Michelin is working with IMSA to find the “right compromise” on which tires the future GT Daytona Pro class will adopt next year, with the two parties currently undecided on whether to introduce a new specification or stick with the existing GTD crop.
IMSA announced during its Rolex 24 at Daytona event in January that it will close the GTE-based GT Le Mans class at the end of the current WeatherTech Championship season and replace it with the GTD Pro division for FIA GT3 cars.
The move to split GT Daytona into distinct Pro and Pro-Am classes has raised questions about how the two categories will interact on-track, particularly from Michelin which is the Official Tire of IMSA.
In GTLM, teams use ‘confidential’ tires that can be developed to suit the characteristics of each car model, while GTD enforces a commercial tire that has a locked specification for all users.
Michelin Motorsport global director Matthieu Bonardel told Sportscar365 that the company is in discussions with IMSA to identify the best tire approach for GTD Pro.
“We are partners with IMSA and we want to help them make the best tire choice for this new class from performance, endurance and economic standpoints,” he said.
“All that needs to be put together. Currently we are having technical discussions with IMSA to define what we want to do.
“There is a technical part which is, what are the lap times and the performance? What type of tires do you need? How robust? And what level of customization are we shooting for?
“[Will it be] one tire fits all, a bit like GTD now, or are we looking for something which is a bit more customizable like they have in GTLM? Are we looking at something which, to some extent, can be compliant with Le Mans, or not at all?”
Michelin would prefer to develop a new tire specification for GTD Pro in order to differentiate the category from GTD.
However, Bonardel admitted that it “seems to be not negotiable” that this won’t happen based on recent discussions with IMSA, and that a compromise will need to be achieved.
IMSA has not said how it will distinguish the GTD classes next year, while a technical working group has been formed to hear the considerations of GT3 car manufacturers.
Shortly after GTD Pro was announced, IMSA President John Doonan told Sportscar365 that the series has looked at using the same tire specification in both GTD classes.
Some manufacturers including Lamborghini and Acura have voiced support for the idea to have commercial tires in GTD Pro.
“IMSA is requesting that it’s a different class but it should be the same tires like in GTD,” said Bonardel. “We are asking: is it realistic? What’s the best approach? Does it make sense?
“Right now, we are providing guidance and helping IMSA make the right decision. As usual, the tire is round and black, but in fact it gets much more complicated when you try to define the real need.
“It’s difficult to shoot for everything: pace, price, compliance, customization etc. You can’t make everybody happy.
“We just need to come up with something which is going to be stable for a couple of years and not have a very painful process of adaptation. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
Bonardel explained that Michelin hopes to develop a GTD Pro tire spec that is different from the current Pilot Sport S9M but not a fully confidential product as found in GTLM.
“GTD Pro, if I understand well, will be faster,” said Bonardel. “They are different, but not too different, but will be faster than the current GTD.
“So we cannot conceive, ‘let’s put on the same tires and run them two seconds a lap faster and hope that everything is going to be fine’.
“We also understand that trying to use the fully customized approach with à la carte tires like we have right now in GTLM, with a factory program where every car gets what they want every year, is probably a little bit too extreme versus what GTD Pro is looking for.
“So we are trying to find something in the middle that meets the maximum needs from the series and teams.”
Tire Approach Decision Due Shortly
With IMSA’s new category structure set to launch at the head of the 2022 season, Michelin is aiming to confirm its approach to the GTD tire conundrum as soon as possible.
“We just need to discuss and evaluate the pros and cons,” said Bonardel.
“This is what’s happening right now. Given the fact that they want to announce the class in 2022, which is tomorrow, we don’t have a couple of months to try to align.
“So this will happen before Sebring I hope. Or not so long after Sebring, we will have made the final decision as to what’s the target, and then stick to it and do it.
“If things need to change, be prepared for a minor change if things go to WEC. But let’s [first] make sure that things are running in the U.S and that it’s compatible with the philosophy of other GT championships around the world.”
Bonardel added that while Michelin is primarily committed to the IMSA GTD Pro rollout, it is needing to be wary of the possible impacts that might occur if the FIA World Endurance Championship also replaces GTE with GT3.
The WEC has two GTE factory programs from Porsche and Ferrari confirmed for the coming season, in addition to a Corvette cameo at the 8 Hours of Portimao. Aston Martin is represented on the GTE-Am grid, but the British marque no longer has a works team.
“One can consider that it’s hard not to believe, that at one point, it’s an option,” said Bonardel.
“So we cannot just look at IMSA and say, let’s do something for IMSA. Because very soon it might impact the future of the GTE class.”