A number of current and prospective Prototype Challenge teams have voiced questions and concerns over Friday’s announcement from IMSA, which has tentatively capped the growing, cost-effective class to 10 entries, while also undergoing a shakeup in its schedule in next year’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
With uncertainty over the final regulations and subsequent costs for the new Prototype class, it’s understood no fewer than four existing Daytona Prototype teams were considering or had already pulled the trigger on PC programs for 2014. But with the spec prototype class now being limited to entries, without any guarantee of having a confirmed place on the grid, teams are left wondering what to do for next year.
“It’s the last thing we needed to hear,” Starworks Motorsport team owner Peter Baron said. “There’s one class where people know there’s going to be solid Balance of Performance, they like the cars and it’s [affordable] costs, and now they’re limiting it to 10 cars. Hopefully there’s wiggle room in there, but it’s definitely makes it a little more difficult to pick up the phone and call people.”
Starworks driver Alex Popow, along with fellow Florida-based team 8Star Motorsports, both recently purchased Oreca FLM09 cars in anticipation for full-season PC programs in 2014. Both teams also had options of ordering second cars, which, if given the green light, would have likely resulted in a reduced Daytona Prototype entry.
Prior to Friday’s entry cap announcement, the PC class was projected to have anywhere from 12 to 18 full-season entries.
“There was going to be a higher car count in PC than any other category,” said Brian Colangelo, director of operations for 8Star Motorsports. “I think that’s what the series was afraid of, so they made sure it didn’t happen. The most interest we’ve had and the most interest we’ve heard of from other teams was all leaning towards PC because of its stable rules, known costs, it being a Pro-Am category, and it just makes sense for customers.”
Both Baron and the Enzo Potolicchio-owned 8Star organization, along with a number of other PC teams, have put their plans on hold until they receive more information and assurances from IMSA.
According to Scot Elkins, IMSA’s VP of competition and technical regulations, the entry selection process has not yet been finalized. The series, however, will begin accepting requests on Nov. 1.
“It kills the factor of running a two-car team until we know how they’re going to limit the registration,” said PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team owner Bobby Oergel. “There’s no guarantee right now. They haven’t said that all full-season entries from the last three years would be guaranteed.
“Is it first-come-first-serve? Is it whoever sends the money or the most money? If you’re 8Star or Starworks, what does this mean? If you’re PR1 that’s been in this since day one, what does this mean?”
Oergel placed an order for a brand-new Oreca FLM09 last month, in anticipation for a possible two-car effort next year. It was the third PC car the California-based team had purchased in the last four years.
The Elton Julian-owned DragonSpeed team, which fielded a car for Mirco Schultis this year, was also about to pull the trigger on a new chassis for next year. In the wake of Friday’s news, Julian said he is reconsidering their options.
Level 5 Motorsports, meanwhile, had ordered three new PC cars, in the event the team considered a return to the PC ranks for 2014.
The other shakeup for PC teams comes in a revised schedule, which has seen the elimination of the Detroit and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park rounds in favor for a standalone PC race at Kansas Speedway.
The Kansas round, along with the previously announced race at Virginia International Raceway, will be run alongside IMSA Prototype Lites cars in an expected dual sprint race format.
“The idea of the race at VIR, I get that. Losing Detroit is pretty catastrophic. But Mosport is many ways even a bigger deal. When you replace it with Kansas City, it then becomes on the verge of being insulting,” said RSR Racing team owner Paul Gentilozzi.
Like Oergel, Gentilozzi placed an order for a second, brand-new car. Gentilozzi said he had signed drivers already for the second car but is now absorbing the implications of the schedule change.
“I don’t know how this is going to impact what we do,” he said. “Whether it will kill what we do, reduce what we do, but I can say that if we race full season in PC and we’re not in the [championship] hunt coming into Kansas, why would we go to Kansas? It’s $100-125,000 per car, per event. Why would you go to a race that is essentially a club weekend?”
BAR1 Motorsports team owner Brian Alder, however, is in favor of the standalone Kansas and VIR rounds. Having been the only two-car effort in PC this year, Alder said the team plans to expand to Prototype Lites full-time in 2014.
“I think that aspect is pretty cool, actually,” Alder said. “We’re going to be running at least two IMSA Lites cars next year, so it kind of works into our favor. I think it’s also a positive for the IMSA Lites series as well. It would give recognition as well. I can see them wanting to make the DPs and P2s as the premier class and keeping that as the big show.”
But not all teams are in agreement with BAR1’s Alder. Two-time and defending class champions, CORE autosport, are still fully committed to next year with a single-car entry for team owner Jon Bennett, although they are taking a wait-and-see approach beyond 2014.
“Our interest in Prototype Challenge revolves around the class continuing to be a part of the premier series,” said team manager Morgan Brady. “Certainly by these initial changes, we’re concerned about how the class will be positioned within the series going forward.”