Lamborghini’s North American motorsport manager has proposed a radical split schedule for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship that would see the ‘Florida 36 Hours’ spun off into its own championship on the grounds of cost control.
Increasing budgets, particularly in the GT Daytona class, which has seen added manufacturer involvement this year, has been one of the major talking points between teams and manufacturers, with GTD currently the most expensive category in the world for FIA GT3-homologated machinery.
Chris Ward, the Senior Manager for Motorsport at Automobili Lamborghini America, says the concept, developed by himself and amongst others, former Porsche Motorsport North America President Jens Walther, would see the two biggest races of the year, the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, separated from the remainder of the WeatherTech Championship season, allowing teams a larger degree of options.
“Depending on which teams you speak with, we’re at $2.5 million to $3.5 million [annual GTD budget], and everything in between, which is a lot of money,” Ward told Sportscar365.
“If we look with just the GTD hat on, the general consensus is that $1 million is spent for Daytona and Sebring and $1.5 million is spent for the remainder of the championship.
“When you split it like that and have the 36 Hours of Florida as a standalone, crown jewel, a global invitational, then have a ten-round endurance championship that starts after Sebring that includes two key long-distance events, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans…
“It elevates, in my mind, Petit Le Mans, to being the longest race of the year and also conveniently the season finale.”
The concept would thus split the WeatherTech Championship into two segments, allowing teams to choose one or the other, as a means of saving costs, or elect to do both series and remaining at the same budget levels.
“Budget-wise, the U.S. teams have some options,” Ward said. “They now have two products for sale.
“If they run the championship and elect not to run the 36 Hours of Florida, it gets even better for them because the visiting European teams are able to utilize their tractor trailers, their crew, their pit refueling equipment and they’re able to monetize their operation.
“I think we’d be turning people away from the doors.”
Ward said both the Roar Before the 24 and the now-annual Sebring Winter Test in February could also be part of the 36-hour championship, potentially by awarding points.
A switch to the new format could come at an opportune time in 2019, when Michelin takes over as the entitlement sponsor of the Endurance Cup.
“I don’t think the fans fully understand this four-race endurance championship,” Ward said.
“Teams from Europe visit for Daytona and Sebring, they go home. The American teams compete at Watkins Glen and a couple of people show up for Petit Le Mans. And when the European teams come to Daytona and Sebring, they go back to Europe with our points. They’re taking the points away from the U.S. teams.
“Let’s create this global crown jewel of 36 hours of endurance racing, which is Daytona and Sebring.”
When asked by Sportscar365 on the possible prospects of a future 36 Hours of Florida spinoff, IMSA President Scott Atherton stressed that no changes are in the immediate pipeline.
“We are open-minded and want to recognize innovative and creative ideas. However, our 2018 plans have already been announced and we do not anticipate making any changes,” Atherton said.
While the spinoff season is just an idea at this point, Ward did stress that something needs to be done to the GTD class, and potentially the series as a whole, in order to reign in budgets.
“I think we’ve got to address this cost burden that’s facing everybody in this championship,” he said. “I think this could be a really neat way of doing it. It’s somewhat revolutionary and would take quite a lot for people to swallow.
“But I’m really, really concerned about the future of the class if it’s not addressed sooner rather than later.”