The start of the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season has arrived, and as such, all eyes in the motorsports world are focused on Daytona International Speedway for this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The iconic race annually gathers many of the top drivers from multiple racing disciplines around the globe. This year is no exception. This is the first of a two-part series looking at the entries in each class, breaking down the talent that will compete in the 59th running. We start with the GT classes, GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD), that make up just over half of the 49-entry field.
Rolex 24 practice starts Thursday. The starting grid was determined by the results of Sunday’s Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying race, so there will be no qualifying session later this week on the 3.56-mile road course.
NBC will have live network coverage of the race start beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, and also will televise the finish beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday. Additional flag-to-flag coverage is also available on a combination of NBCSN, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and the NBC Sports App.
IMSA Radio also will have live coverage throughout race weekend on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com, with complete race coverage also airing on SiriusXM Radio.
Here’s what to expect in GTLM, listed by car number:
No. 3 Corvette Racing
Chevrolet Corvette C8.R
Antonio Garcia/Jordan Taylor/Nicky Catsburg
The defending GTLM team, manufacturer and driver season champions return to the WeatherTech Championship as the favorites to repeat.
After a slow start with the new Corvette C8.R mid-engine entry in 2020 – including a fourth-place finish in the 58th Rolex 24 – Garcia and Taylor rallied with five victories and the championship, including Garcia’s third GTLM driver title.
Taylor joined the team last year for the first time in the WeatherTech Championship after six years of experience with Corvette Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He drove at Le Mans every year from 2012-17 for Corvette, winning the GTE Pro class in 2015 with co-drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner.
Catsburg, their endurance partner, won the Spa 24 Hours in 2015 and was a runner-up in the GTD class at Daytona in 2016. He raced for BMW Team MTEK in the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship.
No. 4 Corvette Racing
Chevrolet Corvette C8.R
Tommy Milner/Nick Tandy/Alexander Sims
Milner will carry on the No. 4 entry without his longtime partner, Gavin, who retired from his full-time role after 19 years with Corvette Racing. Joining Milner as a full-time co-driver is Nick Tandy, the former Porsche factory driver. The entry’s endurance role will be filled by Alexander Sims, who helped BMW Team RLL finish second in the GTLM class in 2017.
Before Gavin’s retirement, the duo comprised the longest-running driver lineup in the WeatherTech Championship, having been paired in the No. 4 Corvette since 2012. In 2016, they won the Rolex 24 At Daytona by 0.034 seconds over the No. 3 Corvette.
After a disappointing seventh-place finish in GTLM in the 2020 Rolex 24, the No. 4 Corvette rallied to finish third last year in the season championship.
No. 24 BMW Team RLL
BMW M8 GTE
John Edwards/Jesse Krohn/Augusto Farfus/Marco Wittmann
The No. 24 returns to defend its Rolex 24 championship with three of the four drivers from 2020 involved in the 2021 effort.
Edwards and Krohn are teamed in the No. 24 BMW for the fourth consecutive season. Edwards is the longest-running BMW Team RLL driver, having joined the team for a partial season in 2012 and as a full-time driver in 2013.
Farfus, who joined the team in 2020, was also part of the 2019 Rolex 24 GTLM class-winning lineup in the No. 25 BMW. Wittmann, a BMW works driver, replaces Chaz Mostert in the No. 24 lineup for the Rolex 24.
No. 25 BMW Team RLL
BMW M8 GTE
Connor De Phillippi/Philipp Eng/Timo Glock/Bruno Spengler
Starting with the No. 25 entry’s GTLM victory in the 2019 Rolex 24, BMW Team RLL extended its Rolex 24 victory streak to two with the No. 24’s triumph last year.
This year, De Phillippi, Eng and Spengler return to the car, while Glock replaces Colton Herta. The team finished fifth in class at last year’s Rolex.
Spengler joined the team last year after several years racing in DTM – and winning the 2012 title. De Phillippi is entering his fourth consecutive season in the WeatherTech Championship.
