While still reeling from the withdrawal of the factory Dodge Vipers and the recently announced conclusion of the Team Falken Tire program, the future of the GT Le Mans class in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship may not appear to be too bright.
However, judging by what’s in the pipeline, it’s shaping up to be quite the opposite, with at least two new GT3-based cars, as well as an additional new manufacturer poised to join the factory ranks next year.
Coupled with new regulations, which will see the majority of manufacturers building new machinery, and 2016 could be a significant turning point for the class and the championship.
What’s been a four-manufacturer this year race could theoretically expand into six, with both Ford and Bentley possibly joining Chevrolet, Porsche, BMW and Ferrari in the class in 2016.
The long-rumored and well-documented Ford GT program, to be run by DP stalwarts Chip Ganassi Racing, is set to be announced next month at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and will see a pair of Ford EcoBoost-powered GTLM entries in the class.
It’s understood one of the Multimatic-built cars could debut by as early as this year’s season-ending Petit Le Mans, possibly as an unclassified entry due to the car being built to the more powerful new-for-2016 GTE regulations.
Ford wouldn’t be the only manufacturer building a car to the new GTE rules, with Ferrari set to roll out with its new 488 GTE and GM debuting a second-generation version of its Corvette C7.R.
While Porsche is undecided on what it will do for 2016, with options to build an all-new 911 RSR or just update its existing car, BMW is pursuing IMSA homologation of the new M6 GT3 car, which would replace its current, race-winning Z4 GTE model.
BMW is one of two manufacturers trying to get its GT3 car, built to a tighter specifications under the FIA’s new performance windows, into GTLM, as Bentley is also pushing to make its Continental GT3 legal in GTLM.
It’s understood BMW and Bentley are able to easily adapt their GT3 contenders to GTLM rules thanks to both cars featuring turbocharged engines, which can accept sonic air restrictors without major modifications.
Bentley has yet to comment on the matter, and it’s unclear if such a program has been given the green light. If it does materialize, though, it would bring another top-level manufacturer to the class.
In addition to increased interest from automakers, an additional tire manufacturer could be set to join the class as well, with Toyo currently exploring a foray into sports car racing with a former IMSA championship-winning team.
That could result in an additional entry for the class, or replacement to the Falken effort, should the Derrick Walker-led team not the required budget to continue on its own next year.
Either way, with a number of programs already in the works for 2016, it’s tough to call the GTLM class dead, as some have recently been proclaiming.
IMSA President Scott Atherton agrees, although not confirming any of the aforementioned programs.
“The good news is there’s content in the pipeline and I’ll leave it at that,” Atherton told Sportscar365. “It fits all the examples you just named, car manufacturer, tire manufacturer and I wouldn’t want to speculate beyond that.
“Because in some cases it’s fairly well developed; in other examples, it’s early days. So 2016 is right upon us right now to be candid. If you don’t have a program fully underway by now, chances are being on the grid certainly in January 2016 is too far of a reach.
“The good news is we have content in the pipeline both from the car and tire category. I would say, those two examples are specific to GTLM.”
With new regulations, new cars and the potential for a few GT3 cars added into the mix, GTLM will certainly look different, but the potential’s there for it to be an even better show than what we’ve seen so far this year.