|Scott Atherton lays out the future|
During a first-ever outdoor "State of the Sport" presentation for industry stakeholders, media and race fans at Road America – site of this weekend's Continental Tire Road Race Showcase – International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) leadership provided details on future platforms for three of its sanctioned series.
Enhancements to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and what is now known as IMSA Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires will be rolled out beginning with the start of the 2017 racing series and continue through the next 2-3 seasons.
"Over the past several months, we have engaged with nearly all of our stakeholders and competitors to gather their input and discuss the most appropriate way to modernize our various platforms," said IMSA CEO Ed Bennett. "At the same time, we have analyzed trends in the global motorsports landscape to arrive at what we believe is the most logical strategy. While it's impossible to make decisions that will satisfy the interests and needs of everyone, we feel confident that our plans for the future are sound and position our platforms for continued growth, stability and interest."
IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship
The same four classes that have been competing since the series' inception in 2014 – Prototype (P), Prototype Challenge (PC), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – will continue in 2017. The Prototype class will feature the introduction of new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and Le Mans Prototype 2 (LM P2) race cars.
The GTLM and GTD classes both are expected to feature many of the new race cars built to Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) GTE technical regulations for GTLM and Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) GT3 specifications for GTD.
The 2017 WeatherTech Championship will mark the final season of eligibility for the single-spec PC class, which features defined Pro-Am driver combinations, in the flagship series. The class debuted as part of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) in 2010, and next season will mark the eighth season of competition for the ORECA FLM09 chassis.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Beginning in 2018, the WeatherTech Championship will shift to a three-class format comprised of P, GTLM and GTD. While there no longer will be a separate Pro-Am Prototype class, Pro-Am drivers in the Prototype class may compete for Jim Trueman Award honors at each event and at season's end. The year-end Jim Trueman Award winner will earn an automatic and highly coveted invitation to compete in the LM P2 class at the following year's 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The top Pro-Am driver in the GTD class will be recognized at each event and at season's end with the Bob Akin Award. The season-long Bob Akin Award winner also will receive an automatic entry to compete in the GTE-Am class in the following year's 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In both cases, the automatic invitations to the 24 Hours of Le Mans are a proud link between IMSA and the ACO in support of their ongoing strategic alliance to continue the growth and development of sports car racing worldwide.
IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge
Beginning in 2017, IMSA will allow race cars from mainstream automotive manufacturers homologated as GT4 cars by the Stephane Ratel Organization (SRO) to compete in the series' top Grand Sport (GS) class alongside select "grandfathered" vehicles built to IMSA GS technical regulations that currently are eligible and participating in 2016. IMSA was pleased to establish a cooperation agreement with SRO to accomplish this goal together regarding the GT4 platform.
At the start of the 2018 season, all GS category cars will be built and strictly adhere to GT4 technical regulations with the requirement that they are from a mainstream automotive manufacturer. A number of manufacturers are currently developing new GT4 race cars that will roll out gradually before the start of 2018.
In the Street Tuner (ST) class, all cars currently competing will be eligible to continue racing in ST through the end of the 2018 season.
IMSA also is currently in discussions with Mr. Marcello Lotti, CEO of Touring Car Racing (TCR) International Series, regarding a cooperation agreement for TCR-homologated cars which have consumer brand relevance in the North American market. The concept being developed would be to initially establish an additional class within the Continental Tire Challenge beginning as early as 2018.
IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda
In 2017, the Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires will evolve and be rebranded as IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda. The sprint-race series will feature two, 45-minute races per event weekend with a two-class format including Le Mans Prototype 3 (LM P3) race cars in the "PC1" class, and cars that currently race in the Prototype Lites L1 class will comprise the "PC2" class. Existing Prototype Lites L2 class cars no longer will be eligible after the 2016 season is completed.
Any ACO-homologated LM P3 chassis built by six approved constructors will be eligible to compete in the PC1 class, and all PC1 cars will be powered by identical specification V8 engines. The PC2 class will feature Mazda-powered Ã‰lan DP02 chassis. In both cases, no balance of performance (BoP) will be applied or administered to either class.
Beginning in 2017, IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda events will be streamed live on IMSA.tv. In addition, each event is expected to have tape-delayed television coverage on a cable network to be announced in the near future.
IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda is designed to be the final developmental rung on the ladder for drivers aspiring to compete in the WeatherTech Championship Prototype class and in other international prototype competition.
2017 race schedules
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]There are no new venues on the 2017 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule, with all 12 tracks retaining the series.
The schedule does include a major alteration: The event at Circuit of the Americas in Texas, which has been run in September, will move to May 5-7 in 2017. In addition, the event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca — which has traditionally been run in late April or early May — moves to September 23-24 in 2017 as the penultimate round of the WeatherTech Championship.
The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge will run a 10-race schedule on the same weekends as WeatherTech Championship races, beginning January 27 with the aforementioned four-hour enduro at Daytona, and ending October 6 at Road Atlanta on the Petit Le Mans weekend.
A 13-race schedule for the IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda and a 16-race schedule for the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama also were confirmed for 2017.