Today’s Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda not only marks the end of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season but also the end of an era for a number of cars, teams and manufacturers as they transition to the new-look 2016 season.
Up to 40 percent of the cars on the grid at Road Atlanta will be replaced by new machinery in time for January’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, marking the first significant transformation in IMSA’s top series post-merger.
The biggest change for 2016 comes in the GT Daytona class, which sees the adoption of FIA GT3 regulations and the arrival of up to ten new cars to the class, including new manufacturers to the series such as Lamborghini, Mercedes and Lexus.
As a result, existing GTD machinery, including the Porsche 911 GT America are set for their final appearances in top-level IMSA competition.
And while being eligible for competition next year, but converted to full GT3 specification, teams with cars such as the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, BMW Z4 GT3 and first-generation Audi R8 LMS are all set to upgrade for 2016.
It will pave the way for new machinery such as Ferrari’s 488 GTB, BMW M6 GT3 and new-generation Audi R8 LMS, alongside the GT3-compliant Porsche 911 GT3-R, as well as the new Lamborghini Huracán GT3.
According to IMSA President and COO Scott Atherton, the GT transformation marks a milestone for the championship.
“In my opinion, it’s the most tangible evidence of the fact that we’re putting the merger behind us,” Atherton told Sportscar365.
“We’ve said that repeatedly because it dominated so much of our conversation and all of our time and attention for so long.
“Moving away from [a blend] and into what will be the first example of a dedicated class in the new order we’re operating in.”
The GT Le Mans class is also set for an overhaul, with Road Atlanta marking the final appearance for the BMW Z4 GTE, Ferrari F458 Italia, as well as current-generation models from Corvette and Porsche.
Team Falken Tire, meanwhile, takes its final bow after a successful seven-year run campaigning Porsches in the ACO-recgonized class.
Next year, the GTLM category will see new, more powerful cars, including the recently confirmed BMW M6 GTLM, upgraded Corvette C7.R and Porsche 911 RSR models, the brand-new Ferrari 488 GTB, as well as the highly anticipated Ford GTs.
In the prototype ranks, Road Atlanta potentially marks the final runs for the Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley DP, as well as the DeltaWing.
Ganassi hasn’t yet indicated the continuation of its P class effort, with the focus being on the Ford GTs next year. The same could be the case for the DeltaWing, which launched its GT-based concept this weekend.
The ten-hour race is also expected to be the last outing for the diesel powerplants in the pair of Mazda SKYACTIV prototypes, which will be replaced by gasoline-powered AER-based engines next year.
IMSA’s extreme makeover of the GT categories will be followed in 2017 by an all-new set of globally recognized Prototype regulations, replacing the existing DP and P2 cars.
“It’s the end of an era,” Atherton added. “We’re anxious and looking forward to ’16 to get GTD launched that way and are equally looking forward to doing the same thing the following year in Prototype.”