What might IMSA’s GT Le Mans class look like when we rock up to Daytona in early January for the Roar Before the 24? The upcoming unveiling of Corvette’s new C8 super car is likely a fine indicator of where GTLM 2020 is headed. Compared to Corvette’s current C7.R GTLM product that races into Lime Rock Park this weekend, the new version will feature major differences for the eyes and ears, and could have fewer cars to compete with on its debut.
Leading the GTLM remodeling project, Corvette’s move from its traditional front-engine naturally-aspirated V8 layout and relocating it to an all-new mid-engine configuration is the greatest change vehicular coming. As I’ve been saying since the 2019 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship kicked off, if you love the unapologetic sound of Corvette’s C7.R, be sure to attend a few races before it disappears.
At least from what we’ve heard in private testing videos, the new Pratt & Miller Engineering-built C8.R has a sharper pitch – slightly reminiscent of the old high-revving Ferrari F458s – than anything we’re accustomed to with the guttural C7.R.
Elsewhere in GTLM, the greatest change of all could come from a downsized car count in IMSA’s factory GT category. Reflecting on the planned departure of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing after four years in the class, two of the eight full-time entries in play this weekend are at risk of falling silent in October after IMSA’s Petit Le Mans finale in Georgia. That would leave only six cars – two apiece from BMW, Corvette, and Porsche – to maintain their popular GTLM rivalries, provided more departures do not take place.
But – and there’s always a ‘but’ in sports car competition – are we guaranteed to lose Ford? As I’ve documented a few times on RACER in recent months, the topic has been rife with options and possibilities, all with a variety of directions available to the brand. Ford’s FIA World Endurance Championship project has already shuttered; the physical process of winding the GT effort down at Multimatic’s shop in the U.K. is under way.
The same fate was also detailed for its IMSA program, and that’s where the ongoing intrigue remains. I’ve heard from a few solid sources that following June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, a very senior person at Ford – not from the racing division, but at the highest corporate level – made it known that keeping the GTs on track at home in 2020 was a significant priority.
Winding things back a wee bit, the whispers I’ve heard for quite a while involve Ford’s racing department struggling to acquire the budget to continue after 2019, whether with the GTs or a new DPi project. Don’t take this as gospel, but if there’s one way for a cancelled racing program to stay alive, it’s having one of the big bosses rally behind its continuation.
I wouldn’t put the odds at more than 50/50 right now so don’t book your Rolex 24 Ford GT Garage Tour quite yet, but maybe there’s some comfort in knowing the Blue Oval might spool up a new contract for CGR to stay in GTLM. An extension, I’d say, would also be a positive indication Ford is leaning towards a DPi program when the new 2.0 models arrive in 2022.
And will BMW, which withdrew its factory team from the FIA WEC after the 2018-2019 ‘Super Season’ ended last month, maintain its place in IMSA? All indicators, dating back to conversations at Sebring with BMW racing director Jens Marquardt, point to the affirmative.
In Germany, the brand’s racing leadership has been increasingly vocal in recent months regarding the importance of the North American market. In light of the layout changes at Corvette, having one front-engine holdout, courtesy of BMW’s M8 GTE, would preserve GTLM’s variety.
Although unconfirmed – just like every other aspect of the switch to C8.Rs—I’ve heard a few rumors of late that have the potential to reshape the program’s future. In a first for the brand, could the new Corvette race car be made available to private customers from the beginning? And with the arrival of a freshened C8.R concept, could other facets of the 20-year factory effort also be under review for modernization? The coming days and months will be worth following if you’re a Bowtie fan.
And what about Porsche? We’ll close with the only member of the ‘mid-rear engine’ contingent (as it prefers the location of the 911 RSR’s motor to be called). Photos of the new 2020 RSR 2.0 were recently distributed by the marque, and there’s every reason to believe it will be pressed into service by the Porsche GT Team once we’re done a few months from now at Road Atlanta.
Like the C7.R, the glorious sounds of the 911 RSR 1.0 bring joy to all those who are fortunate to experience its exhaust note. And like the C7.R’s upcoming successor, the sounds of the 911 RSR 2.0 on testing videos I’ve seen would suggest there will be changes in the air as well.
Who knows if the 2.0’s side exhausts will be modified to the 1.0’s rear firing position by the time we touch down in Daytona? And if they aren’t, well, there’s another reason to buy tickets and drink in the aural pleasure of the outgoing C7.Rs, 911 RSR 1.0s, the staccato Ford GTs, and the warbling alien soundtrack emanating from the BMWs.
While I can’t promise what the GTLM grid will contain in January, we do know there will be plenty of differences, and hopefully, they’re all for the better.