OPINION: Why IMSA at IMS is a win for both sides

OPINION: Why IMSA at IMS is a win for both sides

No doubt about it, the IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a big deal.

But IMSA was the newsmaker Friday at IMS, revealing plans for a future stand-alone WeatherTech SportsCar Championship weekend on the Speedway’s stadium road course.

The IMSA Battle on the Bricks, set for September 15-17, 2023, brings IMS the top-shelf sports car event it has been craving since Penske Entertainment acquired the legendary facility a little under three years ago. It also provides IMSA with an additional showcase venue for its new-for-2023 GTP class, featuring high-tech, hybrid-powered prototypes.

While the headline WeatherTech Championship race for the first year of the event will be a two-hour, 40-minute “sprint,” it’s expected to be expanded to six or eight hours and run into the night in the future as part of the Michelin Endurance Cup.

All in all, it’s a win/win – a major coup for IMSA, and another marquee event in the constant evolution of the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Racetrack.’

Roger Penske’s own racing career started in sports cars, and he retains a keen appreciation for the genre. Penske’s own team has a long sports car affiliation with Porsche that will resume in 2023 with Porsche Penske Motorsport serving as the factory liaison for the German marque’s GTP effort.

‘The Captain’ couldn’t disguise his delight at Friday’s announcement.

“We’ve been talking to IMSA now for a couple years,” Penske told RACER. “We felt with the LMDh class and the new hybrids and the things going on that we wanted to have them here. People have talked about Formula 1, but we just don’t have the budget or meet the date requirements to even consider a Formula 1 race at this point.

“I started out in sports cars, and to think Ferrari will race here, BMW will race here, all these different marques…that’s what people want. September is a perfect time here in Indianapolis, and with the entrants we expect to see, this could turn out to be one of our greatest events in the long term.”

IMSA raced at Indianapolis on the undercard for NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 weekend from 2012-14 under the guise of the ROLEX Grand-Am SportsCar Championship. Much has changed since then, as sports car racing gained popularity following the merger of Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series, and the subsequent introduction of increasingly more attractive and technologically advanced prototypes.

It all culminates in 2023, as the GTP class will deliver not only the newest generation of IMSA prototypes (designated LMDh, signifying Le Mans Daytona hybrid), but the potential for attracting entries from eligible cars built to the FIA World Endurance Championship Hypercar formula from the likes of Toyota, Peugeot, and in the future, Ferrari.

IMSA’s transformation from a decade ago – with boxy, unattractive, budget-minded Grand-Am prototypes, to next year’s sleek, high-tech LMDh machines, which will be the most advanced racing cars competing in the USA – is absolutely staggering.

Roger Penske’s sports car ties run deep – as evidenced by this shot of him pedaling a North American Racing Team Ferrari 250 GTO LMB during the 1963 Tourist Trophy at Goodwood. Getting modern sports cars back to the Speedway has been part of his plan ever since he took over the facility. Motorsport Images

Porsche, Cadillac, BMW, and Acura are already testing their 2023 LMDh contenders on track; a 10-car field is expected in the WeatherTech Championship next year, and Lamborghini has announced it will enter the class in 2024, with other manufacturers possibly to follow.

The first wheel hasn’t been turned in anger for GTP, but there’s already plenty of buzz that American sports car racing is about to enter a golden era. The new partnership with Indianapolis only strengthens that notion.

While the IMS road course is far from memorable for most drivers, the simple lure of competing at Indianapolis still holds strong.

And as always, Indy remains hallowed ground for racing fans. IMSA and IMS plan to make the sports car experience special in that regard. The IMSA weekend will be the only opportunity for spectators to camp in the infield of the Speedway, with primitive and powered spots available.

“We’re going to camp this place like it’s never been done before,” said IMS President Doug Boles. “We’re going to blow this thing out and make it a proper sports car race. We want to make it special for our fans and I really cannot wait.

“There are some big weekends at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and this is certainly going to be one of them.”

The Battle on the Bricks is also expected to include plenty of cooperation between IMS and IMSA’s eighteen participating manufacturers. IMS and IMSA insiders are already talking about unprecedented levels of local market activation.

“Our race teams and manufacturers want to compete here, and we plan to fill the Midway, hopefully with displays from all eighteen manufacturers,” said IMSA President John Doonan. “We’re thrilled to bring the WeatherTech Championship to a historic venue that brings value to our partners and where our teams want to race.

“I hope Doug and Mr. Penske and his team are ready, because we’re going to pack this place, big time.”

While the full 2023 WeatherTech Championship schedule will not be released for another week (on August 4 at Doonan’s annual ‘State of the Sport’ address at Road America), the IMSA event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is expected to be dropped from the slate.

Mid-Ohio’s sad state of disrepair was a talking point during the IMSA race weekend in May, leading to speculation about its long-term future for hosting major racing events.

Unlike Indianapolis, which received some much-needed touch-up and modernization since Penske’s recent takeover, Mid-Ohio remains much as it was in 1983 when prior owner Jim Trueman gave the beloved road course a makeover. Some say that refurbishment brought the track up to a late 1970s standard of amenities that prevails to this day.

Modern racing fans and competitors demand more, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is quickly responding to those demands. The Battle on the Bricks promises to deliver a new and unique experience for hardcore sports car racing enthusiasts as well as longtime IMS fans.