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DAGYS: Driver Ratings Need to Go

Sportscar365 Editor-in-Chief John Dagys’ take on driver ratings…

Photo: IMSA

Photo: IMSA

It’s been a hot topic in recent years and the controversial and often tedious debate of driver ratings re-entered the spotlight again this week, following the release of the FIA’s finalized 2016 list.

Regulated by the FIA but utilizing input from the ACO, IMSA, SRO and other global motorsports governing bodies, the driver ratings list is used in nearly every Pro-Am-enforced sports car racing championship in the world, and for good reason.

It separates the professional drivers from the amateurs, and is aimed to give gentlemen drivers a fair-as-possible chance of achieving success in the Pro-Am environment.

However, given some of the recent driver re-classifications, which has placed numerous top-level pros as amateurs, the exact system built to protect the gentlemen drivers is now working against them.

When the likes of five-time Grand-Am champion Scott Pruett — the winningest driver in IMSA history — gets reclassified from Gold to Silver status for 2016, it creates a loophole allowing teams to effectively field an all-pro lineup in a Pro-Am regulated class.

Pruett, who turned 55 in March, which triggered the downgraded rating per the rules, is just one of several drivers to have been reclassified lately, either by age or by request from the driver themselves.

Road racing veterans and former champions Ozz Negri and Boris Said were downgraded to Silver in 2015 and have been joined by other established pros such as Katherine Legge, Guy Cosmo and Gunnar Jeannette in gaining “amateur” status for next year.

The FIA does not release explanations for individual re-classifications, but outside of driver hitting an age milestone (50, 55 or 60 years of age), drivers are often downgraded if they can prove they make their living outside of the sport.

The often subjective re-classification system had previously come under much criticism, particularly in the ALMS when IMSA ran its own ratings system, prior to the merger of a global list governed by the FIA.

But things haven’t gotten any better under the FIA’s control, with a number of drivers, such as Cosmo, Jeff Segal and Rui Aguas shifting back and forth between Gold and Silver status multiple times, even in the same year, due to petitioning for re-evaluations.

For proof of how convoluted the system has become, Roman Rusinov, who as a Gold-rated driver helped take G-Drive Racing to this year’s WEC LMP2 World Championship, has been downgraded to Silver status for 2016, yet Gary Hirsch, who won the 2015 ELMS P2 title with Greaves Motorsport as a Silver, has been upgraded to Gold.

The inconsistency in rating reclassifications has resulted in havoc within the driver market, with most drivers who were upgraded to Gold — oftentimes late in the off-season — not landing rides for the following year.

And its not for lack of talent. Sean Rayhall, a standout Prototype Challenge driver in 2014, was left without a drive for much of this year after being upgraded to Gold. The 20-year-old rising star resorted to crowdfunding campaigns in order to stay in the cockpit.

Despite someone like Pruett — who I rate as one of the top-20 sports car drivers in the world active today — now being a Silver for 2016, drivers like Rayhall continue to be stuck in the purgatorial state of Gold, and struggling to advance their careers.

This has to stop. The driver ratings system has cost some drivers their careers, just depending on which side of the coin you’re on, and it will continue, no matter the way you look at it, unless the system is eliminated.

Additionally, it will eventually drive more and more gentlemen drivers out of the sport, altogether, due to an increasing number of teams “gaming” the system with effectively all-pro lineups in Pro-Am-enforced classes.

It hasn’t happened yet, but imagine a LMP2 lineup at Le Mans or in the WEC hypothetically consisting of Negri, Sam Bird and Nicolas Lapierre. They’d blow the entire field away, in a class that by the rules, is supposed to feature at least one Am.

What kind of motivation would that give the likes of Ed Brown, Julien Canal or David Heinemeier Hansson — true gentlemen drivers who make their livings away from the sport — motivation to continue spending upwards of $4 million a year, only to get beaten by effectively an all-pro lineup?

