Despite having come out on top in last month’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Level 5 Motorsports has withdrawn from the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship with immediate effect.
The four-time American Le Mans Series class champions, which fielded a pair of Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 cars in the new-for-2014 GTD category, scored its first class victory at Daytona with drivers Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal, Alessandro Pier Guidi and team owner Scott Tucker.
While having initially planned to continue through the 11-round TUDOR Championship with at least one Ferrari for Sweedler and Bell, team manager David Stone made the decision to pull the plug on the program Monday.
“The decision was 100 percent my responsibility,” Stone told Sportscar365. “Scott Tucker has placed all operational responsibilities and decisions squarely on my shoulders. Based on various reasons, it’s my opinion that participation in the TUDOR Championship for 2014 is not in the best interest of Level 5.
“I want to be really clear that I’m not trying to be negative or disrespectful of the TUDOR Championship. I have no ill will or negativity against them. They need to do what they feel is right for them, just as I must do the same for Level 5.”
Stone said there were a number of factors that went into his decision, including IMSA’s ruling at the Rolex 24 that initially penalized the race-leading No. 555 Ferrari for avoidable contact.
The No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS crew celebrated as winners in victory lane, with IMSA reversing the penalty and awarding Level 5 the win nearly four hours after the checkered flag.
“It was my opinion we should not have been [in the TUDOR Championship] in 2014 to begin with because of it being a development year for the series,” Stone said. “As was apparent, the time fame it was taking for them to provide rules, driver rankings, etc led me to believe they’ve got their hands full and I do not envy the position they were and are still in.
“The series needs time to sort itself out and I don’t want to be one of the participants that has to suffer through that the first year. I feel that the series has focused more on quantity than quality. The reality is you can only properly support so many teams at any given track at one time.”
Stone also attributed the series’ permitted paddock space, which has been reduced for 2014 due to the capacity grid sizes, as just one factor into their decision to withdraw.
Level 5 had interest from three customers to run in Prototype Challenge this year, but Stone said IMSA’s initial class capacity regulations released in October, along with a revision in the schedule, resulted in those prospective clients to pull out.
“I believe until racers have a voice to create a series that they want to race in, it is unlikely to change in any significant and meaningful way,” Stone said. “I feel like every team that has a full-season entry should have an elected representative from their team and there should be regular meetings with a certain list of topics to be debated, decided and voted on.
“That way, you are creating a series that’s consistent with what racers want as opposed to a sanctioning body dictating the environment. After all, we are the customers. No pun intended, but in order to arrive to that position takes stones. As long as teams cave in to the way any sanctioning body dictates, there is no rational reason to expect meaningful changes.”
While Stone said that Level 5 will unlikely return to the TUDOR Championship in any class this year, they are actively exploring customer programs for the Pirelli World Challenge, potentially with the same Ferraris that were raced at Daytona. The team will also continue to manage and support cars in Ferrari Challenge.
Additionally, Stone said they have also been approached by a few OEMs for a manufacturer-based prototype effort that would likely start off as an engine development program. He declined to disclose a possible time frame for such a project but said it could involve participation in the FIA World Endurance Championship, TUDOR Championship or European Le Mans Series.
“Right now, it’s a reorganization and reshuffle of Level 5 to do what is sensible for the team,” he said. “If the right opportunity presents itself to start another race-winning operation, then we would consider doing that. Our options are wide open.”
As for the future of Sweedler and Bell, who currently lead the GTD drivers’ championship, it’s understood the duo will continue in the class with a to-be-announced program.