The second part of the series highlights title fights across all seasons of the WeatherTech Championship heading into the season finale. (IMSA photo)
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) holders may be behind in points this season, but the 74th-ranked Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 is planning to come out swinging.
The #54 CORE autosport Ligier, with drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun, has an 83-point lead in both the driver and team standings over 2021 champion Gar Robinson and his entry #74. With up to 10 LMP3 entries expected for Motul Petit Le Mans on October 1, It displays the possibility of a 140-point difference between first and last place at the end of the season. Even the #30 seed Jr III Racing Ligier, who sits 119 points behind #54, is still sporting his way, albeit at a distance.
For Robinson and No. 74 Riley Leger, the task at hand is straightforward. If they win at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, the 54th must finish fifth or worse (also based on qualification points earned) to repeat as the class champion.
“Our mentality last year was to win the Petit Le Mans, and that’s our mentality this year,” said Robinson, who has partnered with Philip Fraga, Scott Andrews, Michael Cooper and Kay Van Pirlo this season. “Everything that happens behind us for CORE and things are out of our hands.
“We have a good feeling for the track and this race. If what happened last year happened this year, then we got it. Crazier things have happened. It’s not impossible.”
CORE had trouble racing at the Michelin Raceway last November and didn’t see the checkered flag. Robinson, seeded 74th – who entered the 2021 final on points – won the race and took home the inaugural LMP3 crown.
“I think they (CORE) will give us a good head start in my house,” Robinson said. “Whatever happens, it happens. Our driver lineup is amazing, our crew and team are ready to go, but they are.
“It’s not our responsibility to lose this year and I think that makes it a little easier, frankly. It makes it easier mentally and more rewarding if it pays off. The only thing we can do is do our best and strive for it.”
Brown is feeling some of that pressure as the group leader. The dynamics of the course, including much of the night driving, along with all five competing WeatherTech Championship seasons, he said, raise the percentage of what can go wrong.
“It’s never easy or certain when you get into one of these long endurance races,” Brown said. “Anything can happen. With multi-category races and race length, we can’t take anything for granted. We’ll be going downhill, focused and doing our normal deal.”
Each team has won two points drive races this season. Brown and Bennett, ranked No. 54, won Mid Ohio and Canadian Tire Motorsports. Robinson won with Fraga and Van Pirlo at Watkins Glen and with Fraga in the last race on Road America. The number 74, with Robinson, Fraga, Van Pirlo and Cooper behind the wheel, also won the inaugural Rolex 24 of the season in Daytona that awards no points for the season’s championship.
Brown and Bennett are chasing their third WeatherTech title together, so the stress of decisive racing is nothing new. As has been the case in other endurance races this season, George Kurtz will be the third driver in race number 54 at the Michelin Raceway.
“CORE has been really up front all season,” Brown said. “The guys have worked hard. We’ve been in these situations before. We were ahead on points and behind on points in the last race.
“You have to be smart. You don’t want to change a whole lot of things that have been working and putting you where you are. I think it’s just about keeping our heads down and staying on course.”
And maybe keep an eye on Robinson and Number 74.
“It’s a long race,” Robinson said. “It’s 10 hours. A lot of things can happen.”
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