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New GT Class Structure to Bring “Whole New Dynamic” to Races

GTD, Pro drivers anticipate changes to the racing dynamic as class gap narrows…

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

The creation of the GTD Pro category is set to bring a “whole new dynamic” to races in the production-based ranks of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, according to Nick Tandy and other drivers in the field.

GTD Pro has replaced GT Le Mans as the top GT class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, removing GTE machinery from the grid and ensuring that all cars below the prototype classes are now running to the same GT3 spec.

While many other GT racing series around the world use a multi-class structure, including the FIA World Endurance Championship and the Fanatec GT World Challenge powered by AWS, this year marks the first in which such an arrangement has been deployed by IMSA.

Corvette Racing driver Tandy told Sportscar365 that the establishment of technological parity between the IMSA GT classes is “exciting” because it brings an element of the unknown to drivers and teams that previously competed in the quicker GTLM division.

The Pratt & Miller-run GM factory squad is running its ex-GTLM Chevrolet Corvette C8.R in GTD specification to comply with the new class rules. Both cars are entered in GTD Pro.

“From a GTD and GTD Pro point of view, there’s a whole new dynamic that’s going to play out in the racing,” said Tandy.

“Nobody knows how it’s going to work. It’s kind of coming back to Daytona afresh, not knowing how things are going to play out and who’s going to benefit from certain situations and not.

“It feels strange coming here, not knowing what we’re going into.

“Since the [2014] merger, Corvette Racing and myself have come here knowing we’re in GTLM, up against these cars, working to find out when you’re going to put the certain tire compound on and set it up around different compounds.

“All of that has disappeared, and we’re kind of the new guys.

“People have raced BMWs in GTD before. Even though the BMW is a new car [now], there’s never been a Corvette in GTD running on these tires and specifications.

“It’s exciting because we don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

Fellow GTD Pro driver Maro Engel, who is in one of two WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evos and won the GTD class at Daytona last year, doesn’t feel that the new structure is altering teams’ approaches but reckons the racing could take on a new look.

“There’s a lot more GT[3] cars in the field,” Engel told Sportscar365.

“You get the impression from Lap 1. There’s much more similar-paced cars. That’s definitely something very different to the past.

“Clearly we have to look at our class; that’s what matters and that’s where there’s a prize to win.

“Right now, race prep is no different. The traffic is a little bit different. Whereas previously in GTD, obviously you had the GLTM cars come past you three seconds a lap faster, the LMP3s a little bit faster and so on.

“Now you’ve got more than half the grid that are at the same or similar pace, basically.

“For sure I’m anxious to see how that’s going to play out in a race situation because it’s going to have an influence for sure.”

Tandy suggested that the mixed class structure could have a “massive” impact on the strategy options for the Pro runners compared to what was possible in GTLM which used faster cars and confidential, rather than commercial, Michelin tires.

Unlike before, the Rolex 24 grid will not be sorted into class order if standard GTD cars finish ahead of GTD Pros in today’s qualifying race. Full course caution wave-by procedures will cover both GT classes as one.

“For instance, there could be a GTD Pro fight for the class lead that could be a lap up on the GTD field,” said Tandy.

“But say it’s the penultimate stop and you try to take a tank of fuel under yellow, and you come out 12 GTD cars behind someone who has short-filled. It could be massive.

“At that point the cars could be all a very similar pace, and it will have a massive effect on the strategy. If there are late yellows in the race, I can see pit strategy and track position being pretty important.

“In GTLM, you knew that it would take time to get through some GTD cars, but you could pass them because the car was faster. But now, you might not pass them because they’re all the same speed.”

‘I’m Less Likely to Let a Pro Car By’

Competitors in the GTD class are also anticipating a new dynamic in mixed-class races, as a customer team-focused category now becomes more closely mixed with the Pro tier’s factory and factory-assisted operations.

Turner Motorsport BMW driver Bill Auberlen noted that most lineups in GTD have drivers strong enough to battle those in GTD Pro on an equal technological footing.

“I’m in Pro-Am but I don’t mind showing that I belong,” Auberlen told Sportscar365.

“I want to beat them. It’s an added carrot for the Pro-Ams to show that they belong there as well.

“To win a championship, a race, you have to be smart and know who you’re racing. But if you let your head get spun out and you start racing the wrong people for the wrong reasons, it doesn’t do anything for you.

“My teammate Robby Foley, who is an Am, one day wants to be in a Pro car. He has a lot to prove against the people he should be racing.

“There are a lot of different objectives and motivations that are going to be working their way into the racing.”

Auberlen also suggested that GTD drivers are less likely to make provisions for drivers in the Pro category to get past under certain racing scenarios.

“Conversely, if I am racing my guy ahead of me, and a Pro is behind me, I’m not going to pull over to let him just get in front of me to then block me,” he said.

“But if I let a Pro get between me and the guy I’m racing, I can’t race that guy anymore. So I’m less likely to let him by. This is a really weird thing.

“On the other hand, I think it’s going to make for craziness that is good for fans.

“If all of a sudden there are cars getting into it that don’t belong together and it makes for controversy and weird stuff. Maybe that’s good.”

John Dagys contributed to this report

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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