On the heels of a standalone sprint race with IMSA Prototype Lites at Kansas Speedway, a number of Prototype Challenge teams have voiced concerns over the category’s future in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
Last month’s round on the high-banked oval/road course featured a pair of 45-minute sprint races, with no pit stops or in-race driver changes. A total of 10 cars took part, alongside nearly 20 entries from IMSA’s development series.
It marked the first headline event for the spec prototypes, with that same format scheduled for next month at Virginia International Raceway.
“There was no TV, no radio and we were racing against the IMSA Lites. It wasn’t the level of pro racing we want with the PC program,” 8Star Motorsports team owner Enzo Potolicchio told Sportscar365.
“I hope they change it for VIR. If we do the same thing there, there’s no point of going there. It would be a waste of time and money. It would just be using up our equipment for something people don’t want to pay for.”
Potolicchio, who fields cars in both PC and Lites, is just one of many TUDOR Championship team owners that are left questioning whether the class will be a financially viable option, with speculation swirling that the Pro-Am category may not be part of the major endurance events next year.
“I like going to Kansas. There’s good hotels and restaurants. I think the track is good to race on but two 45-minute races is not going to bring back people. That will send the PC customers into different classes or doing different things,” said Starworks Motorsport team owner Peter Baron.
“We have customers who signed up for TUDOR Championship endurance racing with four classes on track, not to race against some guy in an IMSA Lites car out there in a 45-minute race.”
Baron’s Florida-based operation, which currently fields two Oreca FLM09s, is already working on a backup plan in GT Daytona next year, should more combined PC/Lites races be featured on the 2015 calendar.
“I’m planning on PC to be catastrophic next year,” he said. “If they’re going to push more of these type of races on us, then nobody’s going to sign up for it. You can’t make a business model work.
“If you’re going to do those races, you might as well run an IMSA Lites car, which is 1/8th the cost of [a PC].”
RSR Racing, another two-car entry in the class, meanwhile, is evaluating a move to the FIA World Endurance Championship, as team owner Paul Gentilozzi believes it could offer a better return on investment than the current situation in PC.
“The PC teams, at a minimum, spent cumulatively $1.2 million to $1.5 million to go to Kansas,” Gentilozzi said. “Where was the return in investment? There can be if there was promotion but there wasn’t.
“I went over to the casino and they helped repair some of my damage, because I won some money. But not one of the dealers I talked to knew there was a race. And they were a half-mile away.”
Attendance numbers for Kansas were not released, per ISC track policy, but IMSA President and COO Scott Atherton said the turnout was “disappointing but not completely unexpected.”
The main grandstands overlooking the oval were closed to spectators while Atherton, along with IMSA Chairman Jim France, did not attend the event.
“We race as teams and competitors because we like competition but there also has to be a commercial solution,” Gentilozzi added. “Kansas could have a commercial solution if the series and the track engage in a sincere promotion.
“People were not even allowed in on Friday, which was unfortunate. I would have been to every school, every retailer in the neighborhood, given everybody free passes to try and build an audience. If the long term is for Kansas to have road racing events, then you have to invest.”
While IMSA has assured the future of the PC class in the TUDOR Championship through 2015, no guarantees have been made on the makeup of its schedule and/or race format for next year, according to Scot Elkins, VP of competition and technical regulations.
“I think it’s tough to say at this point,” Elkins said about the category’s format for 2015. “I spent a lot of time on Friday at Watkins Glen talking to a lot of the PC teams to get a feel for what their desires were and what they’re looking for.
“We were very, very clear when we announced the merger [in 2012] that the product would be the same for three years [2013-2015]. We know the PC car is going to be competing next year, I just don’t think we know what format it’s going to be.”
Elkins said there are a lot of factors, such as overall grid sizes and pit lane space, that dictate whether all four classes of cars can compete together on a given weekend.
This year’s schedule sees seven of the 13 total events run with all four classes, including the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta.
The planning process for 2015 is set to begin next week, Elkins said.
The lingering uncertainty, however, leaves existing team owners in a holding pattern, while potentially eliminating any new interest in the class, at least until next year’s format is finalized.
“I’m really worried,” Potolicchio said. “There’s a lot of rumors out there that I don’t want to follow. We have a big investment in the class and I hope they don’t take us out of the big races.
“What happened at Sebring was not our fault. It’s a merger. There’s a future, but they need to be really careful not to ruin it.”