Eng, from Austria, is a BMW works driver who has competed in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the Blancpain GT Series in recent years.
No. 62 Risi Competizione
Ferrari 488 GTE
James Calado/Alessandro Pier Guidi/Jules Gounon/Davide Rigon
Houston-based Risi Competizione returns for the 59th Rolex 24 with a talented lineup that includes three Ferrari Competizioni GT factory drivers – Calado, Pier Guidi and Rigon. Gounon, who has two races with the Risi team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, will be making his Risi Competizione Daytona debut and third appearance in the Rolex 24.
This will be Risi Competizione’s 20th entry in the Rolex 24. Included are one class victory (2002) and four additional podium finishes – second place in class in 1999, 2003 and 2019, and third in class in 2017.
Calado and Pier Guidi also won the FIA WEC championship in the GTE Pro class in 2017.
No. 79 WeatherTech Racing
Porsche 911 RSR
Cooper MacNeil/Kevin Estre/Richard Lietz/Gianmaria Bruni
WeatherTech Racing steps into the 59th Rolex 24 with a Porsche 911 prepped by Proton Competition after Porsche Motorsport moved out of the GTLM class following the 2020 season.
The No. 79 squad features veteran driver MacNeil, who teamed with Estre to finish third in class in the Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying race on Sunday. They’ll start behind the two Corvette Racing entries in the GTLM class for the Rolex 24.
MacNeil, who had little time in the Porsche, was proud of the effort.
“It was not something I was looking forward to, driving in the rain in a new car that I don’t have a lot of seat time in,” MacNeil said. “It was a pretty steep learning curve. I was able to keep it on track, no contact and turn it over to Kevin with everything intact. Kevin did a great job, including leading the race. All we needed was one more yellow and we would have won the qualifying race.”
Now, the cast of characters in GTD, listed by car number:
No. 1 Paul Miller Racing
Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow/Corey Lewis/Andrea Caldarelli
The defending Rolex 24 At Daytona GTD champion is hoping to add another Rolex watch to the collection with the same lineup that co-drove the Lamborghini last year. Then it was No. 48, this time it rolls off as No. 1.
The team also claimed the GTD championship last year in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup and won the WeatherTech Championship titles for team, drivers and manufacturer in 2018.
But Daytona is its goal, first and foremost.
“Daytona means the start of the race season for all of us in IMSA,” Snow said. “It’s another chance, another year, to go at the championship again. Driving this race is always a little different. You’re pushing as hard as you can for lap time, to make that pass, but also to preserve the car for the end of the race so that the finishing driver can have all the tools necessary to fight for a podium finish.”
Team owner Paul Miller has extensive experience as both a driver and team owner. He led the Porsche factory effort in Trans-Am Series racing in the 1980s and was a leading IMSA endurance racer, competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times and in the Rolex 24 nine times, including a GTO class victory in 1988.
No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports
Porsche 911 GT3 R
Zacharie Robichon/Lars Kern/Matt Campbell/Laurens Vanthoor
The Canadian Pfaff team followed its third-place finish in the final GTD standings in its debut WeatherTech Championship season in 2019 with a 16th-place finish in final standings in 2020, when its season was disrupted by COVID-related travel issues.
The team finished ninth in GTD in last year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The “Plaid Porsche” posted its first WeatherTech Championship victory in 2019 at Lime Rock. Robichon was the 2018 champion in the IMSA-sanctioned Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama.
A major addition to the team this year is Vanthoor, the 2019 GT Le Mans (GTLM) class champion when he drove for the Porsche factory team. Kern, a Porsche engineer and production-car record holder at the famed Nurburgring circuit, is back for the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events and Campbell fills out the lineup for Daytona.
No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Racing
Lexus RC F GT3
Robert Megennis/Zach Veach/Townsend Bell/Frankie Montecalvo
Veach, the ex-IndyCar driver, and Montecalvo are in the seat for the entire season. Bell, the 2014 Rolex 24 GTD winner, pulls back from a full-season ride to joining for the Rolex 24 only. Megennis signed on for the Michelin Endurance Cup events.
