IMSA’s 50th Finale

Cadillac was chasing everyone else for a change. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Cadillac was chasing everyone else for a change. [Photo by Jack Webster]

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

The sun is about to set on IMSA’s historic 50th Anniversary season, with only the Motul Petit Le Mans remaining on this year’s schedule.

At the conclusion of Petit Le Mans (October 12), champions will have been decided in all of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes: DPi, LMP2, GTLM and GTD. In addition to the season long championship, the Michelin Endurance Cup championship will be decided as well for all classes (the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen and Motul Petit Le Mans make up this 52 hours of racing for a separate championship).

Petit will also mark the end of the reign of Scott Atherton as President of IMSA, who has done an outstanding job of overseeing professional sports car racing in America, first as President of the ALMS and once the merger with GrandAm was completed, as President of the new incarnation of IMSA. For 20 years with both the old and new IMSA, Scott was the right guy at the right time to oversee this evolution of sports car racing and he leaves with IMSA riding high – with improved TV coverage and ratings, larger crowds, and strong factory participation in all of its classes of racing. IMSA’s “fan friendly” atmosphere went a long way in creating a loyal fan base and the current state of the series is excellent because of it. Scott with continue at IMSA president through the end of 2019 and after that will transition to the IMSA board of directors.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t very serious challenges ahead for whoever takes over at the helm of IMSA for next year and beyond (word is that Scott’s successor has been chosen, but not announced to the public as of yet). While many of the current and upcoming challenges for IMSA are out of the control of management, having the right person at the top can certainly help to keep the organization going in the right direction. The DPi ranks are losing Nissan, as John Bennett’s CORE Motorsports has elected not to return next season in the DPi ranks (they will continue to run the Porsche factory GTLM effort). And with new DPi rules coming for 2022, there appears to be no new teams ready to jump into the series next season as of yet. However, rumors are flying that there just may be customer Mazda or Acura DPi cars in the mix sooner rather than later. In GTLM, Ford has elected to end their participation with the Ford GT (all along the program was due to end this season), but one has to wonder why now, with the potential blockbuster film “Ford v Ferrari” set for release in November, which is sure to create additional excitement for endurance racing, and IMSA races at Daytona and Sebring in particular. On a positive note for GTLM in 2020, Corvette will be racing with its all new mid-engine C8.R, which fans will turn out in droves to see. LMP2 car counts are still weak (only two cars contested the entire season in 2019), but schedule and championship changes coming for 2020 should help with car counts in that class. As usual, the FIA has elected to march to their own drummer, with the hypercar class coming soon, so it looks like the chances for merging IMSA and FIA prototype regulations are dead for the time being.

All in all, 2019 has been an outstanding season. Just looking at the current championship standings you can see how competitive IMSA’s 50th Anniversary season has been, and continues to be going into the last race of the season. In DPi, Acura Team Penske sits atop the point standings in all three categories: drivers, manufacturers and team. Whelen Engineering with Cadillac is a close second, while the mid-season performance of Mazda Team Joest has them nipping at the tails of the leading duo.

It GTLM, it has pretty much been Porsche’s year, with all their drivers sitting atop the driver’s championship standings, while Porsche also leads the Team and Manufacturers Championship as well. However, spirited class battles took place all season long with Corvette, Ford and BMW all competitive at one point or another during the year.

In GTD, easily the most competitive class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian leads the way for Acura in both the Driver’s and Team’s championships, while Lamborghini holds a slim one point advantage in the Manufacturer’s championship. Don’t bet against MSR sweeping all the GTD awards at the conclusion of the Motul Petit Le Mans.

All will be decided soon enough, as the Motul Petit Le Mans is right around the corner. The Road Atlanta circuit is a fitting place to end such an historic season of IMSA racing. Once the race is completed and all the championships are decided, we can look forward to the next half century of IMSA competition.

The 2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona will be here before we know it.

Share Button