RACER‘s Marshall Pruett asked TUDOR United SportsCar Championship team owners and managers to offer their thoughts, suggestions, and solutions on the best direction forward for their respective classes, and the series as a whole, in a 4-part feature. This time: the GT Le Mans category.
After starting our series with a State of the Union on GT Daytona and PC, next on the list is GT Le Mans, playground for tire manufacturers, automobile manufacturers and their factory GTLM programs, and a few works-affiliated efforts.
We selected three members from each of the four classes, and for GTLM, went with a veteran team owner whose team competes in open-wheel and sports cars and sees road racing from both sides of the fence, the director of racing for a manufacturer that recently returned to the sport and has a fresh view of the series, and another manufacturer representative who, after submitting their answers, asked to remain anonymous.
As we found in Parts 1 and 2, GTLM owners and reps share many viewpoints, and some of their needs differ greatly from those in GTD and PC. Many GTLM manufacturers shoulder significant portions of the advertising costs involved with promoting the TUDOR Championship, and buying/supporting airtime for the events to be carried on TV. They also tend to operate under the greatest level of scrutiny from shareholders and upper management alike – representing billion-dollar brands comes with a special kind of pressure most other classes and teams will never face.
Contrasting the privateer, small business owner’s perspectives in GTD and PC, this is our first look at IMSA’s State of the Union from the paddock’s corporate section.
1. What are the main items within your class that are working well?
Beth Paretta, Motorsports Director, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: The balance of performance is definitely getting there. It’s been a bit of a pendulum, though for some teams it makes it difficult. This is something many fans aren’t aware of so they don’t necessarily understand why a car and team is competitive and then suddenly not. We all know that BoP is not easy and in this first year with four classes, the task was bigger than ever. GTLM has the tightest, most competitive GT racing in the world and we know not every team will be happy 100 percent of the time but, as a class, we are getting there.
Bobby Rahal, co-owner, BMW Team RLL: All in all, I think the BoP is pretty close to being right although every team/manufacturer will complain how they’re not being given what they need.
Manufacturer Representative: I think the performance balancing effort has been very good. The races so far have been very competitive with any one of the brands fully capable of winning. Scot Elkins listens well and has a broad technical understanding.
2: What are the main items within your class that would benefit from changes for 2015, and what solutions would improve or correct those items?
Bobby Rahal, co-owner, BMW Team RLL: There is still too much game playing at the beginning of the year in regards to BoP. Pit placements are confusing – should be leaders are toward pit exit with slower teams further back. Little consistency there. Not sure officials understand the effect of pit placements on finishing performance.
Manufacturer Representative: We have refined the GT class so much there is not much more that can be done. I think fuel capacity and fuel fill times will be seeing increased scrutiny. Those few seconds in the pit lane are now deciding the winner.
Beth Paretta, Motorsports Director, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: Most of our changes occur in 2016.
3: From a series-wide standpoint, what areas are performing well as we look to 2015?
Beth Paretta, Motorsports Director, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: Consistent TV broadcasts – we are getting there. Possible changes of broadcast content in 2015 will be exciting. It’s early days there, but if we can work on it that will be great. We now have consistent Manufacturers’ meetings and marketing meetings in addition to engineering meetings. More dialogue is good. We all have the same goal – success of the series – and we all respect each other and the need for good competition. It makes the wins that much more valuable for all.
Bobby Rahal, co-owner, BMW Team RLL: TV at Daytona and Sebring. Reasonably good fields, the schedule, although the Le Mans break is too big. If you want to go to Le Mans, that’s your choice, but don’t inhibit the rest of the schedule. We’re missing a big part of the summer as a result.
Manufacturer Representative: The mid-season shift to separate the PC and GTD classes from the Pro classes at some venues represents some intelligent thinking by IMSA.
4: What are the main series-wide items that would benefit from changes for 2015, and what solutions would improve or correct those items?
Bobby Rahal, co-owner, BMW Team RLL: More prize money.
Beth Paretta, Motorsports Director, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: Consistent penalties. The review process, assessment, and serving of them. GTD is an enormous field and they are almost as fast as the PC/DPs so that balance still needs some tweaking. More courtesy to the gentlemen racers. This series is built on two things – manufacturers and gentlemen. Showcase both and we’ll continue to show up.
Manufacturer Representative: From the perspective of growing the business, TV has to be addressed. For the most part the races on Fox Sports 2 are useless. Fans are relentless in their complaining about this issue. Then we need to look at the broadcast content. I am not sure who is dictating this presentation format but, as example, in the last hour of the Watkins Glen broadcast there was about 90 seconds of actual content on the GT class race. Granted, the DP race was inspiring…but so was the GT race and there was literally NO mention of that fact until the race had concluded. That has always been a problem and it seems to continue.
I have met with the TV folks several times to present my suggestions: In the TV trailer you have a person dedicated to prototypes and a person dedicated to GTs. They, in turn, can pass on relevant info, upcoming critical pit stops or other issues affecting their individual class. I believe this would help present a far more balanced broadcast which, in turn, would be far more interesting.
5: Looking at the 2014 schedule, which venues would your class, team or business benefit by visiting again in 2015, are there any new venues that would improve your class/team/business, and are there any that would benefit your class/team/business by being replaced or dropped altogether?
Beth Paretta, Motorsports Director, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: We need to be in the Northeast and possibly the Northwest as well as another city venue. Those do well to introduce casual and new fans to watching sports car racing live. We can’t judge the success of a race weekend on the size of the grid. It has to be the size and quality of the crowd and the size and quality of the viewing audience at home. The work isn’t done when the grid is filled. (Looking at you, Watkins Glen.)
Manufacturer Representative: I have to give the series credit on this one. This is one of the BEST single-season schedules I have seen. The only obvious absence that has value is Mid-Ohio. Understanding that track’s new management is a handful, it could be a challenge to get them back in the loop. But, that would be the only addition I would see as beneficial and all of the current venues are worthwhile. VIR is of marginal marketing benefit, but the management there is quite good and the drivers like the track so, I don’t see that as a negative event. In addition, continuing to separate ourselves from IndyCar is a great thing.
Bobby Rahal, co-owner, BMW Team RLL: The GTLM schedule of circuits is good. No complaints.
6: Open Forum:
Manufacturer Representative: The series has demonstrated very little respect for the competitor. TUDOR is not NASCAR. Team owners/factories are not lining their pockets with millions of dollars from NASCAR. Yet, TUDOR still suffers the wrath of NASCAR. Crappy TV, crappy competitor parking accommodations, crappy pre-race promotional efforts, very questionable race-directing, overly long podium ceremonies, too many outside club-racing level series cramming the available paddock space and taking up on-track time.
A small, recent example of that disrespect: At the NASCAR-owned-and-operated Watkins Glen we had 500 working personnel in pit lane for a 6-hour race, and there was not a single porta-john available (that I saw)! We had scrutineering on Thursday and no track time until Friday afternoon…go figure. They can do sooooo much better. The true test will be what NASCAR does between Petit and Daytona. Will they recognize the areas that need improving and make some changes…or will it be business as usual?
Beth Paretta, Motorsports Director, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: TV, TV, TV and the content of what we are showing. It’s more than cars circling the track – we need to show the drama, the people, the gentlemen drivers, the fight, the frustration, the celebration, the irritation over picking the wrong flag girls…