Gar Robinson was on the outside looking in when he attended The Roar Before the Rolex 24 in 2018.
Robinson and his manager, John Donovan, walked around the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship garage at Daytona International Speedway with spectator passes.
“We started questioning ourselves, ‘How in the world can we get into this paddock?’” Robinson recalled.
Three years later, Robinson, the son of former IMSA driver George Robinson, showed up at Daytona with the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 to compete in the inaugural season for the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class in the WeatherTech Championship. Not only did the younger Robinson and the No. 74 win the class in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, they put together four more wins to take home the first LMP3 driver and team championships.
“To be here three years later and to be a champion with one of the best teams in the industry is something I could not have imagined when I was at the (2018) Roar,” Robinson said after concluding the dream season with a victory Nov. 13 at Motul Petit Le Mans with co-drivers Scott Andrews and Felipe Fraga. “It really is incredible. I still can’t believe it.”
Despite the No. 74 Riley winning five of the seven LMP3 races, the championship didn’t come easy. It was a two-car battle with the No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier, which remained in striking distance heading to the finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. With two wins of their own in 2021 (Sebring and Road America), No. 54 co-drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun were within 50 points of Robinson but their car was besieged by mechanical problems all weekend at Michelin Raceway and retired from the race seventh in class.
“They ran a fantastic season all year,” Robinson said of the No. 54. “We had some great battles. They have been a fantastic competitor all year. I look forward to seeing them next year.
“I do love winning a championship. I wish it had come down to the final lap, but I’ll take it.”
Robinson’s only WeatherTech Championship experience prior to this season was 17 races in the GT Daytona (GTD) class, so the 26-year-old Texan had much to absorb moving into a prototype. He praised the work of team owner Bill Riley and Riley Motorsports, as well as co-drivers Fraga, Andrews, Spencer Pigot and Oliver Askew for their efforts. Fraga had four wins with Robinson, while Andrews had three. Robinson, Andrews and the No. 74 also took top LMP3 honors in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup standings.
“It was difficult for me this year,” Robinson said. “This was my first fulltime prototype season. Getting used to the car, getting used to not having any driver aids such as traction control and ABS, was definitely a challenge; learning about the incredible downforce there is with these cars. Moving from a GT-style car was a lot to learn as a driver. Scott, Felipe, Spencer and Oliver made it very, very easy for me. They definitely taught me a lot as a driver.”
Robinson said he and the No. 74 team applied a simple strategy that carried them to the championship.
“If you had to put it into two words for me, it was ‘stay humble,’” he said. “I came into this class very green. It was my first prototype season. I had great teammates and an incredible team helping push me. I tried to absorb as much as I could from my co-drivers.
“I took notes on how to deal with traffic, who were the cars I could trust and those not to trust. Getting more and more familiar with the cars, the competition and the rules, just everything involved. I went out there each time with the attitude there’s never a lap you can’t go out there and learn something. That’s my attitude since I started pro racing.
“I will learn more about this car and get better with the team. I think it’s going to be a fantastic 2022 season.”