With no significant Balance of Performance changes made following the Roar, IMSA appears content with the positioning of its GT Le Mans class. Within the hotly contested class, the drivers seem to agree – Ford’s Joey Hand, and Corvette’s Jan Magnussen both expressed the same feelings for the race; they expect this year to be a close one.
And judging from the times produced so far at Daytona, and how and where those times are produced, GTLM cars won’t just have to contest with each other throughout the race, at times they’ll have to deal with pace from cars in the GT Daytona class too.
Times from the Roar and the practice sessions this week have shown the gap between the two GT-based classes is much smaller than in previous years. A good chunk of that comes down to the new Michelin tyres that the GTD entries are sporting.
Running with those Michelin tyres the, GT3-spec cars will be quicker on virtually all phases of the lap, especially on restarts according to Hand.
“They come up much faster, which means restarts and the start will be much more difficult.” Passing under braking also presents its challenges. The GTD cars benefit from ABS, meaning they can have better performance into the braking zone. For GTLM entries, getting alongside GTD cars and hoping they cooperate for the best of both might just be the best option. To do that though they will have to utilize the long straights and try to make passes into the bus stop and turn one.
Speaking with Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports’ Ben Keating those thoughts were echoed. “If I’m only going to lose six tenths on one lap, I’m going to make it easy. There are opportunities to help or be helped, we have to co-exist and we do that well.”
“It would be far smarter for a GTD car to let a GTLM car past before the bus stop and then have the benefit of the draft for the rest of the lap, Keating pointed out. Keating also confirmed that it is not uncommon for him to ask which driver is in the car around him. “Depending on who is in the car is how easy or hard it will be [to pass or be passed]. You develop a relationship with other drivers,” Keating said. “If you are respectful, it pays dividends.”
If the skies open up as they did last year and this morning and cars are forced to rain tyres things could be even closer. While Michelin provides different compounds for GTLM and GTD to help further the performance gap, their rain tyres are the same across the two classes. Meaning should the rain come during the race GTD and GTLM will be running on the same compound of tyres.
With IMSA’s full-course yellow procedure the field will very likely spend much of the race relatively close to one another, making the interaction (and the respect) between the two classes all that more important in finding success this weekend.