While last weekend’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix produced a pair of action-packed races, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship competitors spent more days in the paddock than actual days on the track.
IMSA’s new weekend format, which saw teams arrive and unload at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Wednesday but not turn laps until Saturday, has been one of the major talking points, along with a reduced amount of track time over previous seasons in ALMS and GRAND-AM.
“There’s been constant dialogue and it begins right here, internally. Certainly, there was much discussion about that this past weekend. Everybody has an opinion,” IMSA President and COO Scott Atherton told Sportscar365.
“The original thinking and justification for how our schedules were configured, ironically, was to minimize the amount of time at the track and therefore minimize the costs associated with it.”
Atherton admitted the opposite has actually occurred, due to the larger-than-expected TUDOR Championship grids and the required time for each car to go through pre-event scrutineering.
A total of 56 cars were on hand in Monterey, split between the Prototype/GT Le Mans and Prototype Challenge/GT Daytona races. It marked a 64 percent increase in car count from last year’s GRAND-AM race and a 55 percent boost over the ALMS grid there in 2013.
“Because we have so many cars involved, the scrutineering simply takes a substantial amount of time,” Atherton said. “Therefore, the teams do have to be there earlier than we would like, and for sure they would like, but it’s only because we’ve got to put every car through a proper scrutineering process.”
Atherton said changes in the scrutineering schedule could come by the next round at Detroit, which may result in the process being packed into a single, longer day rather than spread out over two.
“We are looking at every element of that, to streamline the process,” he said. “I think you’re going to see some changes as early as Detroit, which will in fact streamline it. From there, it will be a constant evaluation of process and procedure and equipment and personnel.”
Despite the race weekends being extended, track time has actually been reduced. A total of 193 cars were in action at Mazda Raceway, spread between six different series, including the IMSA-sanctioned TUDOR Championship, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA and Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo USA series.
The bumper weekend, however, only saw a pair of one-hour practice sessions for the TUDOR Championship, which featured all four classes on-track instead of Sunday’s split P/GTLM and PC/GTD race format.
With the elimination of the third-day promoter test, previously seen in most ALMS weekends, a number of teams have already voiced their displeasure for the lack of track time.
“There’s ongoing review of every aspect to minimize the amount downtime at the track and maximize the amount of on-track time,” Atherton said. “We’ve had feedback from teams in both equations.
“The majority of the schedules are set for the year, so at best, we can fine tune. But some fine-tuning here would be well-received by all involved.”
Atherton said they are looking at the possibility of adjusting weekend schedules on a “case by case basis.” However, some events, such as the upcoming round in Detroit, already features increased track time, with two 90-minute sessions.
“The teams have made it known to us for sure that they’re not opposed to adding something like that back into the equation,” Atherton said. “But as we speak today, we’re not in the position to make any announcements in that category but it is a subject that’s getting a lot of attention.”
IMSA will also be re-evaluating the number of support series in action on each given weekend, although Atherton said changes to this year’s calendar would be unlikely.
“We’ve got to be really careful how much content we place on these weekend,” he said. “We’re always looking to make the best possible show for the fans.
“In this example at Mazda Raceway, I think we probably over-indexed on content. We just had too much happening there to do a proper job with the premier categories, which is our primary focus.
“Going forward, we don’t have a lot of flexibility, as most of the schedules have been established, but we have the opportunity to fine tune as we go through the balance of the season.”