The 2017 IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Season saw a new era in the series with brand new rules, new cars and new champions in the the Wayne Taylor Racing Team.
The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac piloted by brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor dominated the early season winning the opening five rounds, building up a championship lead that could not be overhauled.
The year also saw three new manufacturers debuting in GTD, bringing the total to eight, and the end of the PC prototype class, which only contained three entries for most of the season.
Goodbye Daytona Prototypes, Hello DPi
For the top Prototype class, the 2016 season was the last for the Daytona Prototypes, inherited from the old Rolex Sports Car Series, which had dominated the first three seasons of the United SportsCar series.
The new DPi rules (Daytona Prototype International) were modified LMP2 cars but fitted with manufacturer sponsored engines and bodywork.
Cadillac, Honda and Mazda signed up to the new DPi category and their entries would do battle with privately entered conventional P2 machinery throughout the season, but the DPis held the advantage throughout going on to win nine of the ten rounds.
However from the outset it was clear that the GM backed teams were the cars to beat and if anything they had become more dominant with the introduction of the new DPi rules.
The brand new Dallara Cadillac DPi set the benchmark at Daytona, dominating both the race and qualifying very quickly writing the form book for the year to come.
What was also clear that from Daytona was that Wayne Taylor Racing had come to grips with the car better than fellow Cadillac runners Action Express Racing.
For the first five races everyone was in a game of catch up with the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac, as the Taylor brothers took five straight wins.
Yet at Daytona, victory required an optimistic Ricky Taylor move on Filipe Albuquerque with just five minutes remaining. Taylor’s attempt spun round the #5 Mustang Sampling machine yet he was allowed to keep his win.
The victory was also a fitting finale to the career of Max Angelelli, who’s role in neutering the Taylor brothers was rewarded by victory in his final race alongside the pair and Jeff Gordon.
Yet despite being the fastest car all year, events ensued that the Taylors were unable to add any more wins to their tally.
At Watkins Glen contact at the first corner meant they finished several laps down in sixth and at Mosport they were all set for victory when contact with Tommy Milner’s GTLM Corvette put them in the tyre wall and saw them finish seventh.
Yet their competitors were unable to overcome the insurmountable lead the Taylors had built so the final few races just meant trying to maintain their championship lead, leading to the success clinching at the green flag at Petit Le Mans.
Unfortunately they were prevented from rounding out their season in style when the Cadillac’s ultra-reliable V8 blew up after only two and a half hours.
The reigning champions, the Action Express Racing #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran had a steady but unspectacular defence of their crown.
For most of the season their could not match the speed of neither the Taylors, nor their own team-mates but consistent finishes meant they secured the runner-up position.
The second quickest car after the #10 WTR Cadillac was the similar #5 Mustang Sampling example from the Action Express Racing outfit.
Piloted by 2014 and 2015 champions Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa, they were rudely deprived of the lead at Daytona but managed to win at Watkins Glen after Barbosa late race pass around the outside of Stephen Simpson, but at most times found themselves unable to match the #10 machine.
Despite this they managed to secure their fourth straight Tequila Patrons Endurance Championship.
The 2017 IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Season was the first season in the prototype category for the JDC Miller Motorsports Team.
After two impressive years in PC, they brought a ORECA 07 Prototype, decked it out in their traditional yellow paintwork and became the surprise package of the season.
Piloted by Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg, they were consistently the best non-Cadillac of the season and the only P2 runner to be in the hunt of victory throughout the season.
They were close to taking a win on several occasions, most notably at Watkins Glen were they lost the lead in the last ten minutes to the #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac.
Magnussen and Garcia retain GTLM title for Corvette
For the second year in a row it was Corvette who took top honours in GTLM but this time it was Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia who took the title.
Three victories and consistent top scores meant that they built up a lead that no-one else was able to match and they clinched the title when the green flag fell at Petit Le Mans.
Behind the Yellow Corvette the fight was fierce between for the runner-up spot but it was eventually the #25 BMW of Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims that took runner-up honours after victory over Garcia at Petit Le Mans by just half a second.
The result was a fine send-off for the retiring M6 which has improved immensely compared to last the year and will be replaced by the new M8 GTE for next season.
Joint third place was held by the two Ford GTs, with the #66 of Dirk Muller and Joey Hand taking the position due to their two victories in a season where Ford had the pace, but not the consistency, to match the Corvette.
While there were no new entries, Porsche arrived with a brand new version of its 911, which saw the engine moved forward, essentially creating a mid-engine 911, a tactic admission that time was catching up with Porsche’s legendary rear engine layout.
Despite promising pace at Daytona and a dominant win at Lime Rock, the new mid-engine 911 wasn’t quite a match for its rivals throughout the season.
Nielsen and Balzan Retain GTD Despite Fraught Petit Le Mans
In GTD, the reigning champions Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan in the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari managed to regain the title, despite the entry of three new manufacturers.
Lexus, Acura and Mercedes joined the already bulging and competitive manufacturer lists, making the most competitive category of the championship even more competitive.
Every manufacturer except Lexus took victory but no-body could match the consistency of the reigning champions.
Despite an engine failure while leading in the 22nd hour at Daytona, they had a textbook consistent season and their only win came at the perfect time, the penultimate round at Laguna Seca.
The win meant that they only had to accumulate the minimum drive time to score points in order to win the title.
Yet what looked straight forward became a nightmare when drive-train failure stranded the #63 Ferrari out on track, with neither driver having yet secured the right amount of drive-time.
Yet frantic repairs to the Ferrari worked and the team managed to secure the title much to their relief.
The beginning of the season was dominated by the brand new #33 Mercedes AMG GT of Riley Motorsports and piloted by Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen.
They dominated the Florida endurance rounds yet as the changes in BOP their pace dipped as a result and never captured their early form again.
Third place went to the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche of Patrick Lindsey. Victory at Lime Rock as well as a series of top results saw them into third place by the season’s end.
The PC class saw a sad decline before its planned termination at the end of the season.
Apart from Daytona, there were only three entrants for all of the rounds, the Performance Tech Motorsports car of James French and Patricio O’Ward and the two BAR1 Motorsports machines.
The season proved to be a walkover for the Performance Tech team, they won seven of the eight rounds and only failed to clinch the eighth when they collided with Nick Heldfeld‘s Rebellion prototype at Petit Le Mans.
This meant that the #26 BAR1 entry took the final PC victory in a season where they were unable to match the pace of Performance Tech.
The series will revert to a three-class system next year, but the success of the DPi regulations has attracted the attention of Acura whop have teamed up with the legendary Team Penske to enter Prototypes next year.
With the GT classes proving to be even more competitive, the series looks set to go from strength to strength in the next few years.