Interest is building in the WeatherTech Sprint Cup, with new teams and manufacturers to the GT Daytona class already in the planning stages for the new-for-2019 title.
Announced last month, the seven-race cup, incorporated into the existing IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, will award a separate title, alongside the newly named Michelin Endurance Cup and overall GTD championship.
Despite the season not kicking off until the fourth overall round of the WeatherTech Championship season at Mid-Ohio in May, significant movements have already been made within the paddock for potential high-profile additions.
It includes Flying Lizard Motorsports and Compass Racing, which are both working on potential returns to top-level IMSA competition through the Sprint Cup.
“All options are open,” Flying Lizard program manager Darren Law told Sportscar365. “We’re considering what options are available in IMSA.
“For sure it makes it more cost-effective if you run just the seven-race sprint series. You would literally cut your budget in half. It definitely brings another opportunity.”
Compass, which currently fields a McLaren 570S GT4 and Audi RS 3 LMS TCR cars in Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, last raced in GTD in 2015 with an Audi R8 LMS ultra.
“Sprint Cup is an exciting addition to the WeatherTech Championship and the IMSA paddock,” team principal Karl Thomson told Sportscar365.
“It provides an important step in our ladder between CTSC GS and a full GTD season, and it’s no secret we’re working hard on returning to the class.”
Paddock rumors, meanwhile, have linked McLaren to a potential Sprint Cup campaign with two of its new 720S GT3 cars, as well as a new two-car team that would utilize GT3 machinery from an existing IMSA manufacturer.
IMSA President Scott Atherton said he’s been pleased with the level of early interest in the cup.
“I’ve lost track of the number of conversations with existing team owners that have content in the championship now, or those who are currently not involved but have either dropped an email, made a phone call, or bumped into me,” he told Sportscar365.
“They say, ‘put me down for one, put me down for two’. They say, ‘I’ve got at least one car filled and I’m looking for a second’.
“At this stage of the game, it’s an easy commitment. It’ll get more onerous as soon as entries actually open and deposits are due. Commitments need to be much more formal than they are today.
“But, I think if early returns are an indication, we’ll be in a good place.”
Atherton said a dedicated Sprint Cup entry in the “low double digits” would be beyond their expectations, and admitted that track capacity could play a role in a potential entry cap, especially at venues such as WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The second Sprint Cup round of the season, at Detroit’s Belle Isle, is another caveat, in that it will not be a points-paying round for the overall GTD championship.
“If you’re competing for a full WeatherTech Championship season, you don’t have to be there,” Atherton said.
“But we’re of the opinion that the majority of full-season GTD competitors will be there, simply because it enables them to also compete for the Sprint Cup. Why wouldn’t you? We’ll see how it plays.”
Atherton said they’d welcome new GT3 manufacturers to the Sprint Cup with a reduced marketing commitment, likened to an “introductory offer” to join the series.
Manufacturers such as McLaren and Bentley had previously been hung up on the sanctioning body’s marketing requirements, which had been rumored to be in the $1 million range for a full season in the WeatherTech Championship.