Oftentimes, I wonder what sports car racing would look like today if the the ratings system didn’t exist. And you only have to rewind the clock a few years, to the Grand-Am era, to see that Pro-Am racing strived without sanctioning body control.

Financial investor Emil Assentato, alongside an up-and-comer Segal, scored a pair of GT championships in 2010 and 2012, at a time when there were all-pro lineups in the class. In 2009, Dirk Werner and a then-considered amateur driver, Leh Keen, took the GT title.

How did they do it? They beat the pros, but at a time when there was a more-or-less a gentlemen agreement among GT entrants not to have a dynamite pro-pro lineup in the class.

The same worked in the FIA GT Championship in the early to mid 2000s, and was even effective in the early days of the ALMS, prior to the factory revolution in GT.

Could that same philosophy work in this day and age? Perhaps, because it’s ultimately the only solution that would ensure nobody’s gaming the system, because there would be no rules.

Privateer teams in the current Pro-Am-enforced classes such as IMSA PC and GTD will always need gentlemen drivers to fund their programs, so the enforcement would come naturally. Sure, there would be a few that could slip through the cracks, but aren’t we seeing that already?

As long as there’s always a ratings system, whether it’d be the current medallion-based system, or a simple “Pro” and “Am” classification, there will always be controversy, and it just dilutes the sport and makes it over-complicated for the fans.

Personally, I want to get back to what what we’re all here for, and that’s to race.

The views and opinions expressed on this web site are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Sportscar365.com, John Dagys Media, LLC and/or any/all contributors to this site.

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Pat

    December 7, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    Scott Pruett has 19 IMSA wins. That does not make him the winningest driver in IMSA history, as his Grand-Am wins weren’t IMSA sanctioned. Bill Auberlen has more wins than Pruett does in IMSA competition. Can’t accept history whitewashing to make it look like Pruett raced in ALMS.

    • Louis

      December 7, 2015 at 7:49 pm

      The merger includes stats as well. And seeing how grand am bought out alms the grand am stats stay. The same thibg happened with indycar when them and champ car merged. Bourdais won his championships in champcar but is still considered a multi year indycar champion.

    • fstrnu

      December 8, 2015 at 2:39 am

      First, I want all ratings done away with because I want our sport to stand on it’s own as a true professional sport.

      Second, since this probably won’t happen anytime soon, simply get rid of classifications other than pro and am. The only requirement of AM is that you demonstrably do not and have not made your living driving (either as a racer, coach or instructor) ever. For the Pro class the only requirement is a license…you’re like any pro athlete in that you get to compete if you’re good enough. Any AM can be in the Pro class but no Pro, even wannabees, can ever be an Amateur. There’s no reason to artificially protect rookies without experience because the classifications are only used to promote amateurs who can fund teams. Any driver who wants to be a serious driver should NEVER want to be classified as an AM.

  2. Phil Allaway

    December 7, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. The whole ranking system is ludicrous, likely hurts car count in nearly every major series in which its used, and drives everyone insane. Keeping gentlemen drivers in the sport is important to a point, but the whole thing seems to be a lie. Scott Pruett is as much an amateur as I am a professional racer (Note: I’ve only driven a race car in video games and my dreams). Sure, he’s 55. He’s got Buford T. Justice’s seniority, but he’s still a tough out.

    Sports car racing may not have the big household names that NASCAR does, but this ranking system makes name recognition hard to come by. Drivers like Sean Rayhall, Madison Snow and others are future stars. They should get some exposure. The rating system makes it hard to promote drivers if the fickle hand of the FIA gives them an “upgrade” to the unemployment line.

    I want more eyes on the sport, and having drivers to promote in addition to to the various factory efforts is key to expanding sports car racing’s reach. The rating system, as currently constituted, likely hurts the bottom line of the sport.

  3. Georg

    December 7, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    I don’t think the driver rating system must go. In fact, I think we need it very much to keep the car counts high.

    I believe it was originally invented to support the gentleman drivers – to ensure that the guys who fund these programs would have a fair chance of winning races, in Pro-Am classes.

