During the same State of the Sport press conference Friday where the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule was announced, IMSA announced the schedules for two more IMSA divisions.
IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge
For 2017, the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge remains the primary support series to the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. However, there are a couple of big changes of note.
Teams will compete in ten rounds like 2016. Also similar to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the fact that the only schedule change sees Circuit of the Americas move from September to May while Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca moves to September.
All of the race lengths will be different in 2017. The regular race length will drop from 150 minutes (2.5 hours) to 120 minutes (two hours). This is the race length that the series used at Lime Rock Park last year after the number of entries dropped to a low enough level to allow for one race with both classes as opposed to split races for the Grand Sport and Street Tuner classes.
The Daytona and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca rounds will be endurance events of four hours in length as opposed to the typical two. These will be the first races in the series longer than 150 minutes in length since 2009 at VIRginia International Raceway.
2017 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Schedule
|January 27||Daytona International Speedway||4 Hours|
|March 17||Sebring International Raceway||2 Hours|
|May 6||Circuit of the Americas||2 Hours|
|July 1||Watkins Glen International||2 Hours|
|July 8||Canadian Tire Motorsports Park||2 Hours|
|July 22||Lime Rock Park||2 Hours|
|August 6||Road America||2 Hours|
|August 26||VIRginia International Raceway||2 Hours|
|September 23||Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca||4 Hours|
|October 6||Road Atlanta||2 Hours|
The Grand Sport class will look a little different in 2017 as the series will adopt full GT4 regulations for the headlining class. That will allow for a number of new cars to enter the class. In addition, it will allow teams that currently run in Pirelli World Challenge’s GTS class to double dip as the series will be running identical rules. IMSA’s press release indicates that they will allow cars from “mainstream automotive manufacturers” to compete in Grand Sport next season, in addition to current Grand Sport cars that will be grandfathered.
Unfortunately, the mainstream automotive manufacturers rule does actually rule out some current cars built to GT4 standards. In Pirelli World Challenge, the KTM X-Bow GT4, SIN R1 GT4 and the Ginetta G55 GT4 all race full-time in the GTS class. Frontstretch sought comment from IMSA on the eligibility of those cars for 2017.
“Those are not cars from mainstream automotive manufacturers,” IMSA Communications Manager J.J. O’Malley stated in an e-mail.
As a result, those three cars will not be on the grid in 2017. However, there are a number of potential chassis that could be racing in the season-opening four-hour enduro in Daytona next January. In addition to the currently racing Ford Shelby GT350R-C, Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport and grandfathered Aston Martin Vantage and Ford Mustang BOSS 302R, the Maserati Gran Turismo MC, a different version of the Chevrolet Camaro with more downforce as opposed to the cars Stevenson Motorsports raced last year and the Lotus Evora can race. All three of these cars currently race in Pirelli World Challenge. In addition, there are GT4 versions of the BMW M3 and BMW M4 in addition to the full GT4-spec Aston Martin Vantage that would be eligible.
By the start of the 2018 season, all Grand Sport entries must be built to full GT4 technical regulations. According to IMSA, there are currently a number of new GT4 race cars under development that will launch at some point in 2017, or at the beginning of 2018.
The Street Tuner class will continue more or less unchanged for the 2017 season. All currently eligible models (33 of them, nine of which currently compete full-time) will be eligible to race through the end of the 2018 season. The class currently has 27 full-time teams competing.
In addition, IMSA announced that they are currently in discussions with Marcello Lotti, CEO of Touring Car Racing International Series (TCR) on TCR cars eventually racing in the series as early as 2018. TCR cars are designed to be a more cost-effective alternative to the cars that currently race in the World Touring Car Championship. Any TCR cars in the series would have to have brand relevance in the North American market. At the present time, only two of the eight chassis that currently compete in the TCR Series would qualify under those rules. Those cars are the Subaru WRX STI and the Volkswagen GTI, models that have previously raced in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The other six are not sold in North America.
IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda (formerly IMSA Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires)
Finally, IMSA also announced an overhaul of the series currently known as IMSA Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires. The series will be renamed the IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda for 2017 and have a new marquee class. That class will be known as PC1, but it will be comprised solely of closed-cockpit LMP3 cars, the same ones that had been considered as a replacement for Prototype Challenge in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. These cars are currently in their second season racing in the European Le Mans Series. Last year, the series started with only one chasis, the Ginetta LMP3. Later in the season, the Ligier JS P3 joined the grid.
This season, 20 LMP3’s are running in the ELMS on a regular basis, the vast majority of which are Ligiers. Ginetta is still around part-time, as is a new Ave-Riley LMP3.
IMSA indicates that six chassis will be eligible next season. That would include the Ligier, Ginetta, Ave-Riley, along with new chassis from Norma, ADESS and Dome. All cars will race with 5.0 liter Nissan V8 engines.
Currently, no LMP3’s are racing on a regualr basis here in the United States. One Ginetta was entered in last year’s NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill presented by Hawk Performance by the Ryno Racing Team. The team was running in the top 5 overall before crashing out.
The current headlining L1 class will continue in Prototype Challenge as the PC2 class. These are relatively small open-cockpit chassis designed by Panoz with Mazda engines. The somewhat sparsely raced L2 class will be discontinued at the end of the 2016 season.
IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda race weekends will normally consist of two 45-minute races. No driver changes will take place. The exception to that rule will be Lime Rock Park in July, where only one race will take place. Teams will contest a seven-race schedule in which five will serve as support events to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The races at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama will be on the undercard of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. Finally, the series will race at the Circuit de Trois-Rivieres in Quebec as part of the second weekend of the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres. This year, the primary draw is the NASCAR Pinty’s Series.
2017 IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda Schedule
|March 17-18||Sebring International Raceway|
|April 21-22||Barber Motorsports Park|
|June 30-July 1||Watkins Glen International|
|July 7-8||Canadian Tire Motorsports Park|
|July 21-22||Lime Rock Park|
|August 11-12||Circuit de Trois-Rivieres|
|October 5-6||Road Atlanta|