The No. 12 entry finished fifth in the final GTD team standings in 2020, with Montecalvo and Bell winning at Road America. After encountering trouble during the 2020 Rolex 24, the No. 12 car finished 12th in GTD.
During the offseason, team co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan parted with Canada’s AIM Autosport and moved to a new facility in Concord, North Carolina.
No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Racing
Lexus RC F GT3
Aaron Telitz/Oliver Gavin/Kyle Kirkwood/Jack Hawksworth
The No. 14 Lexus returns Hawksworth as a full-season driver, along with Telitz, who split time between the team cars last year. The two drivers won the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup for non-endurance races last year, with Telitz finishing third in the overall points and Hawksworth fourth.
Kirkwood is on board for the 2021 endurance events. Ex-Corvette legend and 2016 Rolex 24 GTLM winner Gavin rounds out the Rolex 24 crew. Kirkwood was set to run the 2020 Indy Lights season for Andretti Autosport but joined Vasser Sullivan after the Lights season was canceled because of the pandemic.
Hawksworth and Kyle Busch, Parker Chase and Michael De Quesada co-drove the No. 14 Lexus to a ninth-place finish in the GTD class at last year’s Rolex 24.
No. 16 Wright Motorsports
Porsche 911 GT3 R
Ryan Hardwick/Patrick Long/Jan Heylen/Klaus Bachler
Coming off a sensational 2020 season that saw Hardwick and Long finish two points short of the GTD championship, the team returns essentially intact. Hardwick, Long and Heylen teamed to win the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts to close last season. Hardwick, Long and Bachler (an FIA World Endurance Championship and Porsche Supercup veteran) were three-fourths of the squad that placed fourth in the Rolex 24 a year ago.
The only question mark may be the car itself. The team’s primary Porsche sustained significant damage in a crash during Roar Before the Rolex 24 testing last week, forcing John Wright to acquire another 911 from Black Swan Racing for the Motul Pole Award 100.
Hardwick and Long finished eighth in the qualifying race, but with several days to get their equipment back in shape, the No. 16 is worth watching.
No. 19 GRT Grasser Racing Team
Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Misha Goikhberg/Franck Perera/Albert Costa/Tim Zimmermann
Goikhberg and Perera, each a past Rolex 24 winner, head the lineup. Goikhberg was the 2016 Prototype Challenge winner and has three career WeatherTech Championship victories. Perera was the 2018 Rolex 24 GTD winner with GRT – his lone series victory – when he was also in a Lamborghini. GRT is a two-time winning Rolex 24 team in GTD (2018 and ’19).
Costa, from Spain, made his series debut with GRT Grasser in last year’s Rolex 24. Zimmermann, a 24-year-old German, drove a GRT Grasser Lamborghini last season in the ADAC GT Masters series. He also drove for two seasons before that in Porsche Carrera Cup Germany.
No. 21 AF Corse
Ferrari 488 GT3
Nicklas Nielsen/Daniel Serra/Matteo Cressoni/Simon Mann
The truly international lineup (a Dutchman, Brazilian, Italian and Brit) is highlighted by two-time Rolex 24 pole winner and two-time Motul Petit Le Mans GTD winner Serra. Cressoni is the only other driver in the group with a previous Rolex 24 start, the most recent in 2018.
The No. 21 prancing horse brand will also feature Nielsen, champion in the 2019-2020 GTE Am FIA Endurance Trophy, 2019 European Le Mans GTE and 2018 Ferrari Challenge Europe.
No. 23 Heart of Racing Team
Aston Martin Vantage GT3
Roman De Angelis/Darren Turner/Ian James/Ross Gunn
The Heart of Racing program looks to build on an inspiring second-place finish to close the 2020 season, at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Promising teenager De Angelis, James and Turner combined in that effort. De Angelis and James also finished third in the 2019 Rolex 24.
