One of the developments coming from last week’s release of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship calendar has been IMSA’s decision to have a handful of split or separate events not featuring all four categories.
With limited paddock space and cramped quarters, it came as no surprise that Long Beach will feature a two-class race, for Prototype and GT Le Mans competitors, while a clash with the Le Mans Test Day sees the Detroit round run without the GT Le Mans category.
But the surprise came with the third and final mixed-class event at Virginia International Raceway next August, which will host a GT Le Mans/GT Daytona round as well as a standalone Prototype Challenge race on the same weekend.
According to IMSA President and COO Scott Atherton, who spoke with Sportscar365 during last weekend’s ALMS/WEC double header at Circuit of The Americas, there was a clear method in splitting up the race weekends as they did.
“In all instances, the schedule encompasses 12 events with 11 races for each category,” he said. “Because we had already positioned VIR as a GT-only showcase for the Tudor United SportsCar Championship, the opportunity to add a prototype component to that weekend was attractive and it also gave us the balance we needed between all the other categories of having 11 total events.
“I think the headline coming out of VIR should be the opportunity for a GT manufacturer to confirm an overall win.”
As a consequence, the weekend will also feature a PC-only race, a concept that was not planned on purpose, Atherton said.
While car counts in the spec prototype class are expected to rise for next year, likely to meet or even exceed a dozen entries, the ALMS boss said there are no current plans to promote that race in any different way.
“I think the attractiveness of its own standalone race will accomplish that on our own,” Atherton said. “We’re not planning to do any special outreach to bring other [cars and teams in]. This car is identical to that which is run in Europe. In terms of total numbers, there’s a lot of them. It could turn out that way, especially in proximity to Petit Le Mans.”
Atherton said they have yet to decide on the length for the PC-only race but admitted it would likely be shorter than the typical two-hour and 45-minute format currently used in ALMS and GRAND-AM. That format is set to be carried over to most USCC events next year.
While early indications had Long Beach penciled in to be a GT-only race, the Prototype category will join the ACO-spec GTE cars that weekend. According to Atherton, all factors were considered, including one of IMSA’s series partners, which has been the title sponsor for the Southern California street race.
“If you look at who has had a commitment to the events at Long Beach and the opportunity for our Prototype category to be there, by that I’m referring to Tequila Patron, that was important,” Atherton said. “But also the ability for us to showcase our two premier categories in such an important automotive market.”
Atherton said racing in Detroit was also a priority. However, it comes at the sacrifice of the GT Le Mans class, due to Corvette Racing and SRT, and possibly others, being at the Le Mans Test Day that weekend.
“To be able to have as much of our content there as possible, while also giving those teams we know for certain are going to be committed to Le Mans, to give them the opportunity to do what they need to do for the Le Mans Test… That’s a compromise, but I think it’s a good compromise,” Atherton said.
But with the top Prototype class in action at Detroit, it leaves Le Mans-bound P2 squads in a serious bind, particularly any new teams needing to fulfill their qualification requirements for race week.
Extreme Speed Motorsports, already confirmed for a two-car P2 attack in USCC, has expressed interest in a Le Mans program for next year, but it may no longer be possible without making a sacrifice to its U.S. efforts.
“I agree that it will be a challenge,” Atherton said. “As we’ve said all along, we’re going to make decisions based on what’s best for this North American championship. It doesn’t mean we ignore the rest of the world by any means.
“We’ve tried to strike the best balance between making sure the priority for us is on the Tudor United SportsCar Championship but also tipping the hat in the schedule, and to our partners at Le Mans.”
Atherton said there are no current plans allow drivers and teams to drop their worst result in the championship, which would let P2 teams, for instance, skip the Detroit round.