INSIGHT: Sports cars prepare for a season in the sun

It’s here. The 2023 sports car racing season is upon us, with cars getting on track this week for the Roar Before the 24 testing and qualifying sessions for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Internationally, the first 24-hour race of the year has been completed with the Hankook 24 Hours of Dubai this past weekend, where many teams and drivers warmed up for the coming seasons of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge, and many more sports car racing series.

There is much to be excited about for the coming season both in North America and worldwide. While we all itch for the engines to fire up at Daytona International Speedway, here are a few things we’re looking forward to in 2023.

Grand Touring Prototype

For those whose initial exposure to endurance sports car racing came in the ’80s and ’90s, the GTP name is hallowed ground, and we’re glad to see it back. But more important are the cars that will contest the new top class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. LMDh cars from Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche (main image) will all be featured this season, and Lamborghini is coming in 2024. And you can bet that the class will also be attractive to some of the Hypercar manufacturers; perhaps Toyota, Peugeot and Ferrari finding the competition too interesting to ignore.

It’s not just new cars, but new (or returning) teams as well. The Cadillacs and Acuras will be run by teams well familiar to IMSA fans: Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing for Acura, and Chip Ganassi Racing and Action Express Racing for Cadillac. But they’ll be joined by Penske, last seen at this level of sports car competition with Porsche’s RS Spyder, and BMW M Team RLL, new to prototype racing after much success in IndyCar racing and with GT cars.

There are several aspects of the LMDh cars in GTP that we find particularly interesting. One is appearance – the Acura ARX-06, BMW M Hybrid V8, Cadillac V-LMDh and Porsche 963 all look very different from each other, much more so than in recent iterations of prototype racing. They sounds they produce are unique as well, as manufacturers have chosen a turbo V6 (Acura), turbo V8s (BMW and Porsche) and a normally-aspirated V8 (Cadillac) as their primary power source.

Each of those engines is mated to a spec hybrid system. The hybrid system produces a relatively small amount of power, and won’t add to the overall maximum output; but it will change many aspects of the racing.

Manufacturers and teams will be able to manage the output and regeneration, and the system will change strategy through changes in brake and tire wear. The LMDh cars also have larger fuel capacity, further altering race strategy. How all this plays out at Daytona and Sebring, and which team figures it out the best, will be quite interesting indeed.

New GT cars

While there’s nothing new about the GT3 formula used in Fanatec GT World Challenge and the WeatherTech Championship’s GTD PRO and GTD classes, manufacturers’ updating of their road car offerings means new cars every few years. This year we have the Ferrari 296 GT3, the 992-generation Porsche 911 GT3 R, and an update for the Lamborghini Huracan, an Evo2 version. Each of these will see action in all three of the major North American GT3 championships.

Ferrari’s 296 GT3 is one of several refreshed-for 2023 GT models that will be racing this year. Image via Ferrari

On the GT4 side, featured in Pirelli GT4 America, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and the new VP Racing SportsCar Challenge, new cars include the McLaren Artura GT4, BMW G82 BMW M4 GT4, Lotus Emira GT4 and, later in the year, a new Ford Mustang GT4. Both the McLaren and the BMW are entered for the season-opening BMW M Endurance Challenge MPC race.

Expanding GT World Challenge America fields

With new teams coming in, hope is high for bigger fields in the SRO’s Fanatec GT World Challenge America series. MDK Motorsports has plans for a full season with Seth Lucas and Trenton Estep in a new Porsche 911 GT3 R. Conquest Racing is expected to return for a full season after its initial foray in the latter races of 2022 with a Ferrari for Manny Franco, and Esses Racing is coming with a Mercedes-AMG for Will Hardeman for a partial season. Plus there are others we’ve received word of that we can’t discuss yet.
We’re hoping for similar growth on the Pro side as well. It would be nice to see a challenge to the K-PAX Racing juggernaut that has dominated the series in recent years.

More Hypercars

Ferrari, Cadillac, Porsche and Vanwall join Toyota, Glickenhaus and Peugeot in the World Endurance Championship Hypercar class. At last year’s 1000 Miles of Sebring season-opener, it was five cars, a legacy Alpine joining Toyota and Glickenhaus. Peugeot entered with its pair of 9X8s later in the season. For 2023, however, the entry stands at 13 cars.

That includes new Hypercar-spec machines in Ferrari’s 499P and the Vanwall Vandervell 680, plus LMDh cars from Cadillac (Cadillac Racing) and Porsche (Porsche Penske Motorsport). In addition, two privateer Porsche 963s are expected at some point from JOTA and Proton Competition. That’s quite the expansion, which has even more excited for…

The 24 Hours of Le Mans centenary

The first 24 Hours of Le Mans was held in 1923. While it hasn’t been held consistently since, with gaps for a worker strike in 1936 and for WWII, the 100-year anniversary of the first race is certainly worth celebrating, not only for the excitement generated by a much larger presence in the Hypercar class, but all the pomp and circumstance that will go along with it.

Finally, a wish…

Reliability. With so many new cars, reliability will almost certainly be an issue in the early part of the season. Our wish is that the reliability (and durability, as such is often tested) of the new cars is enough to produce some intriguing racing.