Dallara to Build BMW LMDh Chassis; Driver Changes; Support Series Practice Recap
By Mark Robinson
MONTEREY, Calif. – Acura picked up where it left off again at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Coming off consecutive wins and Motul Pole Awards in each of the past two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races at the historic circuit, the manufacturer set the pace Friday in opening practice for the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship.
Filipe Albuquerque pushed the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 DPi around the demanding 2.238-mile road course in 1 minute, 14.880 seconds (107.595 mph) to head the 26-car field in the one-hour session. The time was 0.155 seconds quicker than the track qualifying record set by Albuquerque’s teammate, Ricky Taylor, in 2019.
Taylor won last year’s WeatherTech Raceway event with Helio Castroneves, on their way to capturing the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) championship with Acura Team Penske. Taylor and Albuquerque moved to Wayne Taylor Racing this season and have the No. 10 Acura atop the DPi standings.
Pipo Derani, who along with Felipe Nasr in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R have closed to within 41 points of the No. 10 Acura, was second in practice with a lap of 1:14.974 – also under the official track record. Derani and Nasr have won each of the past two DPi races.
Other class leaders on Friday were: Mikkel Jensen (No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07) in Le Mans Prototype 2, at 1:16.115 (0.702 seconds under the LMP2 qualifying standard); Nick Tandy (No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R) in GT Le Mans, at 1:22.081; and Bill Auberlen (No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3) in GT Daytona, at 1:24.630.
A second WeatherTech Championship practice begins at 11:45 a.m. ET Saturday. Qualifying to set the starting grid streams live on IMSA.com/TVLive beginning at 4 p.m. The two-hour, 40-minute race airs live at 4 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold, the NBC Sports App and IMSA Radio.
BMW Names Dallara to Build LMDh Chassis
BMW will partner with constructor Dallara on production of the chassis for the manufacturer’s entry into the Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) prototype class of the WeatherTech Championship that begins in 2023. The announcement came earlier this week with the official contract signing at Dallara headquarters in Varano de Melegari, Italy.
“In Dallara, we are delighted to have found a partner for our LMDh project that shares our passion, professionalism and huge ambition in motorsport and, like us, is fully committed to the goal of writing a new success story in the history of BMW M Motorsport from 2023,” said Markus Flasch, CEO of BMW M GmbH. “After speaking to all the possible chassis partners, the decisive factor in our decision was that Dallara, with all its expertise and experience, was enthusiastic about working together with BMW M Motorsport. The chemistry was there between us from the word go. We see our relationship as a real partnership in which we are fighting for a common goal of success at the racetrack.”
LMDh will become the WeatherTech Championship’s top prototype class in 2023, replacing the current Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class. Through an agreement announced last month among IMSA, the Automobile Club l’Ouest (ACO) and the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), beginning in 2023, LMDh cars will be able compete alongside Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) entries in the top-tier class for both the WeatherTech Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship.
BMW is among five manufacturers that have committed to LMDh projects for WeatherTech Championship competition, along with Acura, Audi, Cadillac and Porsche. Dallara, one of four constructors eligible to produce LMDh chassis, also will supply the chassis for the Cadillac LMDh project.
“Dallara is perhaps the most successful race car manufacturer in the world and has already played a key role in virtually every relevant circuit racing series,” said Maurizio Leschiutta, head of the BMW LMDh project. “As well as the desire to work with us, several other criteria were of great importance when making our decision. Dallara is a company that covers the full range of requirements. Its expertise extends to the fields of chassis manufacturing, engineering, development, wind tunnel tests and simulations. They are very strong when it comes to aerodynamics, which will be a key factor in the IMSA series.”
BMW plans a two-car factory effort for the WeatherTech Championship. The first test car will be built at Dallara headquarters and brings the relationship full circle, according to Giampaolo Dallara, President of Dallara.
“I’m honored to have been selected by BMW M Motorsport and with great enthusiasm I’m looking forward to begin this new adventure,” Dallara said. “Back in 1977, I had the opportunity to work alongside BMW on designing the M1 as Lamborghini consulting. It was a great experience and a lot was learned. I hope to repeat the same adventure in LMDh. I firmly believe that we will do great things together.”
Driver Changes in WeatherTech Championship, Michelin Pilot Challenge
A pair of driver changes for IMSA races this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca have been announced: one in Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship for the WeatherTech Championship and the other for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race, the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120.
Honda Performance Development Academy graduate Jacob Abel will make his WeatherTech Championship debut in Sunday’s race. The 20-year-old from Kentucky will step in for Jeff Kingsley to drive the No. 76 Compass Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo alongside HPD factory driver Mario Farnbacher.
“I’m grateful to HPD and Compass Racing for the opportunity to join Mario at Laguna,” Abel said. “Building on all I learned with the NSX in the academy last season and my World Challenge races, this season is something I’ve been working towards.”
Wright Motorsports driver Ryan Hardwick will sit out Saturday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge race after testing positive for Covid-19, according to the team. Max Root, who filled in for Hardwick at Sebring International Raceway in March, is subbing for Hardwick again in the No. 16 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport. Root won the Motul Pole Award in the Grand Sport (GS) class at Sebring and finished second in the race with co-driver Jan Heylen.
“Max did a great job when he filled in for me at Sebring, and I know he’ll do an excellent job this weekend at Laguna, one of his favorites and his home track,” said Hardwick. “I expect nothing short of the top step of the podium for him and Jan Heylen this weekend. I know he’ll do his best to keep us in championship contention for when I return for the final two races of the year.”
WeatherTech Raceway IMSA Challenge Series and Single-Make Practice Results
IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge: Eric Foss was fastest overall through two practice sessions on Friday. The co-driver of the No. 56 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT GT4 turned a best lap of 1 minute, 31.438 seconds (88.111 mph) on the 2.238-mile, 11-turn WeatherTech Raceway circuit to lead the Grand Sport (GS) class. Topping the Touring Car (TCR) class in practice was Robert Noaker (No. 84 Atlanta Speedwerks Honda Civic FK7 TCR) at 1:33.111 (86.528 mph). Michelin Pilot Challenge qualifying begins at 2:10 p.m. ET Saturday. The two-hour race starts at 7:40 p.m., with a livestream on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold in the United States and at IMSA.com/TVLive internationally.
Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America: Sergio Jimenez (No. 44 Ansa Motorsport, Lamborghini Broward Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo EVO), who won both series races last year at WeatherTech Raceway, led the way Friday following two practices with a fast lap of 1:25.719 (93.990 mph). The first 50-minute race of the doubleheader weekend for the single-make series starts at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and streams live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and at IMSA.com/TVLive.
Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires: Jared Thomas (No. 96 JTR Motorsports Engineering) set the pace following two practice sessions, with a top lap of 1:39.406 (81.409 mph). The first of two 45-minute races this weekend starts at 3 p.m. Saturday and streams live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and at IMSA.com/TVLive.