As the year draws to a close, following multiple top-10 reviews, Sportscar365 looks ahead to what could be in store for 2016 with a look at the Top 10 Stories to Watch:
10. New Faces, New Places — The silly season has been especially intense, with a number of new driver, team and car combinations for 2016. Significant changes have already been announced for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and a few in the FIA World Endurance Championship, with further announcements expected in the coming months for the remaining European-based championships.
9. Driver Ratings — A number of controversial driver rating changes for 2016 will likely impact the results in Pro-Am-enforced classes, particularly the WeatherTech Championship GTD class. Will IMSA, or other sanctioning bodies for that matter, take measures into their own hands to prevent a potential fallout of gentlemen drivers?
8. Launch of Intercontinental GT Challenge — Stephane Ratel’s new project, encompassing the Bathurst 12 Hour, 24 Hours of Spa, Sepang 12 Hours and a new six-hour race at Circuit of The Americas, will likely have a low-key start but could end up being the defacto GT3 World Championship, at least for manufacturers.
7. Growth of Blancpain Sprint Cup — With new rules in place, requiring each GT3 manufacturer to have at least one car entered in the Pro Cup class in the entire Blancpain GT Series season in order to race in the class at the 24 Hours of Spa, will it lead to larger grids in the newly renamed Sprint Cup? The struggling series has received an overhaul for 2016, with a reduced schedule and new F1-grade circuits, with the focus towards the overall GT Series.
6. Pirelli World Challenge’s Rebound? — With management issues preventing the sprint race series from fully realizing its potential in 2015, will the newly restructured Pirelli World Challenge see continued growth? Based on the level of renewed interest, car counts are expected to remain steady for next year, which is already a good sign under the new leadership.
5. VW Emissions Scandal — While there’s already been downscaling in Audi and Porsche’s LMP1 programs for 2016, those budget cutbacks are not likely to be the last to come amid the emissions scandal that’s rocking the VW Group. Will the German manufacturer’s motorsports involvement be further reduced in 2017 or 2018?
4. Ford GT’s First Year — The highly anticipated debut of the Ford GT will come in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, with all eyes on how the Multimatic-built, Chip Ganassi Racing-run factory entries will perform, not only in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, but also the FIA World Endurance Championship, including a planned four-car assault at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
3. Future of LMP1 — With Nissan withdrawing, the LMP1 class in the WEC is left with three manufacturers, two of whom are under the Volkswagen Group umbrella. While Audi, Porsche and Toyota are fully committed in 2016, what will the landscape look like this time next year? Will any new manufacturers join the fight, or could there be potential trouble on the horizon in the long-term health of the top prototype class?
2. New Wave of GT3 Machinery — New cars from Audi, Porsche, Mercedes, Lamborghini, BMW, Ferrari and Lexus will dominate the headlines across all GT3-based championships in 2016, with a number of teams switching to new machinery, and/or manufacturers for the upcoming season. One series to particularly pay note to is IMSA, which debuts full-spec GT3 machinery in its GTD class.
1. New Global LMP2 Regulations on Horizon — The new-for-2017 LMP2 regulations will be taking shape, with teams from IMSA, WEC and the ELMS committing to new chassis and engine packages over the course of the year. With not a single manufacturer yet to formally commit to the DPi platform in IMSA, how many automakers will be ready for the launch year in America? And will any of those efforts commit to going to the 24 Hours of Le Mans?