This weekend, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship returns to action at Watkins Glen International after four weeks off. Many of the teams and drivers spent that time in France, competing at Le Mans. Others stayed back and prepped at home. 42 teams have risen to the challenge of six hours of racing Sunday in high temperatures.
In the Prototype class, there are 16 entries. Returning to the fold is Performance Tech Motorsports with James French and Kyle Masson. The team chose to skip Belle Isle Park in order to test their ORECA 07-Gibson. Also back is United Autosports with their No. 32 Ligier JS P217-Gibson. Paul Di Resta, Phil Hanson and Bruno Senna will drive.
In addition, there are a couple of changes of note. Most notably, defending race winner Jõao Barbosa will not compete as a result of a wrist injury suffered in a bike crash. Originally, it appeared that the team would run the race with just Filipe Albuquerque and Christian Fittipaldi. While such a move is technically still an option, Action Express Racing has acquired the services of Verizon IndyCar Series regular Gabby Chaves to drive the No. 5 in Barbosa’s place. Chaves has one career start at Watkins Glen in the DeltaWing back in 2014. Gearbox problems ended his day back then early on.
Since Watkins Glen marks the third of four races in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, there are a number of extra drivers. Olivier Pla returns to Tequila Patron ESM, along with Nicolas Lapierre. Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Mike Conway is back in Action Express Racing’s No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R., while René Rast returns to Mazda Team Joest. Despite the extra drivers, six of the 16 Prototype teams plan to run the six hour distance with their normal two drivers.
UPDATE: The number of teams running Sunday’s six-hour race with just their regular driver pairing is down to five. AFS-PR1/Mathaisen Motorsports announced Wednesday that William Owen will join regular drivers Sebastian Saavedra and Gustavo Yacaman in the No. 52 Ligier JS P217-Gibson. It is Owen’s third career start in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and his second of the year. He previously made his series with the team last year at Long Beach, finishing fifth.
GT Le Mans has eight entries and no new teams. There is one driver change of note. Nicky Catsburg is not entered as the third driver in BMW Team RLL’s No. 24 BMW M8 GTE. He has been replaced by Tom Blomqvist, Blomqvist, the son of FIA World Rally championship Stig Blomqvist, will be making his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut.
In GT Daytona, there are 18 entries. A number of part-time entries return to the fold, including the CJ Wilson Racing and HART (Honda of America Racing Team) Acuras and the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi.
Spirit of Race is back with their No. 51 Ferrari, but with a revamped driver lineup. Daniel Serra is the only driver from Daytona and Sebring to return to the seat. He’ll be joined by 54-year old Oswaldo Negri Jr., who makes his season debut. Negri drove full-time last year in the No. 86 Acura for then-Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian. In addition, Francesco Piovanetti will make his series debut. He comes to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship after racing in Ferrari Challenge. He is currently fourth in Ferrari Challenge 458 points.
P1 Motorsports has brought in Adam Christodoulou to shore up their driver lineup. He’ll drive in place of Kenton Koch. At SunEnergy1 Racing, the merry-go-round of drivers continues. Thomas Jäger and Mikael Grenier return to the seat alongside Kenny Habul. Bernd Schneider, who partnered with Habul at Belle Isle Park is not entered.
Finally, Turner Motorsport has revamped their lineup once again. Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley, who drove at Belle Isle Park are out. Auberlen was always going to be out of the car because of his GTLM commitments for the endurance events. Back into the sole M6 GT3 in the field are Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge points leader Dillon Machavern, Markus Palttala and Don Yount.