    The ONLY problem is that too many professionals are rated amateurs and this is killing it. They should simply draw a much harder line – AM group consisting of wealthy hobby drivers and PRO group of established professionals and young rising stars.

    If that means an occasional youngster like Rayhall would struggle to find a drive as a Pro, that’s way besides the point and simply the way racing works. (In fact, he was largely considered a false Am to start with, so I don’t understand why his difficulties landing a Pro ride is being used as an example here). He is not funding a program, hence he should not race against the guys who do.

    In Europe, they have separate classes for young drivers. Blancpain calls it Silver Cup. It’s not taking off because these kids don’t have money. To let them beat real gentlemen is not fair to the gentlemen.

    Am for the guys who buy cars, fund teams and programs. Pro for everyone else, whatever the speed, CV etc. That would do it.

    • someone

      December 8, 2015 at 2:39 am

      I think his problem with it is not that they are making Rayhall a pro, but that they are making him a pro while very well established pro drivers are being rerated as amateurs the moment they get older and lose their factory gigs.

  4. vanillachinchilla

    December 7, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    Personally I’m a fan of the “sub-class” idea. Just have an “am cup” type award given to the highest finishing “Pro-am” car in a given class. It’d be a motivation for Am drivers to continue putting there money in the sport, but they could also theoretically race against pro teams, which as you state John, some have managed to do. There would still be a need to classify drivers, but there would also be little reason for a team to try to find a loophole, as they would only be doing so to be eligible for a sub-class victory. The problem is having a class which is entirely dedicated to Pro-Am, as it leads to the problems you bring up in the article. These classes are also less interesting from a fan’s perspective. The PC class is something that I must admit I completely ignore (mostly due to the boring cars), and GTD is only interesting in the second half of the race when pro-drivers get in.

    • Bakkster

      December 7, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      Sub classes work when there aren’t many classes to start with. PWC and Blancpain GT, for instance. Start making Pro and Pro-Am classes in ACO/IMSA and you end up going from 4 classes to 6 (or more).

      • vanillachinchilla

        December 7, 2015 at 9:37 pm

        No I mean you really just stick with the 4 (or 3 as id lump PC with P2). And there is just like a special trophy for the best pro-am guy, he’s still part of the same class.

  5. Issac

    December 7, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    I have to disagree with John. While I agree that The rating system isnt perfect by any stretch, getting rid of it wont change a thing. What never seems to ever get mentioned is the sheer number of drivers in the market today its over saturated. If their are only 50 spots on the grid for drivers and you’ve got 100 drivers fighting for a spot regardless of the driver ratings and whether they even exist 50 are getting jobs and 50 arent thats just basic logic. Add to a saturated sportscar driver market, a number of single seater drivers moving over thanks to the badly broken open wheel ladder system you’ve now got thoroughly over saturated market. Add to that the few and far between factory rides are often held for years and years look at corvette for instance and you see a similar problem like in F1. The system needs reworking for sure but throwing out it out wont help a thing.

    • Jason

      December 7, 2015 at 9:23 pm

      Pro am as a official classification did not start until 2010 when LMPC came along. It is dumb just like the class too.

      John Dagys is 100% correct. It adds extra complications we don’t need. It did not stop lots of gentleman drivers from racing in the 1980’s and 1990’s eh?

      • Issac

        December 7, 2015 at 9:48 pm

        We get it Jason you dont like LMPC and prototypes in general you make it abundantly clear every time you comment. Stop turning every thing you comment on into an i hate PC rant. Its old and annoying.

    • Anthony Thomas (@djfourmoney)

      December 8, 2015 at 5:52 am

      BINGO! What is never mentioned is too many drivers and not enough seats! A broken open wheel ladder system certainly doesn’t help and isn’t helping at all.

      This is what the sport is struggling with –

      Nobody is interested in seeing Am’s circle the drain at the back of the grid. But that is believed to be the life blood of the sport ONLY when the factories no longer see ROI in that particular series.

