Among the various benefits that could come from Roger Penske’s purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series, a closer alignment with IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is more than feasible.
Prior to his appointment as president of IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and its related series, John Doonan spent years competing against Roger Penske’s sports car teams in the American Le Mans Series, and more recently in IMSA, as the head of Mazda’s factory prototype programs.
Building from their longstanding relationship, the former rivals – now positioned atop their respective series – have the ability to find new areas where IndyCar and IMSA can grow together.
“Clearly Monday was a historic day for our sport,” Doonan told RACER. “Our sanctioning bodies have had the opportunity to work together, and compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and with Roger’s unprecedented success at the Speedway, and his belief in excellence, there’s no doubt that they’re going to carry that same philosophy into running the facility itself and the series.
“From the IMSA side, we currently share two weekends with IndyCar. Those seem to complement each other quite nicely at Long Beach and Belle Isle. The idea of seeing those opportunities grow is welcomed.”
As recently as 2008, the ALMS, which drew large audiences on its own, worked with IndyCar to assemble a significant calendar highlighted by four double features. Shared weekends at St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Detroit, and Mid-Ohio, in particular, filled the Ohio road course to capacity. Diverging fortunes and its sale to NASCAR sent the ALMS and IndyCar on different paths, and since its rebirth at IMSA, the two series have met twice a year at IndyCar’s street circuits.
Dialing the number back up to four would be hard to envision for the WeatherTech Championship, but with Penske’s desire for endurance racing to return to the Brickyard, future calendars could offer more twin bills than Long Beach and Belle isle.
“There’s a lot of discussion that would need to happen, because both championships currently have their schedules pretty well laid out for 2020, and in some cases, may have event promoter agreements that carry on past the 2020. In our case, the IMSA championships, we were able to announce seven series schedules back at Road America,” Doonan said.
“But I think there’s an interest among all the series to grow the audience, and if there are ways that we could work together, I think everybody would certainly sit at the table and look at all the options. For adding events, we need to look at the infrastructure and space required when particular series share venues. The length of races needs to be considered, because it impacts race team budgets. There’s a lot to consider when we look at what’s best for our teams and manufacturers.
“But these are items that warrant discussions. When the time comes, we’d look forward to sitting down with Roger and his team to talk about ways that we could revisit having sports cars at the Speedway.”