Dawn Of A New Golden Age

Audi dominated in the new century. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Audi dominated in the new century. [Photo by Jack Webster]

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

Amazing grid at Road America CanAm in 1972. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Amazing grid at Road America CanAm in 1972. [Photo by Jack Webster]

The past is often remembered through rose-colored glasses, and we tend to remember past races and race series as “epic” and “spectacular” and long to go back to the good old days of motorsport.

But we live in the present and are rushing head long into the future. Frankly, in our combined 75+ years of motorsport experience, we cannot think of another time when we have been on the cusp of such a renaissance of sports car racing.

CanAm golden age, Mosport 1972. [Photo by Jack Webster]

CanAm golden age, Mosport 1972. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Look at CanAm racing in the early 1970s. Massive fields of cars, factory involvement and huge crowds ruled the day. Once Porsche came onto the scene with a factory effort in 1972 and dominated, the series was no longer viable. McLaren left, the privateers had no chance of victory and the series died a quick death.

People look back at the 1980s and the IMSA GTP era and say: “Wow – those were the days!” Yes, all credit to IMSA for the creation of an outstanding era of competition with the GTP class. The fields were large, the crowds huge and the drivers outstanding. From the beginning, the GTP class attracted interesting cars and manufacturers from around the globe who showcased their products at classic venues like Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen.

Porsche 962, the car to have in the 1980s. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Porsche 962, the car to have in the 1980s. [Photo by Jack Webster]

By the Mid-1980s, the car to have was the Porsche 962. They were winning most of the races, whether with the factory-supported effort of Holbert Racing, or privateers like Rob Dyson and Bob Akin among others. The Group 44 Jaguars were a fan favorite, and they were competitive and won races as well.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the worm had turned. The Porsche 962 was developed as far as it could be and Porsche did not come forward with a replacement. Japanese manufacturers Nissan and Toyota came into the series and dominated. In the end, Toyota dominated to such an extent that the privateers decided that they were no longer interested in participating in a series where they had no chance of winning and they left.
It was great while it lasted.

Fast-forward to the first decade of the new century to another era now referred to as a “golden age” of sports car racing. Audi came into sports car racing with their prototype race cars (the R8, R10, R15 and R18) and literally dominated for 16 years – both in the US and in Europe. As costs of competition soared, Audi took their money, drivers and cars and left.

Today, the ACO and FIA are faced with a very uncertain future. In addition to Audi leaving, Porsche has pulled the plug as well, leaving only Toyota to race at the top prototype level. Just as in the end of the IMSA GTP era, Toyota is left as the only real player.

Into the Future. Petit Le Mans start 2017.  [Photo by Jack Webster]

Into the Future. Petit Le Mans start 2017. [Photo by Jack Webster]

However, we are now at the dawn of a new “golden age” of sports car racing, all thanks to IMSA, who chose to go their own direction and created the DPi class, which welcomed all manufacturers. The just concluded inaugural 2017 season was outstanding, with close competition, good car counts and participation from a number of manufacturers.

As good as 2017 was, 2018 and beyond look to be outstanding. Penske Racing joins the fray next year with two cars powered by Acura power plants, Joest Racing returns to the US with Mazda, Cadillac continues with three different cars, Nissan is in the mix, as well as a number of LMP2 cars. It is conceivable that at the Rolex 24 in January, we could see 20+ DPi cars on the grid, and likely see 16+ cars participate in the entire series.

The difference in this new “golden age” of sports car racing versus the past ones mentioned here is that this one looks to be sustainable into the future. Grids will continue to grow, more manufacturers will participate and the series looks to be on solid footing to go from strength to strength.

Having witnessed the past “golden ages” of sports car racing, we are looking forward to the growth of the one that was born in 2017.

IMSA has charted the right path to the future.

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Jack Webster has been shooting motorsports since the early 1970’s, covering Formula One, CanAm, F5000, TransAm, GrandAm and American Le Mans races, among others. In addition to his photography, he has also worked on racing teams, both in IMSA and IndyCar, so has a complete knowledge of the inner workings of motorsport. Both his photography and writing can be seen here on Eddie LePine has been involved in motorsports for over 30 years as photographer, columnist, and driver. Eddie also is now a retired racer (well, retired unless a good ride pops up). You can usually find Eddie in the paddock area, deep in conversation with a driver.