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. Finally: the Prototype category.
Prototype brings our State of the Union mid-season review to an end, and we’ve chosen two Grand-Am diehards representing rival brands, and an ALMS devotee whose team is co-owned by one of IMSA’s sponsors. The Grand-Am owners have similar, if not identical views, as a result of how their programs are funded, and the P2 co-owner isn’t afraid to express the needs he sees for his side of the DP/P2 war.
Hopefully, their insights add to the compelling and constructive dialogue offered by GTD, PC and GTLM team owners and representatives.
1: What are the main items within your class that are working well?
Wayne Taylor, owner, Wayne Taylor Racing: Given the DPs and the LMP2s being so far apart, in terms of technology, I think they’ve done a fairly good job on the balance of performance, although I hate it when we have balance of performance changed every weekend. It just then becomes a little ridiculous. But overall, they’ve done a good job on balance of performance.
Scott Sharp, co-owner, Extreme Speed Motorsports: I think Scot Elkins and the TUDOR guys have done a tremendous job of greatly improving the speed of the DPs since last year. I remember last August when no one ever thought they could compete with a P2 car and now we’re chasing them!
In addition, while some tracks have had more disparity, there have been some very tight practice and qualifying sessions between the two types of cars.
Michael Shank, owner, Michael Shank Racing: Hard to believe this but I believe that the BoP between DP and P2 is as good as it will get. This was an impossible task from the beginning. As team owners we told IMSA this many times. Starts and restarts are hard for P2s but at many of the tracks we go to they are quicker when you look at the all-important 20 percent of fastest laps…
In my estimation it will be difficult to balance it any better.
Timing and scoring is better than anything we had in Grand-Am, with much better access to video and data to include the IM system now in place.
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?
Scott Sharp, co-owner, Extreme Speed Motorsports: If the TUDOR series wants to continue to try to combine DPs and P2s within one class, there needs to be found ways to make the two cars “race” better with each other. There have been many ideas thrown about but it’s quite obvious that a P2 car struggles mightily in traffic compared to the DP and that is mainly due to a lack of torque and power off the corners. On a clear lap in practice or qualifying, the P2 car can sometimes match closely with the DP but in the race there is a huge disparity on traffic laps. Additionally, as it’s quite obvious, P2s struggle to bring the tire temperatures up resulting in large time losses.
If a way can be found to fix both of these issues, tremendously competitive races could be had.
Michael Shank, owner, Michael Shank Racing: I have many items here but will try to list some major ones:
• No more major changes to DPs. Not one more dollar spent on updating DPs. Zero. We have bled massive dollars for this merger!
• Split classes on restarts: Put the cars from each class together before each restart. My team has given [Race Director] Paul Walters the exact way to do this in a timely fashion. It improves the show and race for everyone involved. IMSA refuses to look at it.
• Actually make the Prototype class attractive to Pro/Am driver combinations again. There are many items we can do to make this a place where guys that want to run at the top level can do so.
• To include a separate Pro/Am championship, extra track time, extra tires, etc. For the health of our series, this MUST be brought to the front again.
• Once and for all get the BoP correct for the DP cars and lock it down. Threaten the manufacturers about developing their motors any further… What we have gone through this year is beyond unacceptable.
• IMSA must also completely understand how turbo and non-turbo cars are effected by altitude and air density. We are not completely there yet.
Wayne Taylor, owner, Wayne Taylor Racing: The main thing is to fix the rules – the balance of performance. We, as the DP owners, have spent the most amount of money conforming to these new rules, which is still disappointing for me, but it is what it is. I think that we should stop having to spend more money to keep slowing our cars down; if there has to be any more balance of performance then it should be done the other way around. But having said that, I still think that they should leave the rules as they were when we raced at Watkins Glen. I think we would be good through 2015. Just leave it alone.
3: From a series-wide standpoint, what areas are performing well as we look to 2015?
Wayne Taylor, owner, Wayne Taylor Racing: Well, first it’s nice to go to races where we have large crowds and lots of spectators know who we are. I have to say that the marketing department and PR department have stepped up. I think there’s a much better synergy between the marketing people of the sanctioning body and our partners. Obviously, from my standpoint, that is very important because my program is run on a completely commercial basis. I’m not funded by anybody other than commercial partners and those are the partners that make the sport work. So I think there has been a definite change there and I’m happy with that.
Scott Sharp, co-owner, Extreme Speed Motorsports: Car count is high! Action on the track is plentiful! Both GT classes seem to be providing great racing for the fans.
Michael Shank, owner, Michael Shank Racing: From series wide standpoint I have to say that it appears that attendance is up at ALL venues. IMSA and its tracks have done good job at getting the word out about our show coming to town. Also there is the curiosity for people to see the new series run.
4: What are the main series-wide items that would benefit from changes for 2015, and what solutions would improve or correct those items?
Wayne Taylor, owner, Wayne Taylor Racing: I think they need to come back to 10 races. I know it’s not a lot of driving time for the guys, but the reality is that the budgets are too high.