      When the OEM’s leave there’s always a vacuum see the SCCA Trans Am series.

      One glaring problem that never gets mentioned either only by ME it seems (it doesn’t matter the website) is that NOBODY has replaced the Tobacco money that Winston freely spent on IMSA (and NASCAR). NASCAR has survived because corporate America and the OEM’s support it directly.

      What Sports Car is missing which should only be obvious when watching it is the lack of corporate sponsorship. Since the typical sports car fan is flushed with money (high income earner) combined with being north of 50 a demographic most corporations are not interested in at all, equals no need to put branding on the sides of these cars.

      Mentioning Grand Am working with pro ams and pros is nonsense. Talent is talent period, Emil was far off the pace of Segal who isn’t in the same ballpark with Vilander.

      In fact the entire Grand Am GT grid was depressed overall compared to other series, IE you didn’t need to be the one of the best GT drivers in the world to win in that series, the bar was low.

      The problem is the lack of corporate dollars which is why IMSA is forcing companies to become partners in order to race in GTD for example. Also as Issac mentioned the influx of talented open wheel drivers who are stuck on the F1 ladder without any opportunities with very limited seats available in Indy Car and LMP-1 not just in F1; DTM is also overloaded with open wheel refugees…

      In fact if corporate dollars were present in these series you could get rid of Pro Am’s all together. There enough talent professionals and semi-pros to go around.

      But Sports Car racing is always scared of what would happen if those corporate dollars went bye bye so it wants to hold on too it’s golden goose since no other professional series is interested in courting wealthy amateurs.

  6. Dan

    December 7, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    “How did they do it? They beat the pros, but at a time when there was a more-or-less a gentlemen agreement among GT entrants not to have a dynamite pro-pro lineup in the class.”

    Wishful thinking at its best, it would only be matter of time before someone comes along and breaks the unofficial agreement.

    “The same worked in the FIA GT Championship in the early to mid 2000s, and was even effective in the early days of the ALMS, prior to the factory revolution in GT.”

    Times change, these were relatively short periods of moderate success and when the GT1 model was dying they went to GT2 much in the same way GTE/LM is losing favor to GT3.

    “Could that same philosophy work in this day and age? Perhaps, because it’s ultimately the only solution that would ensure nobody’s gaming the system, because there would be no rules.”

    It wouldn’t work because as stated earlier someone will eventually game the system its inevitable.

    • Dyson Mazda

      December 7, 2015 at 11:07 pm

      Without the Pro/Am rules it is going to be hard to keep the factory teams, or teams with an all factory driver lineup, from picking off the Rolex 24 and Sebring in GTD. The problem is they allowed the mindset that rich old guys can win races. Now that the idea exists, it is going to be hard to backtrack.

      • Dan

        December 7, 2015 at 11:21 pm

        AMs are vital to the survival to the survival of sportscar racing. If we drive them all away it would mean the death of the sport. Factory efforts come and go but there will always be rich guys who want to drive a fast car. Also what the article I suspect deliberatly fails to mention is that some AMs want a PRO to share the car with them to pick up the slack for examples see John Pew and Ozz Negri, Gianluca Roda and Paolo Ruberti. Without those AMs there respective pros wouldn’t be on the grid. Certain classes like GTD should be factory free. Look P class to see what no ratings gets you.

        • Anthony Thomas (@djfourmoney)

          December 8, 2015 at 6:11 am

          What proof do you have? This is often spouted out in some circles without any proof.

          Where is it mandated that wealth people need to drive the race cars they own?

          That’s only allowed in Sports Car racing and that’s why it’s always struggled for fan base and corporate dollars. Nobody is interested in seeing a wealth guy impress nobody but his friends as he drives 3-4 seconds off the pace of the professionals.

          Penske was a great driver, but he took over the family business and continued his passion for motor sport without driving. Now how come we can’t hold other wealthy people to that standard?

          There has only been a handful of drivers on the pace with professionals, Duncan Dayton being one of the most recent.

