Miller Racing’s Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers claimed the crown in GT Daytona.

As should be expected in a series reliant on Balance of Performance parameters, the win chart was pretty diverse this season. Seven cars took Prototype wins in 2018, six won in GTLM, and a series-high eight triumphed in GTD, for a total of 21. Only 10 of those won their class more than once, and of the group, only the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GTLM entry of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook won more than twice—taking victories at Daytona, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and Road America.

That’s why it’s so ironic that the title-winning GTLM team was one of only two full-time entries to go winless in 2018. Garcia and Magnussen simply out-pointed everybody all season long, and not even finishing last in class at Road Atlanta could undo their eight podiums on the season—including seven in a row going into the finale.

Curran and Nasr only took a single victory themselves, and in the shortest race of the season on Belle Isle to boot. But while their teammates, Filipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa, took crown jewel victories at both Daytona and Long Beach, it was the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac that took five podiums on the season.

Braun and Bennett, for their part, impressed as one of only three duos to take multiple Prototype victories, and were the only ones to go back-to-back. In fact, they were only four points out of the lead going into Road Atlanta in just their first season in the class. But Curran, Nasr, and endurance driver Gabby Chaves finished just one spot behind their championship rivals in the finale to deny the CORE squad a class rookie championship by a narrow margin.

But it was the GTD battle that was truly most compelling throughout the season. The last class to produce a repeat winner (Snow and Sellers, who backed up a 12 Hours of Sebring victory with a win at Lime Rock Park), all eyes were on Katherine Legge as she looked to become the first solo class champion in the series in three years. When Alvaro Parente missed the Detroit round, Legge won her first race of the season alongside Mario Farnbacher to keep her title hopes alive, and Michael Shank Racing spent all year scraping together money to keep her Acura on the grid.

A win at Laguna Seca put her within four points of the lead, but Legge, Parente, and Trent Hindman only beat Snow, Sellers, and Corey Lewis by a single spot in Atlanta, not enough to wrest the points lead from their championship foes. But while Legge lost the battle, in a way, she won the war: she’s fully funded for 2019 with MSR, joining an all-female squad alongside fellow former IndyCar racers Simona de Silvestro and Bia Figuereido (Ana Beatriz), plus longtime sports car racer Jackie Heinricher.

2019 will be a season of major change for IMSA, as the sport bids farewell to its longtime broadcast partners at FOX in favor of the NBC Sports family and Continental Tire in favor of Michelin in each of its classes. After all of the thrilling action we saw in 2018, though, don’t expect things to be all that different.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button