While GT Daytona is the IMSA class with the most changes, GT Le Mans has a few significant updates.
There are just two races left in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship: The Lone Star Le Mans at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, September 17-19, and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta October 1-3.
But with the 2016 season just around the corner – the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test at Daytona International Speedway is January 8-10 – teams are already preparing for 2016, while battling it out in the last two races this year.
Certainly the IMSA class with the most work to do is GT Daytona, which transitions to the FIA GT3 specifications next year. But the GT Le Mans class, which will see some major changes of its own in 2017, has some new rules to adapt to for next season, when the series becomes the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
One of the GT Le Mans teams with some off-season work to do is Corvette Racing, which fields a pair of factory-backed Chevrolet Corvette C7.R cars for drivers Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3, and Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in the No. 4.
Chevrolet is third in the manufacturer standings, and Magnussen and Garcia are second in driver points. A Corvette won in the first two races of the 2015 season – Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – but “Balance of Performance” rule adjustments, such as adding more weight to the car and reducing fuel capacity, have made the latter part of the season tough.
Said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager: “The last two races demonstrated the challenges that we face, and we’re working diligently to try and overcome those.”
Meanwhile, Fehan and crew are hard at work preparing to adapt the cars to 2016 regulations. “The most significant change is in roll cage structure,” he said. “Safety rules are requiring exit hatches in the roof.” In the event of a crash, “You must have a designated, well-designed area that will allow safety personnel to remove the hatch and slip a backboard in behind the driver before the extricate him. That’s not saying extrication will take place through the hatch, but the application of the neck braces and backboard will.
“And that’s a pretty big deal, because you can’t just cut apart your roll cage and make an opening there,” Fehan said. The body and chassis structure in the C7.R is so carefully integrated that the multiple changes must be made to properly add a hatch.
“Other than that,” Fehan said, “for us, it’s pretty much confined to aerodynamic tweaks – things now allowed by the rules that should help us gain a little more speed and mileage. But to look at the cars, there will be no real discernable difference between this year and next year.”
Another rule change will help Corvette Racing in its annual pilgrimage to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, where the Corvette won its class in 2015. The C7.R currently runs E85 fuel in the TUDOR Championship, which is 85 percent ethanol alcohol.
At Le Mans, they run a much lower concentration of alcohol. Engines that run E85 have a much different compression ratio than engines running on primarily gasoline, so Fehan has had to completely change the engines to go to Le Mans. In 2016, the fuel will essentially be the same in the U.S. and France.
Fehan is excited about the biggest news in the GT Lemans class for 2016 – the return of Ford, which will be racing the all-new Ford GT at Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of the GT40’s victory there. But the car will debut at Daytona, and run the entire WeatherTech Championship season as well.
“We’re thrilled Ford is coming back,” he said. “It further proves the value of sports car racing to major manufacturers.”