          Sports Car racing needs money it just chooses to take it from wealth y men (and women) rather than corporations which means IMSA and SRO would have to do the hard work of attracting the 18-30 demographic.

          In fact the only racing that demographic is into too is rally cross and drifting, hmmm.

          • Mike D.

            December 9, 2015 at 12:52 am

            > Sports Car racing needs money it just chooses to take it from wealth y men (and women) rather than corporations which means IMSA and SRO would have to do the hard work of attracting the 18-30 demographic.

            You would think for all the doom and gloom constantly on this and other sportscar sites that they are the only idiotic racing series in the world to do this. Even NASCAR is leaving the Southerner behind for “places the money is.” Look no further than their copying of the V8SC “Franchise” nonsense. EVERYONE is doing it.

            Not saying sportscar racing shouldn’t be forward thinking and try to break this mold, but don’t act like it’s specifically being extra wrong,

  7. Travis

    December 7, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    “It hasn’t happened yet, but imagine a LMP2 lineup at Le Mans or in the WEC hypothetically consisting of Negri, Sam Bird and Nicolas Lapierre. They’d blow the entire field away, in a class that by the rules, is supposed to feature at least one Am.

    What kind of motivation would that give the likes of Ed Brown, Julien Canal or David Heinemeier Hansson — true gentlemen drivers who make their livings away from the sport — motivation to continue spending upwards of $4 million a year, only to get beaten by effectively an all-pro lineup?”

    How is getting rid of the driver rating system going to change anything, if it was gone this combo would still be legal.

    IMSA has experimented with a prototype class with no ratings requirement and look at it. For this coming season we will have 4 “Corvette” DPs which are clearly factory backed, 1 Pro-AM ligier funded by an AM and 2 as of yet unproven Mazdas which are full factory efforts for full confirmed full season competition with maybe the deltawing(Possibly) and a starworks DP(Doubt it). So without factory backing half to 2/3s of the grid likely wouldn’t be present. Meanwhile looking at the car counts of the P2 cars in the WEC and ELMS you see good healthy grid numbers.

    • fstrnu

      December 8, 2015 at 2:29 am

      Why would a competitor like Ed Brown, who obviously competes on a level playing field in business, feel any better doing well in racing just because his competitors are handicapped effectively to his level of experience?

      Would pro football be enticing to fans or Ed Brown if he could buy his way onto the the Dallas Cowboys but did so only because it came with the assurance that the other NFL teams would also have a certain number of mandated slower, smaller, less talented players?

      And of fields would be too small without being propped up by wealthy amateurs who will only bring their toys to the field if they have an artificially induced chance of victory, then shouldn’t we be reconsidering the validity of the model?

      In a healthy business model no ratings are necessary and the talent level needed to compete is a direct result of the importance and value of succeeding for the individual, team, sponsor, etc.

  8. karlt

    December 7, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    Well-said, John. As an IMSA and PWC team owner, I would like to see the tail end of driver rankings in North America. They simply don’t work here and actually impede some drivers’ ability to be hired, while allowing other drivers of similar talent to be shoe-ins. It’s awful.

  9. Tarek R.

    December 7, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Said it earlier, both IMSA in North America and SRO back in Europe should have their own driver rating formulas.

  10. fstrnu

    December 8, 2015 at 2:20 am

    Let’s take the risk and see what racing can do as a “real” sport. The driver ratings aren’t about protecting amateurs, they’re about protecting amateurs with the funding to support the grid. No other sport attempts to artificially support lack of talent or experience by mandate. No other sport’s audience would put up with it. The top classes of a supposedly “professional” sport should never, ever have any restrictions against how skilled the players are. The rating systems artificially support the levels of involvement and in doing so, prevent racing from evolving or attempting to evolve in a way that is sustainable as a professional sport business model.

    • Anthony Thomas (@djfourmoney)

      December 8, 2015 at 6:19 am

      Exactly… A red-head stepchild was created to ensure those at the top kept their jobs.

