IMSA is poised add a third class to the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge by as early as 2018, with the expected introduction of TCR, in what the sanctioning body is positioning as a potential replacement to the ST category.
The touring car platform, created by former World Touring Car Championship promoter Marcello Lotti, is currently utilized in various championships worldwide since its launch last year, including the flagship TCR International Series.
According to IMSA President Scott Atherton, the emerging platform, which currently features manufacturer involvement from more than a half-dozen automakers, could become a crucial piece in the restructuring of the series.
“It appears to be ideally positioned as the natural progression for that level of race car,” Atherton told Sportscar365.
“We’re early days in the dialogue, but where it’s been racing for some time, and is more established. It’s a formula everyone seems to appreciate: the manufacturers, the participants.
“They’re good-looking [cars]. They sound great and they’re fast. Everything about it seems to be positive.”
The concept, utilizing purpose-built four or five-door touring cars would mark a significant departure from the current ST platform, which features largely production sports cars, largely built and prepared by individual teams.
Of of the six manufacturers represented in ST, only Honda currently offers a TCR car, although Audi is understood to be evaluating the launch of an A3-based model for 2018.
Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental Tire, which serves as the title sponsor of the series, admits he’s not yet fully sold on the TCR platform for the North American market.
“My understanding is that they’re [mainly] five-door hatchbacks. That’s a challenge as those cars have never been popular in the United States,” Roffler told Sportscar365.
“As a global [platform] I understand it from a car company and we know from our European heritage that those cars are very popular in Europe. But some of those cars are not even sold here.
“I think that’s going to be the question, whether the OE manufacturers are jazzed about bringing cars here, and most importantly, it’s all about the fans.
“If the fans don’t want to see it, they have the ultimate veto power.”
For Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan, the elimination of the ST class, which has strived on self-built production cars, would come at a detriment, irrelevant of the introduction of the mass-produced TCR platform.
“It’s a catch-22,” Doonan told Sportscar365. “I’d love to see race teams be able to build their own cars because that’s the spirit of IMSA history, whether it was the Motorola Cup or Firehawk Endurance, where teams could truly, in a very cost-effective manor, build their own race cars.
“At the same time, I understand some of the challenges of managing all these different makes, power and weight ratios.
“I just think from a manufacturer’s standpoint, to develop a car clean-sheet is not going to be cheap venture. We’re going to have to look at how we fit that in.”
Doonan said he’s begun initial investigations into TCR, and that the Japanese manufacturer’s recent experience of mass producing its new Global MX-5 Cup car could give them the confidence needed to develop a car.
“The real positive today is that despite being super nervous about trying it, we did find a way to do it with [Global] MX-5 Cup and knock wood, it’s been 102 cars successful,” he said. “That’s not too bad.
“But all of a sudden, the dollar figures go up and I suspect the volume of car sales may not be as much as MX-5 Cup because of the price point.”
While the ST class is only confirmed through the end of the 2018 season, Atherton said he wouldn’t yet rule out it continuing beyond that time period.
He said a lot will depend on the level of interest and manufacturer participation in TCR.
“We need to be careful not to take a pre-emptive approach but keep an eye on how things are progressing in ST and know when is the right time to either continue with it or move in a new direction,” Atherton said.
“Unfortunately, I feel we’re behind the curve [in GS] and we will do everything we can to not be behind the curve on ST.”