One of the few unknowns for IMSA entering the 2022 season was the realignment of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT classes.
Following the August 2021 decision of the Automobile Club d’Ouest (ACO) to replace its GTE category with GT3-based cars at the end of the 2023 season, IMSA, after consultation with its participating teams and manufacturers, chose to phase out its equivalent GT Le Mans (GTLM) class a year early. IMSA created a new class known as GTD Pro that, like the continuing GTD category, encouraged factory participation with “pro” driver line-ups.
After initially announcing that GTD Pro would feature a slightly different Balance of Performance to create separation from GTD, IMSA elected to keep the car specifications between the two classes identical, right down to the control Michelin S9M tire. This created some concern about the potential for confusion among fans and chaos on the track, but halfway through the 2022 campaign, those worries have proven unfounded.
Participation is up, with an increase in entries across the board. The racing in both GTD and GTD Pro has been intense and competitive, and to date, the theoretically superior teams and all-pro driver line-ups drivers in GTD Pro have shown a clean pair of heels to their GTD counterparts.
“I think the market spoke, we tried to implement and execute a strategy that we thought was best for the market, and they responded,” says IMSA President John Doonan. “To have 35 cars at Daytona and a significant number following the whole series, is a major statement. Acura, Aston Martin, BMW, Porsche, Lexus, AMG-Mercedes, Lamborghini…all have had a presence in both classes this year.
“If you want to give us a report card so far, it seems we’re doing OK — from the fan reaction to the amount of participation,” he adds. “We want to put on an incredibly good demonstration of sports car racing for our audience, and that, to me, has been the huge result in this — the number of different manufacturers that have stood on the podium, and the number of manufacturers that have won races.”
Lexus was one of the strongest voices in terms of manufacturers lobbying for IMSA to continue with a dual-class solution that allowed for varying levels of factory support. After fielding a pair of RC F GT3 entries in GTD in association with Vasser Sullivan for the last several years, Lexus opted to split its effort between GTD and GTD Pro in 2022.
“In the GTD class, with the Pro/Am status, Lexus gave us a little help, but it was up to us to run everything else,” relates Vasser Sullivan co-principal Jimmy Vasser. “Now TRD and the factory are more involved in running the Pro car, and we’re energized. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride the last two or three years with COVID and dwindling entries, but now that’s reversed. It seems like the series is very healthy and has great new momentum.”
Doonan admits that IMSA’s biggest challenge this year was determining a baseline balance of performance for the new-for-2022 BMW M4 GT3, as well as the special circumstances of Corvette Racing, which will not be able to produce a version of the C8.R homologated to full GT3 specifications and made available to customer teams until 2023.
The Corvette required extensive modification from the existing GTLM/GTE spec and the team struggled in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, which was won by the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche after a thrilling duel with another 911 GT3. A BoP adjustment was granted prior to the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which the Corvette of Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia proceeded to dominate.
Corvette looked good again at Long Beach, but victory ultimately went to the Heart of Racing Aston Martin. Then at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Porsche — which could arguably be considered the BoP baseline — was again the class of the field.
With GTD Pro on an eight-week hiatus to accommodate teams participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there will undoubtedly be additional BoP adjustments prior to the next round of the WeatherTech Championship at Watkins Glen International in late June.
“As we all know, BoP is a long-term process,” notes Corvette Racing Program Director Marc Maurini. “It’s something that we are relying on IMSA to get right. We’ve done our best to provide them with as much data as possible.”
Doonan admits that Corvette continues to be a work in progress, and he acknowledges the grumbles from the BMW camp.
“We had to make some adjustments during the Sebring weekend, and we’ve had to make subsequent adjustments to try to make sure we do the right thing by everyone that is participating,” Doonan says. “Have we been perfect on our BoP? No, and not just with the Corvette, but with every car.
“IMSA’s true intent is to create the best endurance sports car racing for our audience that we can,” he adds. “I would suggest that we will continue to make refinements that will create the best show based on the performance that has been demonstrated to us.”
It’s hard to argue about the quality of the show so far in 2022. While the customer teams have relished the opportunity to take on more fancied factory efforts with the same basic equipment, a GTD “David” is yet to defeat a GTD Pro “Goliath.” One or both of the GT classes has been a talking point after every IMSA race.
Ford will arrive with a GT3-homologated Mustang for Pro and customer teams, and Toyota recently unveiled a GT3 concept car that will form the basis of the next-generation Lexus competitor.
“If you like the racing you’ve seen so far, it’s going to get better,” Doonan declares. “I’m so excited about it.”