      If it was about making the sport work, we would be looking at 30-40 GTD cars at next year’s 24hrs of Daytona. Ford wouldn’t have to spend the cubic dollars it’s about to throw away if it just built cars for the series and sold them to teams, some with direct support and others without.

      If Ford wins Le Mans again on the first try, it will get more pub than even the LMP-1 winner at Le Mans. That’s the impact of a company such as Ford has on this sport and the buzz it’s generated.

      And it’s in a PROFESSIONAL CLASS. Nobody is interested in seeing Am’s driv at a snails pace.

    • Mike D.

      December 9, 2015 at 12:49 am

      > Let’s take the risk and see what racing can do as a “real” sport. … The top classes of a supposedly “professional” sport should never, ever have any restrictions against how skilled the players are.

      As plenty of others have stated across several websites, this argument starts with the false assertion that sports car racing has EVER been anything other than a mix of professional and gentleman drivers.

      Second component is the false assumption that “reduced grid counts don’t hurt fan support.” While no one is certainly complaining with the quality of racing in IMSA GTLM, Grand-Am most definitely suffered under low car counts. 45 and 48 entry Rolex 24s? 25 entry, 2 class races? ALMS with it’s 3 P1s and 2 Spec classes? That was the low point, not 2016.

  11. FLB

    December 8, 2015 at 8:02 am

    The age thing needs to go. Case in point: Stefan Johansson. I don’t care if he was 57, but he was rated a Silver last year.

    An F1 podium finisher, Le Mans winner, CART podium finisher, WSC (WEC) multiple winner.

    Silver(!)

  12. RG

    December 8, 2015 at 11:10 am

    At least drop it in GTD. If that keeps the amateurs out of the class, or makes them uncompetitive, which I doubt, they can take their money to PC.

  13. juneracer

    December 8, 2015 at 11:14 am

    you need some system. Am’s have, and will be, the driving force in sportscars forever. No team makes money in sportscars without a paying driver(s). without a system the Am guys can’t ‘reasonably’ compete competitively. if they can’t compete most wont race. if they don’t race money doesn’t flow in. no money, no racing…seems very simple. as some one wrote there’s no ROI for sportscar sponsorship for a corp.

    • Issac

      December 8, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      Unfortunately to some people that clearly doesn’t matter. They have managed to delude themselves into thinking that money will just miracously appear from somewhere and every “deserving”(open to debate as to what that means) driver will get a ride. Reality is reality regardless of how much people want to pretend otherwise.

  14. Nick1

    December 8, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    In a way, driver ratings should exist, but the system needs to be heavily modified. For example, why is there a Platinum ranking? MY thinking is that it should be Pro, Pro-Am, and Am, subdivided into Gold, Silver, and Bronze.

  15. Josh

    December 12, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    John,

    I believe you’re completely off the mark on this one. Some system is needed to entice gentlemen drivers to fund cars and give pro drivers a car to drive or we’d see significantly more unemployed drivers than we currently see. Go through the Weather Tech, ELMS, or WEC grid and look at how many cars are there because of a gentleman driver who funds it. And count all the pro drivers being employed in those cars.

    To those who don’t seem to care about the gentleman drivers, just realize car counts would be significantly decreased without them. There just isn’t that much money out there from manufacturers or sponsors to field these cars. Car counts make sports car racing interesting as traffic comes into play. There are plenty of pro racing series out there if you don’t want to watch sports car racing, all of which have their own flaws.

    The answer to a flawed system isn’t to discard it. The system needs to be improved. I agree that some of the classifications and re-classifications are ridiculous. There needs to be a committee, perhaps made up of team owners, perhaps of drivers, to apply some common sense to some of the strange exceptions the ratings system sometimes kicks out. If 9/10 team owners feel Scott Pruet shouldn’t be a silver, then he shouldn’t be a silver.

    • Travis

      December 13, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      That’s too much common sense, as evident by most of the comments and the article itself raw emotion is better regardless of reality.

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