The biggest player in IMSA’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Prototype class has yet to declare its intention to continue in 2017, but GM Racing boss Mark Kent has confirmed the company’s options are currently being explored.
GM is known to have an interest in IMSA’s upcoming all-P2 formula which will replace the mixed Daytona Prototype/P2 format, and as Kent tells RACER, the firm has all it needs to decide whether a new car will replace its championship-winning Corvette DPs.
“I think as we look at the new chapter in prototype racing, it is truly an exciting time, starting in 2017 and beyond,” said Kent (LEFT). “We believe IMSA has done a very good job of bringing the balls down out of the air and locking down some of the key elements. Now we know which engines we’ll package, we now know what the bodywork will potentially look like.
“So we have enough information now to internally assess whether continuing in the series makes sense from a business perspective. And if we were to continue, we have enough definition to determine which product it makes the most sense to continue with.”
Rumors of GM considering a branding switch to use the Cadillac name with a 2017 P2 engine and bodywork package have also been making the rounds.
While Kent wasn’t ready to confirm GM’s return to Prototype, much less any specific model name or marque, he did concede the company’s twin-turbo V6 engine that powers its Pirelli World Challenge GT3-spec Cadillac ATS-V.Rs could be used in different applications.
“I think there are opportunities to use that engine elsewhere, with some minor modifications,” he added. “But the basic engine we think has a lot of applications. In fact, talking to IMSA, a lot of their thoughts on Prototype were around manufacturer-specific engines being based on GT3 engines. So I wouldn’t rule out that engine going elsewhere.
“We realize that today in sports car racing we race the small block V8 in the Chevrolets and we race the twin turbo V6 in the Cadillac. Both of those engines, it is my understanding, could be packaged in a prototype. There’s a lot of opportunities going forward. Again, we just need to explore all of them and make a decision that best aligns with our divisional marketing goals.”
The ACO, FIA, and IMSA nominated four chassis manufacturers for 2017, and of those four, it has been suggested GM Racing’s existing relationship with Dallara in IndyCar could the place the Italian firm in pole position to handle GM’s IMSA needs. Another point of interest could come in the form of how GM approaches P2 2017 with its existing Corvette DP teams.
Action Express Racing, Wayne Taylor Racing, and VisitFlorida.com Racing field a total of four Corvette DPs, and all rely on some form of manufacturer support from GM. AXR and VF use the Coyote chassis, while WTR is aligned with Dallara, and some of their drivers have expanded relationships with GM in other series. As a whole, GM’s introduction of the Corvette DP as a customer solution that can be purchased and raced—without direct manufacturer involvement—has been vital for the former Grand-Am Rolex Series, and more recently, in IMSA, but that dynamic could change if GM returns.
Just as GM could produce an engine and body solution for interested teams to buy, the possibility of forming a traditional factory-run program is also on the table. If that were to happen, it’s unclear whether AXR, VF, and/or WTR would receive contracts, or if GM would assign the program to a different vendor. Asked if a customer or factory 2017 program was preferred, Kent did his best to answer while noting the program first needs be confirmed.
“That’s a difficult one to answer, because I think both approaches have their pros and cons,” he said. “For many years, it looked like having a focused, two-car team was the approach to use. But if you look at more recent history in the Prototype class, having three or four Corvette Daytona Prototypes fielded by two or three different teams has resulted in multiple championships for us.”
“It’s also hard to argue why you wouldn’t continue down that path if you could continue with the strong teams that are currently running the Corvette Daytona Prototype?” Kent continued. “It’s not an easy thing to answer and obviously we won’t have to answer that question until we answer the question of whether or not we even continue in the prototype class.”
It would be quite a surprise to see GM Racing opt out of P2 2017, and based on the chatter taking place behind the scenes, their return sounds like a foregone conclusion. Provided everything happens as expected, IMSA could have one of GM’s upscale brands in its top-tier class, another angry twin-turbo V6 exhaust note to fill the air, and one or more teams flying the General’s flag.
“I think from our perspective, 2017 is a clean sheet of paper relative to where we go,” Kent explained. “Again, now that we know what engines can package and we know what potential styling cues can be on the body, we need to go back and determine, if it were to continue, what car division does it make the most sense to continue with? I applaud IMSA for getting things nailed down enough that we now can go and have those reviews internally and make an educated decision.”