IMSA President Scott Atherton believes its new partnership with Michelin creates a further global “synergy” in offering the same platform of tires between the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship, as well as other series and sanctioning bodies worldwide.
Michelin was announced last month as the new “Official Tire” of IMSA, beginning in 2019, which will see the French tire giant take over as the exclusive provider in the Prototype and GT Daytona classes, as well as IMSA’s two Challenge series.
“We believe there’s an opportunity here to expand the activation, the interaction with our OEM partners, the synergy between what’s going on within IMSA and similar championships around the world, particularly the World Endurance Championship and Le Mans, in providing manufacturers the opportunity to race the same platform on the same tires,” Atherton told Sportscar365.
“There’s a marketing element to this as well. The commitments that have been made will benefit IMSA, the participants, and most importantly the fans.”
Atherton said the tire deal will particularly play into the hands of manufacturers that are already involved with Michelin in various global prototype GT and touring car platforms.
Michelin is currently the exclusive tire partner for the Asian Le Mans Series, Michelin Le Mans Cup and International GT Open, while also being the single-tire provider of the LMP3 class in the European Le Mans Series.
Part of IMSA’s multi-year deal includes tire supply to the LMP3-based Prototype Challenge series as well as the newly named Michelin SportsCar Challenge, which adopts TCR machinery next year.
The TCR International Series also runs on Michelin tires, creating further global synergy.
“When we were doing our due diligence, it became very clear where the preference was among our OEM partners,” Atherton said.
“That’s not to say this was a decision solely driven by that.
“Of course it had to make good sense for IMSA, without regard for any other interests. But when you’re making fully educated decisions…
“To have a decision that’s been indicated from both parties that that would be their preference, it certainly contributed to the decision in a significant way.”
Atherton said the GT Le Mans class in the WeatherTech Championship will remain an open-tire category for the foreseeable future, despite all cars in the class currently being Michelin technical partner teams.
It’s understood at least one new tire manufacturer is looking to enter the GTLM ranks by as early as 2019.
“It was always part of the discussion with Michelin,” Atherton said of keeping GTLM and open-tire class. “Historically [Michelin has] relished the opportunity to have open tire competition in the tire category.
“More recently, they’ve become more open-minded in participating in other platforms where spec tires were acceptable.
“The opportunity to showcase their technology and actively compete with others is still high on the list.”
Atherton admitted its deal with Michelin doesn’t exclude IMSA from opening up other classes to tire competition in the future, although it’s not in the plan for the short-term.
“It’s not something we are prepared to embrace now,” he said. “But I would say the potential for it to evolve is there [in the current contract].
“There’s nothing that would prevent it but right now that’s not the vision.”
Should it happen, Atherton said he would see the Prototype class, which could see a convergence with new-generation ACO LMP1 regulations in 2020, being the most likely possibility.
Atherton said he “wouldn’t see it applying” to GTD, with the majority of GT3-based classes currently running on spec tires globally.
“I think that would be a mutual decision [with Michelin],” he said. “Would there be a benefit to doing that?”