Scott Sharp, co-owner, Extreme Speed Motorsports: In my mind, the first step was to get under one roof. Now, how do we as a series optimize all of the promotion, media, exposure, marketing and utilize all of the manufacturers, sponsors and television partners’ efforts in a combined manner that pushes the series to a greater level?
Michael Shank, owner, Michael Shank Racing: Going forward we must improve our TV package. We must be, at the minimum, be on live Fox Sports 1 every race with an occasional Fox national in there. There is no excuse that our major races cannot be on live FS1. I understand that this is not always possible but the move must be toward this if we, as teams, expect to raise any kind of real sponsor dollars.
• Race calling: Many mistakes this year from the race director. A lot of these mistakes are well documented. The solution for this is for whoever is directing the series they have to keep in mind we have “fans.” What is the best thing we can do for the fans in any given situation? If you look at Watkins there were two times yellows should have been thrown but were not because of the lingering “Sebring effect.” We are lucky no one got hurt at the 6 Hour.
• Penalties, penalty box and fines: Absolutely ridiculous fines and penalty system across the board. The whole entire system needs to be re-thought and corrected before 2015. It would take me hours to go through all the issues here. IMSA has managed to lose sight of what’s really important in this area.
• Too many classes: Going to have to dump at least one class soon… It is impossible to follow our series. Again, the casual fan cannot keep up and or develop a favorite driver or team when classes are on and off so many race weekends. Is the GTD class running this weekend? Is PC here? GTLM? Prototype?… A two-class system is best, no question.
• Tech needs a lot of work: As of this writing not one fuel cell or engine has been checked all year. Again, IMSA is not looking at the real issues. Think basic Tech 101 and that’s we need to start again.
• Costs: I am over $1m more this year than last to operate. It’s just out of control… Ways to fix: Not many; however, one would be to cut to 10 races and also tighten testing back down like we had in Grand-Am.
Remember that we DP owners spent all the money and P2 had to do ZERO to run this year.
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?
Wayne Taylor, owner, Wayne Taylor Racing: I would get rid of Road America; it does nothing for me or my partners. In fact, it will be the only race that I don’t have real commercial partners at that event. Although I love the track and the facility, if I were to choose one to drop, that would be the one. I think we’ve got a good spread actually – Daytona, Sebring, Petit Le Mans, Long Beach, Detroit. Indy. Laguna. I’m happy with those, to be honest.
Michael Shank, owner, Michael Shank Racing: I believe that IMSA has done a very good job with the schedule for 2014. For me personally/financially, I lose a lot of money not running at Mid-Ohio since it is my home race. That said, the one race that could easily be dropped, if we are dropping one, is Mosport. It’s a big expense for most teams. Let’s see how the attendance figures come back.
Going to 10 races helps the bottom line by $250k. That’s a good thing. If we are staying at 11 races then I want to be where the people are for my sponsors, which means running with NASCAR. Hate to say it but we need to go where people are, whether they like sports cars or not.
Scott Sharp, co-owner, Extreme Speed Motorsports: While there are some brilliant tracks on the schedule, some of those unfortunately are far from larger population areas, draw small crowds, or deliver very little value from a sponsorship/exposure/media perspective. The goal needs to be a “big event feel” at hopefully every stop on the schedule and whatever markets or tracks it takes to get to that point is where we should be performing. If there is a high-profile street circuit available, or premier standalone market the series can be a part of, we should be there if that will raise the ROI of the whole series.
6: Open Forum:
Wayne Taylor, owner, Wayne Taylor Racing: Clarification and early information from the technical department is crucial for 2017. Let’s not wait now until October or November of 2016 and start writing rules. Everyone knows what we have now. Leave the damn cars alone. Leave the Balance of Performance alone. Don’t touch it. Just start working on 2017. All the LMP2 cars, all the DP cars we know are solid, we know the tracks that are good for us. The rest of it, just leave it alone.
We’re spending too much money for too little return. And as a team owner, if I can’t make it work as a business, then I can’t be here. So just leave that alone for now. And focus on putting the rules together for our class and every class so that everybody has enough time to decide which way they want to go.
Michael Shank, owner, Michael Shank Racing: Everything said above still does NOTHING to address the real problem we have in IMSA/Sports car racing in the U.S.: We cannot sell our programs for what it costs us to operate!
It was a problem in Grand-Am, and it was a huge problem in ALMS. Until we get our product to the masses, we will not completely succeed in selling our series.
Wayne Taylor has done about the best job in our current series, and I feel like I have done very well with our corporate sales this year, but still cannot get to 50 percent of what it costs me to turn up for a season.
We must create a compelling reason for people to become passionate about our sport. The only REAL player here is NASCAR. And by the way, we are owned by NASCAR, so how is it we cannot leverage this in a way that compels people to love our drivers like they do in NASCAR? If we drive the people to care about our series, the people will drive corporate America to us.