IMSA President John Doonan. (IMSA Photo)

State Of The Sport Sparks Optimism For IMSA

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Racers frequently talk about how the key to success often comes down to getting the details right.

That’s why IMSA President John Doonan exuded a quiet confidence when he gave his annual “State of the Sport” address during the IMSA Fastlane SportsCar Weekend at Road America.

Doonan knows there’s plenty of buzz surrounding the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship due to the introduction of the top GTP (Grand Touring Prototype) class for 2023, which will allow prototypes built to LMDh and Hypercar specifications to compete on level terms.

“A lot of people have already hung the ‘golden era’ tag on GTP,” Doonan said. “But we believe if fans like what they see now in endurance sports car racing, it’s only going to get better.”

The hype for GTP has been building for months as Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW began track testing their hybrid-powered 2023 contenders, and Lamborghini announced plans to join the field in 2024.

Because that major storyline has played out organically and IMSA’s future return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was announced the previous week, Doonan used the State of the Sport platform to unveil the 2023 WeatherTech Championship schedule and a number of enhancements to IMSA’s portfolio of competition platforms.

Details, if you will.

Viewed collectively, developments like the creation of the VP Racing SportsCar Challenge (a sprint race format for Le Mans Prototype 3 and GT4 sports cars), enhancement of the Bob Akin Bronze Cup championship, which continues to offer the top Bronze-rated GT Daytona (GTD) driver a chance to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and increased sustainability of fuel and tires are the important details that elevate IMSA as a premier platform for all stakeholders.

That widespread stakeholder support was clear as voices from around the sport reacted to Doonan’s address.

“We were excited to hear what IMSA had to present today, and we’re excited to race at great venues in 2023,” Jason Anzalone, director of motorsports for Michelin North America, said following Friday night’s presentation.

Michelin aims to cut tire usage by 25 percent in GTP, and it displayed a tire containing 53 percent sustainable raw materials that IMSA hopes to put on track in the future.

“We’re very pleased to be a partner with IMSA,” Anzalone continued. “The team works really hard to make sure that we reach consumers and people who are interested in the sport. Promoting the Michelin brand is very important to us, and we’re very happy with that.”

Porsche is one of IMSA’s strongest proponents, with an expected presence in GTP, GTD PRO and GTD in the WeatherTech Championship and the Grand Sport (GS) class of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

“We love the strategy and the calendar is awesome,” remarked Volker Holzmeyer, CEO of Porsche Motorsport North America. “I think we are entering a new era, with GTP coming as the top level, and that will reshape the sports car racing landscape. That’s great to see.

“We also have really strong interest in the GTD class, so I think there we will see growth,” he added. “The announcement of the Bronze Cup is very good and will be highly appreciated by our customer base. I see it growing and all positive.”

Porsche handled the initial testing for the hybrid system that will be used by all GTP contestants as part of an unprecedented level of cooperation between IMSA, the FIA and all competing manufacturers.

The overall spirit of collaboration for the greater good was noted by Laura Wontrop Klauser, sports car racing program manager for General Motors, who oversees GM’s high-profile Cadillac and Corvette racing efforts.

“The LMDh platform has created the opportunity for all of these OEMs to sit down together regularly and work through the issues that affect all of us together,” she said. “The relationships across the board are great. It’s speeding up the development process and making all of us stronger.”

The excitement for IMSA’s future is shared by drivers.

“I think it’s really exciting going into next year with the GTP, and the unification of GT3 cars around the world is exciting for GT racing as well,” said Lexus factory driver Jack Hawksworth. “There’s maybe some tweaks you could make with GTD and GTD PRO to improve some aspects, but overall I think it’s in a pretty good spot.”

“I think it’s very strong,” added Robby Foley, who drives BMWs for Turner Motorsport in the WeatherTech Championship and Michelin Pilot Challenge. “There are a lot of cars in every championship, and I think IMSA does a great job of giving everybody – customers, manufacturers – a great place to race.

“They’re doing a great job and hopefully there’s momentum for years to come.”