Christmas arrived early in 2022 for fans of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and worldwide sports car racing in general.
Nine new LMDh-specification prototypes that will compete in IMSA’s revived GTP category, along with a trio of fresh-out-of-the-box GT cars, underwent final homologation testing at Daytona International Speedway on December 6 and 7. Private testing among teams and manufacturers has continued at an intense pace at road racing venues around the country. This furious build-up will all culminate in late January, when the 2023 IMSA slate flags off with the traditional Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Starting not just a new season, but an eagerly anticipated new era, with a twice-round-the-clock endurance race while debuting unproven, technically advanced cars is an ambitious undertaking. Ubiquitous “supply chain issues” have only made the task more difficult, but IMSA and its constituents appear up to the challenge and the Daytona grid was capped at 60 cars.
The GT3 cars that comprise the GTD and GTD PRO classes should be sufficiently robust — even the new EVO 2 upgrade of the Lamborghini Huracan and clean-sheet designs from Ferrari and Porsche. But each of the four manufacturers competing in LMDh have admitted to reliability and software compatibility issues with the standard IMSA-mandated hybrid components. That leaves open the very real possibility that a second tier LMP2 prototype could be in position to take the overall win in the Rolex 24.
The LMP2 class winner in the 2022 Rolex 24 finished 10 laps behind the overall winner from the proven (and now defunct) DPi class; if the majority of the LMDh field encounters problems that require significant time behind the wall (say, 15-30 minutes), an LMP2 contender could claim overall victory at Daytona for the first time since 2016. The last time a GT-based entry scored the overall Rolex win was in 2003 — coincidentally, also the first race for a new prototype formula…
The attention’s all on the new GTP cars of course, but could the trusty LMP2 class be poised to spring a Rolex 24 upset? Richard Dole/Lumen
Under the leadership of Jim France, John Doonan and IMSA, American sports car racing appears to be in the best health it has enjoyed in at least 30 years — since the heyday of the original GTP prototype formula in what was then called the IMSA Camel GT Championship. You might remember cars like the Porsche 962, the Jaguar XJR-9, the Nissan/Electramotive GTP, and the Toyota Eagle Mk III GTP fielded by Dan Gurney’s All American Racers.
The sophisticated new era GTP cars are expected to deliver a similar level of excitement among manufacturers, sponsors, and fans. And there’s even more to look forward to in the future, thanks to the cooperation between IMSA, the FIA, and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) that has produced a convergence formula that will theoretically put IMSA LMDh prototypes on equal terms to compete for overall wins with the LMh Hypercars that form the top class of the FIA World Endurance Championship. While there is no sign when the Europeans might come to America, Porsche and Cadillac will field cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and every other WEC race this year, with BMW and Lamborghini set to follow in 2024.
It’s fair to say that every IMSA fan is looking forward to seeing how the Porsche 963 and Cadillac V-LMDh stack up against the Hypercars from Toyota, Peugeot, Alpine, Glickenhaus, and (new for 2023) Ferrari at Le Mans. I suspect it is also their fervent wish that sometime in the near future, some of those Hypercars accept the challenge of competing in classic IMSA events like the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen or the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. (The FIA WEC already features a standalone race at Sebring International Raceway — the Sebring 1000 Miles)
WEC Hypercars like Toyota’s GR010 HYBRID already visit Sebring on their own, but it would be great to see them mixing it up with their IMSA counterparts too. JEP/Motorsport Images
Here are a few other things that sports car fans might join me in wishing for during this holiday season:
• Favorable weather for the Rolex 24. It’s going to be a tough enough task to coax the new GTP entries through a grueling endurance contest first time out; teams and manufacturers don’t need rain and/or extreme temperatures to make it even more difficult.
• Something near the intended parity when Hypercars and LMDh cars square off head-to-head for the first time, in March at the Sebring 1000 Miles. The words “Balance of Performance” make everyone jittery, so hopefully the competition will be close and competitive from the start and controversy can be averted.
• A positive debut for the new downtown Detroit street course. Thanks to its proximity on the schedule to Le Mans, IMSA’s representation is limited to the Michelin Pilot Challenge this year. But if the venue shows potential, it’s an important market for the WeatherTech Championship to return to – especially given the investment that General Motors is making in sports car racing with its Corvette GT3 and Cadillac LMDh programs split between IMSA and WEC.
• Speaking of Le Mans, I know there’s supposed to be no cheering in the press box, but I admit to pulling for Roger Penske and Porsche Motorsport to earn The Captain’s first overall victory at Le Sarthe. It’s really the only major motorsports event in which Penske has not triumphed, and it would be a crowning career achievement.
• I hope IMSA’s inaugural “Battle on the Bricks” is a big success for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and that the race expands to become a key event in the Michelin Endurance Challenge. At the same time, I’d like to find a way for Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to eventually be reinstated to the IMSA schedule, especially if the track owners make some much-needed upgrades and improvements to the property.
More than anything, I wish for a safe and entertaining new year of sports car racing across all platforms. If the obvious potential plays out — especially in GTP — it promises to be a fantastic 2023 season.