IMSA’s top WeatherTech SportsCar Championship class for factories will be replaced in 2022 as GT Le Mans gives way to a new category, GT Daytona Pro. GTD Pro will welcome auto manufacturers and independent teams to participate using all-pro driver line-ups.
IMSA’s existing GT Daytona class remains unchanged, with its requirement for non-factory teams and amateur drivers serving as the core of GTD’s pro-am regulations.
“The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has long been regarded as featuring the world’s greatest GT manufacturers, teams and drivers and some of the world’s most exciting and competitive professional GT endurance racing through the GTLM class,” said IMSA President John Doonan. “We believe the move to GTD Pro offers the best opportunity for manufacturers and teams to continue that legacy well into the future. We expect considerable manufacturer participation when we kick off the GTD Pro class a year from now in the 60th Rolex 24 At Daytona.”
The decision comes after the once-popular GTLM class has experienced a gradual decline in auto manufacturer participation. Although this weekend’s season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona race will feature six GTLM entries represented by BMW Team RLL, Corvette Racing, Proton Competition (Porsche) and Risi Competizione (Ferrari), only three cars are registered to take part in the majority of remaining events.
Counter to GTLM, IMSA’s GTD category continues to deliver the series’ highest number of entries. Thanks to its embrace of GT3 regulations, which caters to privateers and small business owners, most of the manufacturers who build and race factory GTLMs also produce GT3 models. BMWs, Ferraris, and Porsches are found in GTD, and while Aston Martin’s GTLM chassis does not race in IMSA, its GT3 model competes in GTD. Corvette, at present, is the only factory GTLM entrant without a GT3 variant in GTD.
Add in GT3 cars made by Acura, Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG, and Nissan, and the prospects for car companies to save considerable costs associated with GTLM by using existing GT3 machinery to compete at the factory level. IMSA is pinning its hopes on GTD Pro as the new home manufacturers will choose.
It’s believed Corvette Racing will bring its championship-winning C8.R to GTD Pro in 2022, and BMW has a new M4 GT3 model that is also expected to compete in the new factory class, which would represent a clean transfer of IMSA’s two GTLM factory programs to the new category.
“The introduction of a GTD Pro category in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is a positive move forward for the future of professional GT racing in North America,” said Mark Stielow, Chevrolet’s Director of Motorsports, Competition Engineering. “We appreciate the leadership and openness from IMSA during this on-going process. Now that the class structure has been established, Corvette Racing and Chevrolet will continue to work with IMSA to determine how Corvette could fit into this new future of GT competition.”
Both Acura and Lexus debuted in GTD with approval from IMSA to field factory campaigns for a single season, and to varying degrees, each of the aforementioned GT3 manufacturers provide some level of support — financial, technical, or spare parts, if not all three — to their customer teams. Altogether, manufacturers could have an easier time receiving approval for new factory programs in GTD Pro due to the cost savings from 2022 onward.
GTD Pro will be open to manufacturers with new or existing models that comply with GT3’s next-generation rules.
“New FIA GT3 technical regulations will debut in 2022,” IMSA wrote. “New cars built to those specifications, as well as any existing cars upgraded through ‘Evo’ kits will be eligible to compete in GTD Pro and GTD starting next year.”
Of the questions IMSA will need to answer before next season, determining if and how the performance of GTD Pro will differ from GTD could be atop its to-do list. In qualifying for this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, the fastest GTLM runner was nearly four seconds faster than the best GTD entry, which could lead the series to implement differing Balance of Performance tables for GTD Pro and GTD that preserve a similar gap.
Another significant question to resolves comes with IMSA’s upcoming split from the ACO on the use of GTLM rules. As GTLM entrants in IMSA, manufacturers have had an easy pathway to ship their cars to France and compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although the same factory and independent GTLM teams will remain capable of filing Le Mans entries on their own, the direct GTLM alignment between IMSA and the ACO will no longer exist after 2021.
The ACO, and its partners at the FIA World Endurance Championship, do not permit GT3-based cars in any of the classes that race at 24 Hours of Le Mans or the WEC’s other rounds.
When the 2022 WeatherTech Championship season gets under way, it will have DPi, LMP2, LMP3, GTD Pro, and GTD as its five class offerings.