IMSA is poised to undergo major changes over the next two years. 2017 sees the departure of the old Daytona Prototypes (DPs) in favor of the new LMP2 based Daytona Prototype Internationals (DPIs). This will eliminate the headache of trying to Balance the performance between the old school tube framed DPs and the current LMP2 cars. The new DPI cars will be based on the 2017 LMP2 regulations with some key differences. Teams and manufactures will be allowed to use their own engines instead of the Gibson V8 that the rest of the world will use. In addition manufacturers will be allowed to modify bodywork. These changes will allow manufacturers to race for overall wins in North America at a fraction of the cost of a full-blown LMP1 program.
DPI is picking up traction all be it slower than IMSA had expected. Teams are allowed to use just about any engine they wish with emphasis on existing GT3 based engines. Right now only Cadillac and Mazda have confirmed for 2017. Honda would like to join the party however there is some sticking points over IMSA’s requirements. Specifically, in order to enter a manufacturer not only has to provide their own engine but they must offer a body kit as well. Honda simply wants to offer their own engine. It is believed IMSA is softening their position but as of yet no final decision has been made. Either way, I firmly believe many of the manufactures (Bentley, Nissan, Mercedes Benz and Honda) are adopting a wait and see approach. New classes often have teething problems in the first season with many of the kinks worked out by season 2. Mazda and Cadillac may be the only OEMs for 2017 but I expect at least 2 more OEMs for 2018. Stay tuned.
The biggest changes to IMSA, will be in 2018. The 2 primary series are poised to go through drastic changes. 2017 is the swan song for the current Prototype Challenge (PC) class in the Weathertech Sportscar Championship. 2018 will not only see a switch to LMP3 machinery but also a change of venue. The new cars will race in IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda. The Championship will be split into 2 classes. The new LMP3 cars will race in the PC1 class while the existing Elan DP02 cars, running with Mazda engines will occupy the PC2 class. This will leave the Weathertech Championship with only 3 classes which is welcome news. The PC cars never felt like they fit in after the merger. Plus they seemed responsible for many of the accidents as their Gentlemen drivers struggled to handle the Oreca FLM09 chassis. Efforts were made to try to make the cars easier to drive this season. Things such as traction control and ABS have helped. You still got the feeling that even with the changes the PC class was not long for the Weathertech series. Giving the PC Teams their own series with cars that are much easier to drive is a win for everyone. The fan reaction to the switch has been overwhelmingly positive. Plus there is an outside chance that some PC teams will choose to move to one of the 3 remaining classes in Weathertech.
2018 will also see major changes in Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge. The GS class is currently made up of modified GT4 cars and North American cars built specifically for the class. Starting in 2018 only cars meeting GT4 technical regulations will be allowed in the GS class. In addition IMSA is poised to add the TCR class into the Continental series. Introduced last year TCR is a global Touring Car class. Made up of purpose-built race cars based on four or five-door touring cars. The platform is used in numerous series across the world, most notably the World Touring Car Championship. TCR would be set to replace the current ST class. ST is composed of production based machines built mostly by the teams themselves. The biggest question is weather OEMs will embrace the class. TCR as it currently sits is mostly European based cars, most of which aren’t even offered in North America.
With the introduction of GT4 and TCR this marks the continuation of IMSA’s efforts to globalize their racing series. It started with the switch to GT3 machines in the GT-Daytona class and continued with LMP2 cars allowed to race in their top Prototype class. The addition of GT4 and TCR machinery only makes IMSA a more attractive destination to race. Given vehicles that can race anywhere in the world with little or no modification is hugely important to budget conscious teams. The idea of purchasing one car and being able to race in multiple series is massively attractive. It means they don’t have to purchase new cars if they want to race outside of North America.
IMSA is heading in the correct direction. They are making their series more accessible while keeping their own unique identity. In addition they are making their various series more attractive to fans. I will freely admit I’m not a huge fan of the Continental series. Don’t get me wrong I don’t dislike it, but I’m just not as into it as I am other series. However with the introduction of GT4 and TCR machinery that is all about to change. It has me stoked for the new direction of the series. Most importantly for IMSA, I am actually going to tune in to watch their races. Many fans feel the same way I do. I feel these changes will translate to more eyes on the series, TV, internet and at the track.