IMSA President Scott Atherton has revealed that the manufacturer-backed programs from Acura and Lexus will be allowed in the GT Daytona class for one “introductory season” only, before evolving to customer-based efforts in the Pro-Am class beginning next year.
Both automakers made their IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debuts in last weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, with the Michael Shank Racing and 3GT Racing teams, respectively.
Atherton, who agreed that both factory-assisted programs are “at a different level” compared to the GTD competition, stressed the importance of keeping the class as in a Pro-Am, customer format.
“We’ve allowed [Acura and Lexus] at the level you see today for one season,” Atherton told Sportscar365.
“The purpose there is because you have two cars that have virtually no heritage; they have no history or baseline of which to compare.
“It’s very difficult for anybody to enter into such a competitive environment with the expectation of selling customer cars without any level of knowledge of competitiveness, reliability, etc.
“With a very clear understanding from the start, by all involved, this level of support from a manufacturer would be allowed for this introductory season [only], with the full expectation of evolving into a more traditional-as-we-know-it customer-based program that only involves typically-recognized levels of support.”
While officials from Honda Performance Development previously confirmed only a planned single-year development program with MSR, the length of Lexus’ factory-supported GTD involvement had been unclear.
With HPD poised to shift its factory attention to operating a likely DPi effort for next year, Lexus Group Vice President Jeff Bracken confirmed to Sportscar365 that a GT Le Mans class program is under evaluation.
Atherton, however, wouldn’t directly confirm Lexus’ potential move to GTLM in 2018.
“Any time you can have someone, especially the caliber of a Lexus that wants to compete in a true factory level against the existing GTLM competitors, that can only be described as as good thing,” he said.
“We’re thrilled that they’ve elected to bring their program to IMSA at this level. If their desire is to go to the GTLM class, more power to them. They’d certainly be welcome there.”
Despite increased factory involvement from Lexus and Acura in GTD this year, Atherton was quickly to note both teams adhere to the FIA’s Pro-Am driver classifications.
“All of our GTD teams, including the ones in question here, are consistent with the driver rating format. There’s no one that’s allowed to step outside,” he said.
“I think there’s been a material improvement in the driver rating consistency year over year. We are actively involved. IMSA has a seat at the table with the FIA at the process.
“It’s a great topic for debate but we feel great about driver ratings.
“There might now be 3,000 drivers rated and there’s less than ten that would be considered questionable, that’s a pretty good ratio.”
Atherton reiterated the future of the GTD class being for Pro-Am customer-based teams.
“We understand the obvious concern that our existing GTD competitors have over this and we share that,” he said.
We do not want to redefine what GTD is because it’s intended, always has been, always will be, for customer racing.”