James, the team manager who has been racing in IMSA longer than De Angelis has been alive, has eight career wins. Turner, with five career wins, joined Heart of Racing for the final three endurance events of 2020.
Gunn, a long-time Aston Martin driver, won the 2015 British GT Championship driving for the marque. He made his Rolex 24 debut last year with the Aston Martin Racing team.
No. 28 Alegra Motorsports
Billy Johnson/Michael De Quesada/Daniel Morad/Maxi Buhk
Alegra returns to WeatherTech Championship action after missing the last three seasons. It returns a pair of drivers, De Quesada and Morad, who were part of the winning Alegra GTD entry at the 2017 Rolex 24.
Joining them behind the wheel will be veteran Johnson, who has three career IMSA wins and drove for the team in the 2019 World Challenge Americas season, and Buhk, a Mercedes factory driver and the 2016 Blancpain GT Series champion from Germany.
No. 42 NTE Sport
Audi R8 LMS GT3
Alan Metni/Andrew Davis/JR Hildebrand/Don Yount
A year after making its debut in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, the team is advancing into the WeatherTech Championship and making the Rolex 24 its maiden race.
Veteran Davis, with 10 career IMSA wins, anchors the driver quartet. Yount raced in Le Mans Prototype 2 last year but has previous GTD experience.
It will be the Rolex 24 debut for Metni, who has competed the last three years in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama, and Hildebrand, the IndyCar racer.
No. 44 Magnus with Archangel
Acura NSX GT3
John Potter/Andy Lally/Spencer Pumpelly/Mario Farnbacher
The power is new for the Magnus team this year, switching from Lamborghini to Acura, but the lineup is pretty much the same – and maybe even stronger – than the No. 44 group that finished second a year ago in the Rolex 24.
Lally owns the most Rolex 24 wins of any driver in the field, with five. Potter and Pumpelly have each driven to victory lane twice in the great race. All three were in the No. 44 entry a year ago.
Add to that Farnbacher, the two-time defending GTD season champion, and it makes for a powerful mix. Farnbacher brings with him valuable experience, since those titles came driving the Acura NSX GT3.
No. 57 Winward Racing
Russell Ward/Philip Ellis/Indy Dontje/Maro Engel
Also making the step up from Pilot Challenge, the Texas team will make its WeatherTech Championship debut in the Rolex 24. For now, the plan is just to compete in the opener with an eye toward a full WeatherTech Championship slate next year.
Ward, the son of team owner Bryce Ward, and Dontje combined for a pair of Pilot Challenge podium finishes last season. Along with Ellis, all three will compete in the Rolex 24 for the first time. Engel will be making his fourth Rolex 24 start but first since 2018.
No. 63 Scuderia Corsa
Ferrari 488 GT3
Ryan Briscoe/Marcos Gomes/Ed Jones/Bret Curtis
The popular and potent team is back with a completely new driver lineup for this year’s Rolex 24. It’s led by three-time Rolex 24 winner Ryan Briscoe, though this will be the Australian’s first foray into the GTD class.
The two-time GTD season champion team (2015, 2016) also brings back Gomes for his fourth Rolex 24 run in a Ferrari (including a pole-winning effort in 2019), veteran Curtis for his first IMSA race since 2017 and Jones, the IndyCar driver who will make his Rolex 24 debut.
No. 64 Team TGM
Porsche 911 GT3R
Ted Giovanis/Owen Trinkler/Hugh Plumb/Matt Plumb
As the team makes the move up from the Pilot Challenge and prepares for its Rolex 24 debut, owner and co-driver Giovanis wisely worked out a partnership with GTD powerhouse Wright Motorsports to strengthen the effort. Giovanis will make his series debut in the race.
Trinkler and the Plumbs each have raced in the Rolex 24 in the past, but none since 2013. Trinkler and Hugh Plumb were the 2018 champions in the Pilot Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class, winning three races.
