DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Teams and drivers in the two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT classes are preparing for a new experience this week when they race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
While this is the first WeatherTech Championship event on the road course that incorporates much of the oval track, there is celebrated history on the circuit – if you’re willing to dig deep into the IMSA record books. It’s been 20 years since the professional sports car series has competed on Charlotte’s road course, with occasional appearances dating back nearly five decades.
IMSA’s return comes this Saturday, with the GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) classes racing in a 100-minute sprint event that airs live at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The winners will join a who’s-who list of those to take the checkered flag in past races on what is now known as the ROVAL – a combination of road course and oval – at the facility in Concord, N.C.
Many of the early Charlotte events were run in conjunction with action surrounding the NASCAR Cup Series’ 600-mile race on the oval in late May each year. The first IMSA-sanctioned event came in 1971 as part of the IMSA GT Series, a three-hour race with Dave Heinz and Or Costanzo winning in a Chevrolet Corvette ahead of some pretty legendary company, Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood in a Brumos Porsche 914.
IMSA didn’t return for three years until a 300-mile race in 1974 as part of the Camel GT Challenge. This time, Gregg and Haywood drove solo in Porsche Carreras, finishing 1-2 overall and in the GTO class.
There wouldn’t be another IMSA-sanctioned event for eight more years, though Can-Am and Trans-Am races filled the void on a few occasions. When IMSA returned for a 500-kilometer race in 1982, John Paul Sr. and John Paul Jr. were behind the wheel of the victorious Porsche 935.
In the four years that followed at Charlotte, IMSA 500-kilometer race winners included: Al Holbert and Jim Trueman in 1983; Randy Lanier and Bill Whittington in ’84; Holbert and Derek Bell in ’85; and Drake Olson and Price Cobb in ’86.
That would be the last sports-car appearance until April 1, 2000, when the American Le Mans Series conducted its only race on the Charlotte road course. J.J. Lehto and Jorg Muller drove to victory in a BMW Motorsports/Schnitzer Motorsport Le Mans Prototype, finishing 7.884 seconds ahead of David Brabham and Jan Magnussen in the Panoz Motor Sports LMP.
The sister entry for the winning BMW that year was co-driven to a fourth-place finish by Bill Auberlen. Two decades later, Auberlen is the winningest driver in IMSA history with 61 victories. At age 51, Auberlen returns to Charlotte this week still driving a BMW, now for Turner Motorsport.