IMSA President Scott Atherton says the sanctioning body’s announced return to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for next May has been met with widespread acclaim from fans, drivers, teams, and stakeholders alike.
Both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge are set to compete at the 2.258-mile circuit May 4-6, 2018 in a long-awaited return to the classic venue.
It marks the first time since the 2013 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series event at Mid-Ohio that top-level prototype racing will be on display at Mid-Ohio. The American Le Mans Series last raced at the facility in 2012.
The announcement, made at a press conference last Friday during the IndyCar/Pirelli World Challenge weekend at the track, was attended by several team owners, and Atherton said all involved were excited to be returning to a bastion of North American sports car racing.
“There’s a rich history of sports car racing here,” Atherton told Sportscar365. “The facility is named ‘Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course!’
“The glory days, the former glory days because I think we’re in them again now, but in the former IMSA glory days, there’s a lot of history here.
“[There’s a] tremendous fan base that is well documented to support and engage in sports car events here, and as I said we poll all of our stakeholders annually.
“We include not only the venues that we’re currently at but others that could potentially be pursued, and consistently Mid-Ohio is ranked very favorably.”
The event comes at the expense of the event at Circuit of The Americas, which has been an annual stop for the unified series since the GRAND-AM/ALMS merger in 2014.
Atherton said the relationship with COTA management remains positive and said a future return is possible, but added that the current 12-race schedule was likely the cap for the WeatherTech Championship for the foreseeable future.
“There’s a combination of things that ultimately resulted in [leaving COTA],” he said.
“Out of respect for both sides of the equation, I’d prefer to not go into more detail other than it remains a very positive, very healthy relationship that we have both with [COTA Chairman] Bobby Epstein and [COTA COO] Katja Heim, and the door is open for a return, but it would have to make sense for all involved.
“When you factor in a 24-hour race, a 12-hour race, a 10-hour race, and a six-hour race, it’s a tremendous amount of racing that’s embodied in our 12 weekends, and we’re conscious of that and the impact that that has on budgets and the overall package of competing in our championships.
“I won’t say that there’s never room for growth because ideally there is that opportunity, but nothing in the foreseeable future right now.”
Atherton said it became apparent in June that a replacement for COTA would be needed, and discussions with Mid-Ohio started shortly thereafter. It didn’t take long for both sides to hammer out a deal.
“I want to say right after Le Mans, so the middle of June or the end of June,” he said. “Somewhere in that time frame.
“The point at which we had the initial conversation to have a full sanction agreement negotiated and executed was a remarkably short three weeks. For some people that may seem like a long time, but in the world of sanctioning agreements it was quite fast.
“It was a mutual decision that was reached between ourselves and COTA, and with that it gave us, for the first time since the merger in ’14, the opportunity to consider another venue.
“At that moment, Mid-Ohio was at the top of our list.”
He also said that Mid-Ohio was the only potential replacement venue that the series had discussions with.
With a return to a fan-favorite circuit for 2018 in the cards adding recent announcements of increased manufacturer involvement and team expansion in the WeatherTech Championship, Atherton said the sanctioning body as a whole is riding a wave of positivity.
“I think this is yet again another example of the very positive momentum that IMSA in general and the WeatherTech Championship in particular has in terms of the news of the last couple of weeks.
“Manufacturers, teams, now a very high-profile venue, it just really bodes well for 2018 and beyond.”