INSIGHT: A good kind of problem for IMSA

INSIGHT: A good kind of problem for IMSA

We are in the middle of what used to be referred to as the ‘Le Mans break’ for IMSA, where in years past, IMSA avoided scheduling races because many of its teams and drivers were in France for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

In recent race seasons that has been, as far as teams are concerned, largely limited to GTLM, which corresponded to the GTE category in the World Endurance Championship. That’s one reason that GTLM never featured at Mid-Ohio or Detroit, and why GTD Pro doesn’t at the present.

But there were times in the past when the crossover was much greater, and with convergence of classes between IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, it will be again.

That’s one of many considerations as IMSA looks at schedules, the class structure and how all those pieces fit together. It’s not just consideration of conflicts in the wider sports car world, but how to give what are currently five classes of sports cars a sufficient number of races, given constraints in racetrack length, pit lane space and paddock size.

“We’re in the midst of, as we always do, analyzing and studying space capacities, and then what the forecast is to fill that space capacity,” explains IMSA President John Doonan. “So we start with pit lane size, and what you can fit and provide pit box sizes that are comfortable for the teams. You can only fit so much, and we faced that at Daytona where we had an awesome field of 61 cars, and it was tight on pit lane.

“Then, paddock space. When you have as many cars as we’ve had, you have to be sensitive to the square footage that we have to be able to give the teams a good experience and not be too cramped. I just walked through the garage area and it it is tight. Even with low 30s, it’s tight, so we’ve got to be sensitive. So once we have that, then we sit down and look at the mix of classes that we can bring to each venue.”

That may mean no LMP2 at Long Beach, or LMP3 only making occasional appearances. Or, perhaps having the class allowed to race, but not giving points toward the year-end championship, as GTD experienced at Long Beach and LMP2 and LMP3 had at Daytona.

“We’re going to try to bring the mixture of classes that’s going to put on the best show and create great racing, and not create situations where there’s too many cars trying to occupy too small a space on the miles of a racetrack,” Doonan says.

Several drivers already catch redeyes from Detroit to Le Mans, and that could become even more commonplace once IMSA’s and WEC’s prototype classes are aligned. Richard Dole/Motorsport Images

That becomes a bigger problem next year as LMDh cars in the GTP class replace DPi as the series premier class. What is typically six cars this year becomes at least eight assuming two cars each from Acura, Cadillac, Porsche and BMW. That’s before any privateer efforts materialize should cars be available, before Toyota, Alpine or Ferrari bringing their Hypercars to the party should they choose to do so, and before Lamborghini joins the series with its own LMDh platform in 2023. Plus, with new Corvette and Mustang GT3 cars coming, the GTD Pro and GTD ranks could swell as well.

Now consider the fact that many teams will be making the jump back and forth between IMSA and WEC. Most of those teams, such as Penske for Porsche and Ganassi for Cadillac, will have a European base, so cars won’t have to be shipped back and forth. But a large portion of personnel might be participating in both programs. And that’s before WEC and Le Mans move to GT3 for the GT classes in 2024. In that scenario, does an IMSA race in downtown Detroit happen if the race is still scheduled for early June?

“It’s tricky, just given the amount of crossover with GTP,” says Doonan. “We’re going to have to see and work with the Penske Entertainment Group, who not only promotes the event, but also then the racing side of Penske has cars in GTP and WEC. So it’s going to be a group discussion around the table to make sure we schedule things properly and allow the drivers and teams and operations that are going to try to do both ample time.”

Even now, a large contingent of drivers will be headed straight from their cars to the airport to catch red-eyes to France.

Speaking of Penske Entertainment Group, Roger Penske hasn’t been shy about saying he’d love to have an IMSA or WEC endurance race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But with four already on the schedule, is there room for another? On the plus side, the Brickyard has a long pit lane….

Scheduling challenges aside, having enough cars that you have to say, ‘Hey, we can’t have all our classes at these tracks’ is the perfect scenario where the phrase ‘a good problem to have’ applies. Few North American road courses can accommodate 40+ cars in their pit lane, even with the staggered stops where prototypes and GTs rarely pit together. Of course, some will remember when, outside of the endurance races, an IMSA weekend featured separate races for prototypes and GT cars. That brings on a different set of problems, not the least of which is that most fans like seeing the mix and how the traffic plays a part in how the race unfolds.

However the series manages its car counts and classes within the schedule, don’t expect the show to suffer. As Doonan says, “If you like the racing today, it’s only going to get better.”