IMSA will unveil a new qualifying process for its GT Daytona class later this week as teams prepare for Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
The WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debuted a new system at Round 1 in Daytona where teams in each of IMSA’s five classes earned points based on where they qualified. Starting at Sebring, another new process will be deployed as Pro and Am drivers in GTD take to the track to play different roles.
“Everybody here is extremely excited about the new GTD qualifying format,” IMSA president John Doonan told RACER. “I think for our audience, whether they’re watching qualifying live at Sebring or through streaming, will find the two-driver format creates a lot of opportunities for excitement. You’ve got the first driver, the Bronze or Silver driver non-professional, going first and qualifying for position in their 15-minute segment, and then you have the professional driver strap in and go for points in their 15-minute window.
“For the fans, because it’s a team sport, you get to see the best of both worlds in seeing the two different segments, with a break in between. It’s a new look for us. The main impetus is entertainment for the audience. And second, it’s to gather data in what we believe is an opportunity to see the car’s ultimate performance.”
The change brings a celebration of speed to IMSA’s most populated WeatherTech Championship class. With rules requiring the driver who qualifies each entry to take the start of the race, it has become a common practice for teams to use their Am drivers in qualifying, which then allows that driver to complete their minimum drive-time requirements and hand off to the Pro (or Pros, in an endurance event) for the bulk of the contest.
As a result, the fastest drivers in each team are rarely tasked with qualifying, and therefore, each car’s maximum potential is unlikely to be demonstrated in the one session where outright speed is the goal. By giving Pro drivers in GTD a session of their own, and adding the incentive of earning points — more for the fastest, and less for the slowest — teams have a reason to chase track records while attempting to improve their standing in the championship.
“The voice among manufacturers and our loyal fan base has been heard,” Doonan said. “For years, we may not have seen maximum performance in qualifying throughout the entire field, and by awarding points, we believe that that’s an additional incentive towards the GTD championship. They will give everybody a reason to show us exactly what they’re capable of because as we’ve seen the last many years, the championship comes down to, in some cases, just a few points. And so I think everybody is going to want to acquire as much as they can starting at Sebring and for the rest of the year.”
The split position/points qualifying format is only being used in GTD this year, leaving the two other Pro-Am classes in LMP2 and LMP3 open for future consideration.
“In GTLM, LMP3, LMP2 and DPi, it’s one session, one driver, for both points and position, and GTD was chosen as the single class to try this new method because that’s the feedback we received among the three classes that use professional and non-professional drivers,” Doonan added.
“But I think it’s definitely something to look at for the future. The market voted on this and for the GTD folks, they felt strongly about both drivers being involved. And in LMP2 and LMP3, the market voted and they wanted to stick with the single driver. So we’ll monitor this throughout the season and check in with LMP2 and LMP3 teams to see if they want to follow suit with GTD in the years to come.”