Even if nothing goes according to plan, it’s about as sure a bet as anything that Mathieu Jaminet and Matt Campbell will take the inaugural IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD PRO title for Pfaff Motorsports on Saturday (assuming Hurricane Ian doesn’t alter the Petit Le Mans schedule).
Campbell and Jaminet have been damn near unstoppable in the No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3R, scoring five victories to carry an almost insurmountable lead over Corvette Racing’s Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia. If they take the start at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, they are the champions, adding to Pfaff’s 2021 GTD title. We’d bet they’ll pull the Plaid Porsche across the line with their teeth if they must (Note: We’re also pretty sure that’s against the rules).
The GTD championship fight, however, is well and truly on. Roman De Angelis and Heart of Racing have had a terrific run late in the season to carry a 45-point lead over Stevan McAleer into the finale. Depending on what happens in qualifying, that means he can finish two positions behind McAleer in the No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes AMG and still claim the title. Jan Heylen and Ryan Hardwick in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R will have to finish three positions in front of the No. 27 Aston Martin, and one position in front of Korthoff, to win the championship. Russell Ward and Philip Ellis are in the hunt thanks to victories for Winward Racing in the last two rounds, but they’re a long shot.
De Angelis will team with Maxime Martin, his most frequent co-driver this season, and Ian James. That trio won the Six Hours of the Glen in the No. 27, and De Angelis and James, with Ross Gunn in place of Martin, won last year’s Petit Le Mans. That certainly portends well for De Angelis’s chances.
Heart of Racing’s No.27 Aston Martin is a good bet for the GTD crown, but there are a couple of rivals waiting to swoop in if the opportunity presents itself at Road Atlanta. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
“I think always returning back to the place that you you had success, you have an extra little bonus,” De Angelis said. “You know the car is strong there. You know, that as a group of drivers, we’re strong there. So, I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s always been a track that seems to suit the Aston, and so that’s also a bit of a bit of a bonus going there. But at the end of the day, it’s a 10-hour race. All these long endurance races, you never really know what can happen. Like we saw last year with all these pile ups and things happening all the time. We can be strong there and have the confidence but with these these long races, you really never know.”
Last year, a pre-restart multi-car incident on the back straight collected many of the GTD contenders. With 48 entries, a third of which are GTD, a lot can happen. An incident of any kind – even a puncture – for any of the championship contenders will likely eliminate their chances.
McAleer, a rookie in GTD driving for a team that is in its first full season of IMSA WeatherTech Championship competition, will be joined by Mike Skeen and Dirk Mueller for Petit Le Mans. Skeen has been McAleer’s co-driver all season except for missing one race due to illness. The team is still looking for its first victory, so McAleer being second in the championship speaks to remarkable consistency.
The Wright Motorsports duo, reinforced at Petit by Zacharie Robichon, have been less consistent, though. Early season wins at Daytona and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca had them looking very strong, but that form slipped since, with a best finish of fifth at VIR. Heylen says the team has found something that wasn’t right with the car and fixed it. And Heylen and Hardwick clinched last year’s Michelin Pilot Challenge GS championship with victory at Michelin Raceway, so they know what it takes.
“You start every season hoping that you’ll be in a position to run for a championship and we’ve put ourselves there again this year,” Heylen said.
“I’m very happy and excited to go to Atlanta with a chance of winning the championship. It’s going to take just the perfect weekend for us. The middle of the season has been a little bit harder for us. We didn’t have quite the pace we had early on in the season. I think half of that we can maybe put on BoP. But the other half is definitely on us. We didn’t have the car exactly how we how it needed to be. But the team has been really, really hard at work here these last couple of months because we didn’t have the pace and they’ve done everything they could to to bring the car back to where it needs to be and I think we’re there and ready for Atlanta.”
Winward, with Ellis and Ward plus Marvin Dienst for Petit, certainly have the momentum, but with a 140-point deficit to De Angelis, and Korthoff and Wright in between, it’s going to take a lot of luck for them to come out on top. Anything can happen in a 10-hour race, but it certainly looks like De Angelis has an excellent shot at the GTD title.