By Tarek Ramchani
Grand-Am Road Racing, the American Le Mans Series and its series sanctioning body IMSA (International Motorsport Association) has published the classes structures and regulations for the newly formed United Sportscar Series (USCR). The unified North American sportscar series will debut next year at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
No more LMP1 class in North America, the USCR will have Daytona Prototypes (DP) and Le Mans Prototypes 2 (LMP2) cars for the upper class, the cars that will fight for overall victories. The ALMS GT class will stay as it is now and will be named GT Le Mans (GTLM), using the ACO GTE rules.
Audi will be represented in the GT Daytona (GTD) class. The Audi R8 GRAND-AM will enter the combined class of Rolex Series GT cars and ALMS GTC cars (an all-911 GT3 Cup field). Big changes for the class next year, as it will become a Pro-Am division. IMSA will introduce a driver categorization system, similar to what the FIA uses in both the FIA WEC and Blancpain Endurance Series. Therefore the possible Audi teams in USCR will not be able to field a full-star line-up like they did at this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona, where Audi took the GT class honors. A clean border will be set between the two GT classes. GT Le Mans will mostly be open for factory teams and full pro drivers, whilst GT Daytona will be a home mostly for privateers and gentlemen drivers.
In addition to the Audi R8 GRAND-AM, we have to wait and see if any Audi "possibilities" arise for a move into the upper classes, either DP or LMP2. Audi welcomed the merge of the Rolex Series and the American Le Mans Series into the new United SportsCar Racing. In the last few months there were a lot of rumours and speculation about a possible Audi effort in Daytona Prototypes. It is not a secret that America is a very big market for Audi, and the Ingolstadt brand always wants to fight for overall wins. The USCR will be a top series in international sportscar racing and an Audi DP car, for that target market, would make sense.
Another possibilty is to see Audi as an engine supplier in the LMP2 class. If this happens it will not affect only the USCR but also the FIA World Endurance Championship. The idea of having Audi powered cars in LMP2 is great, no doubts. Who would not like to see TFSI powered machines at Le Mans, Sebring, Daytona and across the globe in FIA WEC? However, the recent changes at the head of the Research and Development (R&D) at Audi AG may bring some new orientations for racing commitments in North America.
Anyway and whatever Audi may choose, if they decide to enter the USCR, will be part of the Audi Sport customer racing program. Therefore such an effort will only be in the hands of privateer and independents teams. It will be hard to see Audi fielding a factory team with a Daytona Prototype, and even harder to see the Four Rings using a chassis from another manufacturer with "only" Audi power in LMP2. The above is of course only speculation, only time will tell what Audi's possible programs for the United SportsCar Racing could be.
Photo credit: Audi of America