IMSA President Scott Atherton says to expect “material change” to the GT Daytona class next year, in a concerted effort to reduce costs for competitors.
The GT3-based category, which has seen an influx of manufacturer support in recent years, has been hit with skyrocketing budgets, largely triggered by the increased professionalism in the Pro-Am-enforced platform.
It’s resulted in a reduced field of full-time GTD entries in this year’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, with only ten cars currently committed for the remainder of the year, compared to the 15 season-long teams from 2017.
Additionally, the class has seen a dwindling number of funded gentlemen drivers, who have been forced out either due to the rising costs or the influx of manufacturer-supported drivers.
Among the cost-cutting ideas floated by competitors during last weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is the separation of the Rolex 24 at Daytona from the full WeatherTech Championship GTD season, which Atherton acknowledged as just one of many possibilities.
“We’re considering a lot of options right now and that’s one of them,” Atherton told Sportscar365. “It really depends on who you talk to.
“It’s amazing the diversity of opinion in that, especially that one.
“There are champions of that proposal. There are also, I would say, an equal number who are adamantly opposed.”
In addition to a potential reduced GTD schedule, which has been cut from 12 to 11 rounds this year, Atherton said a number of other ideas have been put forth by stakeholders.
It includes proposed changes in the category’s driver rating requirements, such as the potential ban of Platinum-rated drivers, enforcement of a Bronze-rated driver for each lineup or revision of the entire system, has also been discussed.
“We’ve been approached by some to say, ‘In this particular example you should not follow the FIA driver ranking protocol. Instead you should establish your own [system] and simply identify funded, gentleman driver versus paid driver of any description,'” Atherton said.
“We’re getting a lot of very creative feedback from all of our constituents in that category. It’s not an easy challenge to find effective solutions for.”
Atherton stressed that no changes will be made to the category this year, with the focus on implementing potential changes for 2019.
“For a sanctioning body, our job is to vet as many options as possible and garner as much feedback from all of our stakeholders across all disciplines: team owners, drivers, funded drivers, manufacturers, promoters, and then make some really tough decisions,” he said.
“We’re in that process right now.
“The one thing everybody agrees on is we need to make our GTD class more sustainable, more affordable, in a material way. Not just window dressing, but substance.”
Atherton Downplays Possible LMP3, GT3 Integration
Despite rumors of GT3 machinery being considered for what’s now known as the IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series, Atherton downplayed its potential future integration alongside LMP3 cars.
IPC currently features a two-class format of LMP3 and the Elan-built MPC cars, which are due to be phased out at the end of the season.
It’s understood that IMSA had been approached by teams wishing to run GT3 cars in a more cost-effective format, similar to the ACO’s Michelin Le Mans Cup in Europe, which also features LMP3 and GT3 machinery.
Any potential integration, however, would be in addition to the existing GTD class in the WeatherTech Championship.
“If you look at the growth that’s occurring in LMP3, in IMSA Prototype Challenge, the car counts, it wouldn’t be our first choice,” Atherton said.
“I think that becomes an alternative if we weren’t able to grow that class of car, that platform.”
Atherton expects the LMP3 formula to continue to grow, following a record 17-car entry in last weekend’s round at Sebring.
“All indications are, talking to the team owners that are acquiring these cars and putting drivers on the track, there seems to be a pretty steady growth model in play there,” he said.
“Time will tell. It’s an option. [But LMP3-only in 2019 is] what was originally announced and the direction we are going in.”