If you’re a car racing fan, are you into it for the cars or for the racing?
OK, it’s not as simple as that, because there are a lot of other factors involved, whether cheering for certain drivers or team owners, or showing loyalty to a favorite marque or a sponsor. But ultimately, what motivates people to develop a fascination for auto racing?
In racing, the car side of the equation has often taken a back seat over the last 20 years as the forces of commerce and competition created consolidation in the marketplace. The days of manufacturers rolling out ‘new’ cars every year or two are long gone for every form of racing except Formula 1, which continues to operate in its own exclusive cost-be-damned orbit.
But car fans should rejoice, because we are currently experiencing a couple years that may not be repeated again for quite some time in the future. Almost every major form of racing – even F1 – introduced or will roll out genuinely new equipment in 2022 or 2023, creating a focus on the cars that hasn’t been seen for decades. The list includes NASCAR, IMSA, and even Formula E.
The first major changes to F1 regulations since the start of the hybrid era in 2014 not only resulted in fresh thinking leading to cars that no longer look almost identical, but a shake-up of the established running order. A Mercedes 1-2 is no longer a formality; in fact, the team’s mysterious struggle to get back anywhere near front-running pace has been a major storyline.
The level of change is even greater in NASCAR, where the introduction of the Next Gen Cup Series car not only represents a once-in-a-generation technology upgrade, but also a fundamental culture shift in terms of how cars are designed, built, and prepared. In that regard, NASCAR has fallen much more in line with other racing series around the world, much to the chagrin of the old guard. It will take a couple more years to truly understand the impact the Next Gen car and its methodology will have on NASCAR, but for the moment, it has shaken up the established competitive pecking order and created some truly wild playoff scenarios.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is perhaps in the best position to capitalize on that new car feeling. Aside from being the most technically advanced cars that will regularly compete in North America in 2023, the new LMDh prototypes currently being developed by Porsche, Cadillac, Acura, and BMW are just exceptionally good-looking racing cars by modern standards. Lamborghini has already announced plans to build an LMDh car for 2024, and others may follow.
Plus, IMSA’s LMDh prototypes will be able to compete on level terms for overall wins with Hypercars from the FIA World Endurance Championship, not only here in the States, but at WEC events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the first race at Le Mans, and American participation and interest is expected to reach an all-time high, with anticipated presence from Porsche Penske Motorsport, Chip Ganassi Racing (with Cadillac), and the unique ‘Garage 56’ entry NASCAR Cup Car to be fielded by Hendrick Motorsports.
Top-level prototypes won’t be the only new cars on the IMSA grid in 2023. The latest GT3 iteration of the BMW M4 already hit the track this year, and Porsche and Ferrari just revealed their redesigned 2023 contenders. The new Porsche 911 GT3 R and Ferrari 296 GT3 look truly spectacular, and they’ll be joined in 2023 by a fully GT3-certified version of the Corvette C8.R and a year later by a highly anticipated GT3 version of the Ford Mustang.
It’s clear that for true car enthusiasts, IMSA is the series to follow. It’s not often that a Golden Era is talked about in advance, but everything seems to be lining up nicely for IMSA to turn that optimistic forecast into reality.