No. 75 Sun Energy 1
Kenny Habul/Mikael Grenier/Raffaele Marciello/Luca Stolz
Sun Energy 1 and team owner Habul are back in the Rolex 24 for the first time since 2018. Habul will make his fourth start in the race.
Grenier ran with the team for three 2018 races, including the Rolex 24, and rejoined Habul at the 8 Hours of Indianapolis endurance event in 2020. Stolz will make his fourth Rolex 24 start, the last two in a Mercedes. Marciello is set for his Rolex 24 debut.
No. 88 Team Hardpoint EBM
Porsche 911 GT3R
Rob Ferriol/Earl Bamber/Katherine Legge/Christina Nielsen
Ferriol and Bamber merged their team efforts to put together a formidable GTD team for the 2021 WeatherTech Championship season. Ferriol’s Team Hardpoint debuted in the WeatherTech Championship last year, participating in nine races but not the Rolex 24. Bamber, the former GTLM Porsche standout and 2019 series champ in that class, had his Earl Bamber Motorsport join forces with Ferriol in the offseason to form Team Hardpoint EBM. The co-owners will be the full-season drivers in the No. 88 Porsche.
For the Rolex 24, they’ve added a pair of familiar and winning co-drivers in Legge and two-time GTD season champion Christina Nielsen. All four drivers are seeking their first Rolex 24 win, with Ferriol racing in the event for the first time.
No. 96 Turner Motorsport
BMW M6 GT3
Robby Foley/Bill Auberlen/Dillon Machavern/Jens Klingmann
Foley and Auberlen are reunited for the full WeatherTech Championship GTD season for the third straight year. They won two races in 2020 – pushing Auberlen’s career total to a record 62 – and Foley finished fifth in the GTD final standings (Auberlen was 10th after missing the Twelve Hours of Sebring due to COVID-19 restrictions). The duo placed their stake in the ground for this year’s Rolex 24 by winning the GTD portion of Sunday’s Motul Pole Award 100 and will start at the head of the class on Saturday.
They will be sharing the car again with Machavern, who won the 2017 Pilot Challenge Grand Sport (GS) championship, as well as rising IndyCar star Colton Herta, who was on the Rolex 24 GTLM BMW winner in 2019. Auberlen has a pair of Rolex 24 wins, but it’s been a while since they came back in 1997 and 1998.
No. 97 TF Sport
Aston Martin Vantage GT3
Maxwell Root/Charlie Eastwood/Ben Keating/Richard Westbrook
The Rolex 24 appearance will be the WeatherTech Championship debut for TF Sport, which is based in the United Kingdom and relying on experienced drivers to carry through the effort. Keating and Westbrook are each past winners of the iconic 24-hour season opener. Eastwood was part of TF Sport’s winning 2020 GTE Am class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Keating was a member of the winning GTD team at the 2015 Rolex 24. He will pull double duty in the Rolex 24 again, also driving a Le Mans Prototype 2 entry. Westbrook has collected 16 IMSA wins in his career, among them the 2018 Rolex 24 GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.
While Keating and Westbrook bring the track experience for Daytona, Eastwood brings the team and car experience. The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland has driven an Aston Martin for TF Sport since 2018 in the FIA World Endurance Championship and International GT Open.
No. 111 GRT Grasser Racing Team
Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Mirko Bortolotti/Rolf Ineichen/Steijn Schothorst/Marco Mapelli
Keep an eye on this group. After finishing third last year in an Audi with another team, Bortolotti and Ineichen are back with GRT Grasser this year, where they drove to Rolex 24 glory and victory in both 2018 and ’19 in a GTD Lamborghini. They showed they are a force to be reckoned with in 2021 when they placed third in Sunday’s qualifying race.
Joining Bortolotti and Ineichen behind the wheel will be Marco Mapelli, who finished second in his Rolex 24 debut a year ago in a GRT Magnus Lamborghini and is the 2019 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup champion, and Steijn Schothorst, who made his Rolex 24 debut last year with Grasser and drove for the team in the ADAC GT Masters.