IMSA President Scott Atherton says interest levels for the Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore is “slowly building” as preparations continue for the first-ever end-of-year IMSA-sanctioned endurance race at Sebring International Raceway.
The four-hour race, scheduled for Nov. 11, will feature global-spec LMP3, GT3, GT4 and TCR machinery and will be the first opportunity for IMSA teams to race on Michelin’s range of 2019 tire options that will be part of its three premier series next year.
Further details on the event, including the weekend format and confirmation of the sporting regulations, were released last week.
“I would say the initial reaction has been positive.. It’s slowly building,” Atherton told Sportscar365. “That’s by expectation.
“No one is expecting this to be a ‘stop the press’ development. But it is starting to make its way into the core of those who are competing with us already as an incremental opportunity, and also being recognized by those who are not currently competing with us as an opportunity to come sample [IMSA].”
Atherton said one of the goals for the event is to attract teams and manufacturers that a not currently participating in IMSA.
Unlike cars competing in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, which often require manufacturer marketing commitments, Atherton said the Michelin Encore will be open to all homologated cars, provided it is a mainstream manufacturer with sales in North America.
Its protocol would therefore prohibit GT4-spec cars such as the Panoz Avezzano GT4, Ginetta G55 GT4 and KTM X-Bow GT4, but would allow high-volume automakers such as Honda and Hyundai to test the IMSA waters with its TCR machinery.
While the race will have a maximum of 60 entries, Atherton indicated anything north of 40 cars would likely be considered a considerable success.
“It’s like anything you start for the first time: you have to go into it with relatively modest expectations, do the best job we know how, and I think IMSA as a sanctioning body has developed to a very high level of professionalism,” he said.
“While we don’t always agree with all of our competitors on various facets of the operation of these events, I think there’s a high level of respect for how these events are conducted and the integrity and just the overall professionalism.
“The goal here would be to expose new competitors to that and ideally plant some seeds that would enable them to be part of our weekends more often, especially for those that haven’t been involved at all before.”
Atherton said he expects the Michelin Encore to become an annual event, with the sanctioning body’s full effort being put into this year’s inaugural race.
“There’s a lot to putting together, both logistically and all the competition rules and regs, the marketing that comes behind it,” he said. “We have a very significant event title sponsor in Michelin. There’s high expectations there.
“We’re treating this as another major IMSA weekend even though it will have, by design, a more laid back, easy going approach.”
Encore a “Real Advantage” for Teams in First Michelin Experience
Atherton believes a major driving force for teams committing to the event will be the opportunity to race on Michelin’s range of IMSA tires prior to the 2019 seasons.
Michelin will become the official tire of IMSA next year, in the exclusive supply for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the WeatherTech Championship and sole tire provider for both Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda and the newly named Michelin Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I think competitively for the teams that are currently running with us, the opportunity to be the first to sample, in competition, Michelin product is a real advantage,” Atherton said.
“Going into next year, if you’ve already been through a four hour endurance race on these tires, you know better than anyone what that represents to a team.
“You can learn a lot from testing, but if you’ve done an entire race weekend with a four hour endurance race, there’s a lot of data that’s going to come from that.”
Atherton, whose relationship with the French tire giant dates back to its heavy involvement in the American Le Mans Series, has so far been impressed with Michelin’s commitment, not only heading into the Michelin Encore, but for next year.
“It’s precedent setting, in my experience, in terms of the degree of strategy and planning and comprehensive, granular thinking of every aspect,” he said… It’s safe to say nothing will be left to chance.
“I’ve always admired their professionalism and their ability to strategically think not what’s going to happen at the next race or the next season, but what’s going to happen over the next several years. That’s the level of planing and forethought that’s coming into this.
“It’s a combination of the here and now, what do we need to do between now and the first part of November to get prepared for Encore, and then what do we need to do now and when we get together at the Roar.”