IMSA has proposed to replace its Prototype Challenge series with a combination grid of LMP3 and GT4 machinery, with a potential shake-up in the race format as well.
Sportscar365 has learned that the sanctioning body is set to do away with its LMP3-only series in favor of introducing a multi-class championship featuring a new name beginning next year.
IMSA President John Doonan acknowledged that discussions are currently underway with teams and stakeholders, with a view to make a formal announcement at the annual ‘State of the Sport’ address at Road America in August on its future direction.
Among the elements under consideration is creating a sprint series with two 45-minute races during each event, compared to the current IPC format of single 90-minute races plus a three-hour endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.
According to Bill Riley, who fields both LMP3 and GT4 machinery in IMSA-sanctioned series, the potential move to a sprint format for IPC’s successor would provide a number of benefits.
“I think it would be a great for a lot of reasons,” he told Sportscar365.
“It would be a great place for a sprint GT4 program because running [Michelin Pilot Challenge] GS is pretty expensive with all of the pit stops and crew you need.
“I think it fits that bill pretty well. Plus it gives a good highlight for the LMP3 cars also. It could be more affordable to run the cars.
“If they do the race format where you don’t do a pit stop that would save quite a bit of money for the teams.”
Riley said one of his Toyota GR Supra GT4 customers would look to do both Michelin Pilot Challenge — which is set to remain with the same GS (GT4) and TCR class format next year — and the newly proposed LMP3/GT4 series.
“We have a backup car so we’d use a backup car in the sprint [series] and use a primary in GS,” said Riley. “In our case it might work out pretty well for us.”
Jr III Racing team principal Billy Glavin is also in support of the proposed LMP3/GT4 combination, which hasn’t been seen in mainstream sports car racing competition outside of several one-off endurance races.
Glavin, however, has reservations on a possible sprint format, particularly for LMP3 cars.
“There is plenty of lap time separation between the two classes that sharing a track will not be an issue,” he told Sportscar365.
“In terms of the sprint format, the LMP3 was built as an endurance car.
“The current IPC format at 90 minutes is not long enough to be an endurance race since it’s just one pit stop for a driver change, fuel and tires.
“There is not much strategy in the 90-minute races but you still need all the pit crew and equipment to complete a stop which increases the budget.
“It will also put the LMP3s in direct competition with the other sprint-only race series such as MX-5, Carrera Cup, Super Trofeo and Ferrari Challenge but without the manufacturer support and pedigree.”
Fellow IPC and WeatherTech Championship LMP3 entrant Sean Creech agrees with Glavin
“A sprint format with no pit stops takes away that competitive aspect, with the crews doing their job as the drivers do theirs,” Creech told Sportscar365.
“And a sprint format means just one driver, so the series would lose another driver – and when you have two drivers in this kind of series, it means they can split costs which makes it more affordable.
“Then you have the time difference. The GT4 cars are pretty quick in a straight line but the LMP3 cars are quick in both the corners and in a straight line.
“The question would be the numbers of each class as well.”
Performance Tech Motorsports team owner Brent O’Neill has acknowledged the cost efficiencies of moving to a sprint format for LMP3, which would differentiate it from LMP3 and GT4’s current eligibility in the WeatherTech Championship and Pilot Challenge, respectively.
However, like Glavin and Creech, he agrees that reducing the race length could pose an issue, especially for Bronze-rated drivers.
“Of course the budget would go down with less hours on the car, but a lot of the Bronze drivers are looking at how much it costs and how much time they are getting in the car,” O’Neill told Sportscar365.
“If you look at Mid-Ohio, most Bronze drivers in IPC who are funding the weekend get about 30 minutes of practice time, a 15-minute qualifying session and then the minimum driver tine in the race (about 45 minutes).
“The Silver drivers are getting the bulk of the drive time during the weekend and they usually pay nothing so the price per lap for the Bronze drivers in IPC is pretty high right now.
“That’s why a lot of drivers are moving to WeatherTech.”
Doonan, meanwhile, wouldn’t confirm LMP3’s eligibility beyond this year in the WeatherTech Championship, stating that all class and race structure announcements will be made at Road America.
Like the proposed LMP3/GT4 series, Sportscar365 understands that LMP3’s continued eligibility in the top series has been a point of discussion.