“If you ask too many questions, you won’t find answers, only more questions.” –native american proverb
My wife and I spent three days at last weekend’s Roar Before the 24, the mandatory testing session for IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams planning to compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, January 25-26. While the test was not compulsory for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge teams taking part in their season opener on January 24, most of them were in the test.
Although my wife is not a rookie to watch the races, she is new to sports car competition. There is no doubt that sports car racing is more complicated than other series, which really made me realize that I was trying to explain to him.
Think about it: In NASCAR Cup races, you have 40 cars, all pretty much identical, though they have Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota badges. They start the race, drive about 400 miles, and the first car to the checkered flag wins.
Of course, there are some nuances that you will have to explain to a newbie – fines for speeding on pit lane; how yellow flags freeze the field; how the first car in a lap gets the Lucky Dog pass; why some cars take two tires; others take four tires during a pit stop; why half the people in the stands are still saying “Winston Cup”. But basically, it’s simple.
It is even easier to understand drag racing, especially at NHRA Professional Level, where both cars or both motorcycles start at the same time. (Bracket races, where a car can do a five-second jump over another car, need some explaining.) Why some professional classes race to the thousand-foot mark instead of the full quarter-mile as do other cars – it’s about as complex as the basic principle.
Indy Cars: Like the NASCAR Cup cars, only with two manufacturers instead of three.
Formula 1: Three manufacturers won all 21 races last year, so don’t worry about the rest. Sure, the politics are complex, but we’re talking about a newbie sitting down to watch an F1 race. It’s not complicated.
Sports car racing? Phew.
As we walk through the garage full of Michelin Pilot Challenge cars, it seems easy enough: see the four-door cars, like the Honda Civic Si and Hyundai Veloster N? (OK, three doors.) These are the TCR, or Touring Car Racing entries.
The other class is GS, or Grand Sport. They are two-door cars, like the Ford Mustang and the McLaren 570S. (Wait, what? The Mustang, base price $26,670, races the McLaren 570S, base price $192,500? How does it work? Great question, but please wait until later in the semester.)
Yes, GS and TCR are on track at the same time, but no, they are not competing. Two-door cars are in one class, four-door cars in another, so each event has two winners.
In the WeatherTech championship garage, the water gets a lot muddier.
We take a look at the Daytona Prototype International, or DPi (lowercase “I” is IMSA’s choice), fierce-looking cars known by brand names: Cadillac, Acura and Mazda. (There’s no Nissan this year, so we don’t have to explain why Nissan wasn’t considered by IMSA to be one of its official manufacturers.)
While IMSA says the DPi body “includes styling cues that align with these engine makers”, they of course don’t, aside from the decals and, like the Acuras for example, the big letters that say ACURA in six places. DPi are the fastest of the four classes.
And there you will see LMP2 cars. They were seven in training. They look like DPi cars, and by “look like” we mean “exactly look alike”.
And IMSA doesn’t help by keeping the old name LMP2, or Le Mans Prototype 2, because the first question that comes to mind is if there are LMP2 cars, where are the LMP1s? The correct answer is “mostly in Europe or Japan”, but that doesn’t make much sense to a new fan. (You can explain how the merging of the American Le Mans and Grand Am series is the reason for some class names and specs, but only do that if you want to see your mate’s eyes really glaze.)
The best explanation for the LMP2 cars is that they are mostly European designed, that they are slower than the DPi cars (thanks to IMSA’s ‘balance of performance’, but do we really want to get into that? ), and are all powered by identical engines. V8 engines. Hopefully the rookie doesn’t ask who makes this V8, because you’ll have to answer “Gibson,” which opens up a whole new set of questions.
The two GT, or Gran Turismo, classes are equally confusing. This is a good place to note that the two Prototype classes are cars that aren’t based on recognizable mainstream models, whereas the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes are.
The easy answer regarding GT Le Mans cars is that they are also designed to be able to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which, note, is held in France and is the most prestigious sports car race in the world. They are also fully factory-supported cars, fully supporting two of the new mid-engined Chevrolet Corvettes, two Porsche 911s and two BMW M8s. And at Daytona and probably other races, look for a lonely Ferrari 488.
The other GT class is, of course, GT Daytona. These cars are cheaper, less sophisticated and slower than GT Le Mans cars, but know that yes, there are Porsche 911s in both GT classes, as well as Ferrari 488s. And the GTLM BMW M8s look a lot like the BMW M6 eligible for GTD.
We suggest you show all seven GT Le Mans cars and have your student memorize them. And then all other GT cars naturally have to be in the GT Daytona class.
Also hopefully the fact that some of the Michelin Pilot GS class cars like the Mercedes, Aston Martin and Audi R8 look like cars that race in the WeatherTech series goes unnoticed, or you have some more explanations to be made.
How would we resolve this multi-layered identity crisis? This is another question we hoped no one would ask. Part of the problem is due to the success of IMSA races. Combined, there are 15 manufacturers in both series—Acura/Honda, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Mazda, McLaren, Mercedes, Porsche, Cadillac, Lamborghini, Lexus—16 if you separate Acura and Honda. It is unprecedented. And very healthy.
There’s a lot going on, a lot of moving parts that other forms of motorsport don’t have to adjust, like how you get the Mazda DPi, powered by a 2.0 four-cylinder engine liters, rivals the Cadillac DPi, powered by a 5.5-liter V8. Knowledge of both IMSA series is best absorbed by osmosis, simply watching the race and enjoying the competition.
Next, we’ll explain everything that’s going on in the SRO Motorsports Group America, formerly known as the Pirelli World Challenge Series, as soon as we get the hang of it.
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