ARTICLE AND PHOTOS BY THOMAS LAVIN
The WeatherTech sponsored IMSA Road racing Championship offers the most incredible racing and fan weekend in any form of motorsports, with numerous class races, exotic factory prototype and high- end factory production sports cars, open race paddocks and pit walks were you can meet all the drivers and teams, the beautiful grid girls, and check out the race cars up close.
Making IMSA races even more exciting, if not a little confusing, is that their different car classes usually race on the same track at the same time. A there is a big speed variable between the different classes in Prototype and Production based cars with different power, weight and aerodynamic performance., and with a full field of up to 60 cars on a tight road course, in races from 2.5 hours up to 4, 8, 12 and 24 hours long! Races quickly become a slug fest with differ
FACT | While NASCAR and Indy Car has experienced a decline in attendance in recent years, IMSA has seen a growth in fan attendance.
There always have been two IMSA rounds in California, one on the Streets of Long Beach in April in conjunction with the Indy Car round, and in the past followed by Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in Monterey a few weeks later. But this year 2017, the Laguna Seca round has now been moved to mid-September, a much better date 5-months apart from Long Beach, encouraging many Southern California fans like myself to make the road trip to Beautiful Monterey in Central California for another IMSA round on one of the best spectator road race courses in America. Making it even more worthwhile to make the road trip up to Laguna Seca, was the fact this now being the next-to last round of the season, all the IMSA class championship s were on the line.
Making it even better for me, as a Corvette owners is the Corvette Hospitality Area in the Paddock at all the IMSA rounds, making it a great place to relax with friends, meet Corvette factory management and the race team, check out each others’ cars, and enjoy food and beverages in a cool shaded area with tables and chairs and live TV race monitors.
The IMSA P Prototype Class
In recent years the American based IMSA Championship has become more in-step with the cars raced in the FIA World Endurance Championship like at the LeMans 24-hour race, and will continue to become even closer. The exotic 1000hp+ FIA P1 prototypes with both Turbo motors and expensive energy recovery systems currently raced by Porsche and Toyota will go away, and the P2 Daytona Prototype internationals (DPi) raced in IMSA using more affordable Spec Chassis from select builders, with a team or manufacturer’s engine of choice, will become the normal. The IMSA Prototype cars sponsored by Cadillac are essentially Chevrolet LS3 push-rod V-8 engines. There are also turbo engines form Nissan and Honda, and privateer teams can choose the new generic Gibson DOHC 4.0 lite race engine.
Prototype cars have a weight minimum of 2,050 lbs / 600 hp maximum.
IMSA GTLM / GT LeMans (Pro)
Basically the GT LeMans class sports car are “production cars” but really, they aren’t. The only production part on the Corvette GTLM is the windshield. No one at IMSA even knows when the Porsche 911 mid-engine car being raced this year will go into production. Just as the Ford GT40s were raced last year, but didn’t go into production until this year. Class regulated 525hp/ 2733 lbs. T
IMSA GTD / GT Daytona (Pro-Am)
The GT Daytona cars are, supposedly 1-year old factory cars, fully owned by privateer teams with no factory support, but like the new Acura in the class, they get an exception when they are just released their first year, and it helps to fill the class. The new Turner Motorsports GTD BMW M6 is the exact car as the all new GTLM BMW M6s with full factory support, but next year Turner must run the car on their own budget. One of the 2-3 drivers per car in this class is required to be an “Amateur” but this is played fairly loose. Class regulated 520hp/ 2866 lbs.
All the drivers in Prototype and GTLM are full-time salaried Professional racers. Confusing are the Pro / Amateur drivers in the GTD class. They are supposedly not paid by a factory, but you can guess tat many of them like now 2-time GTD Champions #63 Ferrari drivers Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen are on Ferrari’s factory payroll. Just that the money gets sent under the table to the team’s dealership sponsor first, then the dealer writes the checks
The Class racing in IMSA is very close and exciting between the different because IMSA uses what is called the “Balance of Performance” to adjust the competitiveness of the different types of cars. If a car continuously sets quick qualifying or race times, the next race it might have to carry more weight, or run a smaller engine intake restrictor. Turbocharged cars like the BMW M6 have their turbo boost watched by IMSA on a computer monitors during the race, and if the boost pressure exceeds the 525hp rating for the class, the cars are penalized. For 2017 BMW will replace its current M4 with inline 6-cylinder twin turbo engine, with its all new M8 luxury sport coupe with a twin turbo 4.0 liter V-8 engine. But it will still be restricted in race trim to 525hp. The rules are all very flexible as needed, and it makes for close, tight exciting racing.
This weekend at Mazda Raceway the class winner in Prototype was #90 Visit Florida Racing Lieger LMP2 Cadillac powered coupe with drivers Marc Goossens and Renger van Der Zande, followed by #31 Whallen Engineering Cadillac DPi driven by Dane Cameron and Eric Curran. But the 3rd Place finishing #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi of brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor picked up enough points to clinch the Class Championship with the final race still o go 2 weeks later at Road Atlanta.
In GTLM the race winner was the #24 Rahal Letterman BMW M4 of drivers John Edwards and Martin Tomczyk, followed by the #62 Risi Competizion Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisicella, with third to the #911 factory Porsche 911 RSR mid-engine car of Patrick Pilet and Dirk Warner. Finishing 4th was the #3 factory Corvette C7R of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, earning enough points to wrap up the class title for the 2nd year in a row! Not bad for 60-year old push rod V-8 technology.
In GTD it was reigning 2016 champions Christina Nielsen and Alasandro Balzan taking first place in their #63 Scuderia Corse Ferrari GTS and picking up just enough points, that starting on the grid at the final Road Atlanta IMSA race in two weeks would earn them just enough points to repeat their Championship title again for 2017.
This year, with the Laguna Seca IMSA roundmoved to September, it was my first time up here for the track’s IMSA race and it was incredible. Making the trip even more enjoyable was my Friday drive up to Monterey and taking the scenic sports car back road Camel Valley Road. On Saturday I meet many of the drivers, including 18-year old Aurora Straus, the youngest female pro racing driver ever, and a student at Harvard. Then watched the Pirelli Challenge and Lamborghini Trofeo races, visited the Talbot Motorcycle Museum in the town of Carmel Valley, and attended the Corvette Club banquet in the Marriot Hotel on Saturday night with guest speakers from the Corvette factory and the race team.
On race day I visited with all the factory race teams in the Paddock and on Pit Lane, walked the entire track and watched and photographed the IMSA race start on Sunday at the famed Corkscrew, then relaxed in the shade in the Beer Tent at the top the hill there, with a cold Import tap brew while watching the race unfold across the entire Laguna Seca track down in the valley below. It was awesome. An extended Monterey Peninsula weekend with IMSA Racing at Mazda Laguna Seca is a must do for any sports car or racing enthusiast.