IMSA: What to look out for at the Road Atlanta 6h
As it's around half the length of Petit Le Mans, is this Petit-Petit Le Mans?
It may sound like a joke, but we are halfway though the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar season, and just to make things more confusing the circuit that typically hosts the final round is hosting the sixth.
Malfunctioning body-clocks aside, this weekend's TyreRack.Com Grand Prix at Road Atlanta promises to be a typically thrilling encounter, as teams take on their first endurance race since January.
The championship battles in every class are well and truly ignited, and as always if this is your first time watching IMSA or you're a truly seasoned series follower, let's take a look at seven things to keep your eye on this weekend.
1. Ditching the sprint race mindset
Since IMSA returned to racing on the 4th July, four sprint races have been crammed in almost every other weekend to make up for lost time.
These sprint races have been saturated with proper white-knuckle sportscar racing, however at only 160 minutes in length compared to Saturday's 360 minute affair, teams are faced with their first enduro event since January.
With this comes a whole new way to go racing. Yes, every second counts both on and off track, but it's all about being within touching distance of the class leader in the final hour.
The race will head into early evening, meaning that track and ambient conditions will shift massively from the midday start. Teams will need to have their cars set up to be quick throughout that changing environment.
In IMSA you can even drop a lap behind and, through a well-timed safety car, vault back onto the lead lap.
2. Fans in the stands
For the first time this season, IMSA have opened the gates to fans in what can only be described as a much-anticipated return to the trackside for many.
Although there are limits on the numbers of fans allowed in the circuit, and restrictions on infield areas that spectators can visit, it will certainly be a welcome sight to see fans behind the fences at Road Atlanta.
3. DPi teams hoping to carry form, or break it
With the premier DPi class not competing in the GT-only, aptly named 'GT Challenge' weekend at VIR, teams will be hoping to get back to action this weekend. If you're one of the Penske Acura squads, the name of the game is to continue the strong performance shown at Road America, where the No.7 car of Castroneves/R. Taylor picked up the marques first victory of 2020.
However, if you're one of the Cadillac squads, like the No.31 Whelen Engineering team, this weekend is all about working towards the championship and scoring healthy points to keep you in contention heading into the second half of the season.
For Mazda, a return to the performance that saw them dominate the Daytona 240 in July is long-overdue. Both the decision to run a fuel save stint at Sebring, which ultimately saw both cars drop positions on the final lap as they ran out of gas, and the move to stick on slicks as the heavens opened at Road America have seen the No.55 and No.77 cars drop down the race order and DPi championship standings.
4. It's going to get hot
Summer might be drawing to a close across the northern hemisphere, but in Atlanta, Georgia, the heat of the mid-year shows no sign of relenting.
Friday practice sessions took place with ambient temperatures touching 33°C/99°F, extra stress will be placed on the cars, in terms of tyre management, and the humans running them.
Just as the heat increases outside of the car, it seemingly doubles inside, and fatigued drivers can often make race-deciding mistakes. Factor in that a large number of drivers in IMSA are not professional drivers who can potentially deal with the heat better, then weather forecasts become all the more important.
5. Can anyone stop Corvette?
Many had furrowed brows at the sight of the Corvette C8.R as it made it's racing debut in January, but since IMSA returned post-lockdown the two cars have been unstoppable.
Every race has seen GTLM class honours fall to either the No.3 or No.4 C8.R, leaving both driver pairings in bolstered championship positions. The former's Garcia/J. Taylor duo enjoy a healthy 19 point advantage at the top of the class.
However, in the first and only endurance race so far this IMSA season, the C8.R was not quite capable of matching the Porsche 911 RSR-19's and the BMW M8's. This weekend poses the best chance for someone to step up and halt the conquering Corvettes.
6. Endurance additions
As is standard practice at IMSA endurance races, the full-season drivers are joined by a smattering of stars from around the racing world who help teams tackle the longer events.
Notably this weekend IndyCar stars Tristan Vautier and Ryan Huntery-Reay join the No.5 Action Express and No.10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillacs respectively, as WEC LMP2 star Felipe Alberqueque joins fellow Felipe, Felipe Nasr, and Pipo Derani in the No.31 car.
Not only are line-ups added to but in the case of the GTD Aim-Vasser Sullivan Lexus team; split up. Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz who have been something of a dominant force in the GT3 category have been split across the two AVS Lexus RC F's as the team welcome Daniel Morad and Michael de Quesada, the latter racing for the squad at Daytona.
This is crucial to the class championship as championship leader Hawksworth no longer has his regular co-pilot alongside him, but two near-rookies to help get up to speed.
7. Bill's on the money
Two weekends ago at VIR, Turner Motorsport's Bill Auberlen became the most successful driver in IMSA history after claiming his 61st victory in the series.
Alongside regular teammate Robbie Foley and Daytona driver Dillon Machavern, the winning line-up from the 2019 Petit Le Mans will be hoping to take back-to-back wins at Road Atlanta to help Auberlen stamp his name even more firmly into the history books.