After an eventful season in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, primarily highlighted by issues with Race Control, GB Autosport team principal Michael Avenatti is exploring his options for 2015, which is set to include a foray into the FIA World Endurance Championship.
“The fact that the series has made a number of mistakes in relation to officiating would be an understatement,”Avenatti told Sportscar365. “The problem is that these mistakes have not centered around teams running as back-markers. They’re centering around cars and teams that have huge ramifications for their respective championships.”
The latest incident came during last weekend’s Lone Star Le Mans at Circuit of The Americas, which saw contact between the No. 81 Porsche 911 GT America of Damien Faulkner and the championship-leading Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3 while battling for a podium position.
Faulkner’s Tully’s Coffee-sponsored Porsche was turned around, with no penalty called on the No. 300 BMW. The Irishman later sustained a puncture as a result of the contact, relegating he and co-driver Ben Barker to a 9th place result.
Avenatti said the team was in constant communication with IMSA and presented photo evidence of the contact during the race to Race Control, as well as an onboard video clip of the incident post-race, but no ruling was made as the incident wasn’t captured by IMSA’s own cameras.
The COTA incident marked the third race this season that a penalty was not called for contact between another car and the GB Autosport entry, Avenatti said.
“That fundamental flaw is that if IMSA does not confirm the incident with their own video, it didn’t happen,” Avenatti said. “That’s absurd at this level of racing.
“The officiating in club races and other races, such as historic racing that’s not televised, is more thorough than what we’re seeing now in this series.
“Teams are spending millions of dollars a year to compete at what’s supposed to be one of the highest levels of sports car racing in the world. This is completely unacceptable.”
There were a total of four drive-through penalties issued for contact at COTA, but Faulkner and Dane Cameron’s incident, as well as the tangle between Gustavo Yacaman and Ricky Taylor at the start, which was captured on the race feed, did not draw a penalty.
Speaking to Sportscar365, IMSA Race Director Beaux Barfield said it would be a “slippery slope to go down and start reviewing evidence for the sake of penalizing other teams based on outside data.”
Barfield said there was insufficient evidence on the incident between the GB Autosport and Turner cars to warrant any type of penalty.
“As anytime, if we haven’t seen an incident live, but maybe we’ve caught the aftermath, such as a car parked on the side of the track, a car sitting there with damage and/or an inevitable call from the corner workers, we immediately begin a review of the situation,” Barfield explained.
“Immediately, we’re looking for the video to reconstruct what happened. It’s an automatic, it doesn’t require a team request or complaint. There was nothing on [the Nos. 81/300 incident], so we couldn’t move forward on it.
“When it comes down to insufficient evidence, then there’s no action.”
While COTA marked the first TUDOR Championship round with Race Director Barfield, Avenatti said the issue of non-calls has been present all season long and could have considerable championship implications in GTD.
“For instance, where would Alex Job Racing be but for what happened at Sebring? That decision at Sebring could ultimately prove to cost them the championship,” Avenatti said.
“This non-call on Saturday could ultimately allow Turner to win the championship when quite honestly they had no business finishing in that race any higher than 12th or 13th in light of what happened.”
Avenatti suggests IMSA implementing mandatory on-board cameras for all competitors.
“In theory, they should be using everything at their disposal to make sure that these races are officiated properly,” he said.
“I want to be really clear about something. I like Beaux and was a proponent of bringing him back because of his racing knowledge and experience. Regardless if it’s Paul [Walter] or Beaux or whoever it is, they have to be doing everything possible to get it right.”
While open to new ideas, Barfield said reviewing footage from every car in every race would be a challenge.
Avenatti, the Chairman of Tully’s Coffee, an official partner of IMSA, is exploring his options for 2015, which includes a likely program in the FIA WEC.
“Whether that’s going to be full participation or limited participation [in FIA WEC] is to be decided,” he said. “Above all else, we want to compete on a level playing field. In whatever series we run in, we must have the confidence that it’s going to be called appropriately.
“Other race series around the world have figured out how to do this. For some reason — and I have a lot of respect what IMSA has done this year on a number of different fronts — but this is blocking and tackling, if you will. If you can’t do this right, then I think you have significant problems.”
Plans are being put into place for a minimum four-race FIA WEC program in GTE-Am next year, which would see a joint effort with an existing team but utilizing GB’s key staff such as team manager Cole Scrogham and chief engineer Mario Prezel.
No decision has been made on the car of choice, although it is likely to either be a Porsche 911 RSR or Ferrari F458 Italia. Avenatti and Faulkner will be two of the three drivers, with the Silver-rated pilot to be confirmed in November.
“I think we’re smart enough to know what we don’t know, so for that reason, I think that our initial foray into WEC would find us a joint entry with an established WEC team,” Avenatti said.
“We’ve had a number of discussions related to various longstanding teams in WEC about a possible effort. Some of those discussions took part last weekend. We’re going to continue those discussions over the next six to eight weeks.”
The team, meanwhile, has yet to confirm a return to the TUDOR Championship, although if they do, it would likely be a reduced program around the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races, plus one or two select events.
Avenatti said Tully’s partnership with IMSA, which has seen activation trackside and in the TUDOR Paddock Club, is a multi-year deal.
“We’re been exploring opportunities to expand that relationship,” he said. “But in order for us to do that, we must have the utmost faith and confidence in the series.
“I would be lying if I told you this has not shaken our confidence… In my view, the longevity of the series depends on it.
“Teams depend on results. Sponsors depend on results. The results have to be right.”