Champions of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be crowned today, as drivers from around the world flock to Road Atlanta in Braselton to compete in the 21st annual Motul Petit Le Mans, the final race in the championship series and one that Road Atlanta track president Geoff Lee called “the largest annual international sporting event in Georgia.”
Spectators from 19 different countries and 37 states are expected to attend, and the competition will be broadcast in the U.S. as well as Europe, Asia and South America.
“It’s grown to be really accepted as probably, arguably, one of the top two or three sports car races in the US, if not the top in some eyes,” Lee said.
The race will include drivers from three different classes — Prototype, GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) — all competing on the same track for potentially 10 grueling hours Saturday.
Several of the world’s largest manufacturers of sports cars will have entrants in the race, which will pit brand against brand at the highest level.
“There’s very few places you can go watch a Porsche go fender to fender with a Ferrari with a Corvette, with you name it,” Lee said.
Among the competitors will be Madison Snow, a member of the Paul Miller Racing team which is in the points lead in the GTD class.
Snow said this race is always one of his favorites of the year. It’s also one of the most challenging.
“It’s such a long race,” Snow said. “If you were to go into a two hour, 45 minute race, which is a majority of the other races we do, you only have to stress for two hours and 45 minutes, compared to this race where you have to stress for the whole 10 hours.”
Snow said will be switching out with two other drivers for pit stops about every two hours, with each stop carrying the risk of losing a crucial couple of seconds and getting passed.
But it’s more than just the length that makes this race so hard.
The track is a skinny one by IMSA standards, making passing difficult. When you add in the fact that the GTD cars like Snow’s — which carry top speeds of around 175 mph — will be competing against each other at the same time as Prototype and GTLM cars, which can hit speeds of 200 mph and 180 mph, respectively, traffic is sure to get a bit congested.
Suffice to say, the track is going to be crowded, and safely navigating it is going to be a challenge.
“That’s what makes IMSA racing what it is, the multi-class racing,” Snow said. “That makes it fun navigating that traffic, especially after the sun goes down and the lights come on and it gets dark out there. From Turn 1 up until Turn 5, which seems to be half the track, it’s very difficult for faster cars to get by you, so that changes the characteristics of the race. It makes it fun to race other cars.”
Snow referred to Road Atlanta as “one of my favorite tracks” and Lee said it’s a common opinion for drivers to hold.
Lee, a former racer himself, understands that the many “undulations, hills and blind turns” make the track a difficult one to navigate, allowing the best to truly stand out and making Motul Petit Le Mans a fitting finale to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“It’s a chance for (the drivers) to show their craft at the highest level,” Lee said. “You’ve got to be good at racecraft, but you’ve also got to be a little brave, and your car has to be working perfectly to really do well at Road Atlanta.”