The sports car landscape in the United States will change in 2014, as everyone knows. American Le Mans Series (ALMS) is gone; GRAND-AM is gone – but one part of both of them isn’t leaving, quite yet. IMSA, the sanctioning body started by John and Peg Bishop back in the early 1970s remains as the sanction for the Tudor United SportsCar Championship.
That’s a good thing.
A 12-venue inaugural season for the series mixes some guaranteed racetracks (Daytona International Speedway, Sebring International Speedway and Road Atlanta for starters) with some might never have expected to make it through whatever lottery system was in place: Belle Isle, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and Virginia International Raceway come to mind.
There are four classes involved in next year’s sports car championship: Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona. “This was in fairness to our existing track partners, who have been such strong supporters of both series,” declared Ed Bennett, IMSA CEO. “We are very proud of this group of 12 facilities which have been selected for the inaugural season.”
Of course the year starts the 25-26 of January at the 52nd Rolex 24 at Daytona, where this four-class reconsidered group of sports cars converge for their first competition together. The next stop is another temple of the sport, the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 15th. This marks the first time since 1998 that the seminal Daytona and Sebring races fall under the same sanction. How cool.
Up next is the western swing for the sports car set, with a Saturday contest during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 12th and a trip up the coast on May 4th to race on the hallowed grounds of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
As it does at Long Beach, IMSA cohabitates with the Indy cars on the Belle Isle circuit in Detroit on May 31st, then visits Watkins Glen International for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen on June 29th. IMSA’s Camel GT series began racing at The Glen shortly after it was formed and there’s been sports car racing on this site since 1968.
The Tudor SportsCar Championship heads for Canadian Tire Motorsports Park on July 13th for a bout at the famous Bowmanville, Ontario racetrack that’s been a bellwether for sports car racing since its inception. A huge modernization effort helped convince IMSA to add this ALMS venue for 2014.
The series joins NASCAR for the Brickyard weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway July 25th, utilizing the infield road course that has been a GRAND-AM venue the past few years, then heads to another historic road course on August 10th with a visit to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Three of these races won’t have every one of the classes competing – Prototype and GT Le Mans will race at Long Beach, Belle Isle hosts Prototype, Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona, while VIR excludes the Prototype class and hosts GT Le Mans/GT Daytona in a single race, featuring a separate contest for the Prototype Challenge racers.
A few venues missing from the 2014 schedule are Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Barber Motorsports Park and Lime Rock Park, all of which have hosted ALMS and/or GRAND-AM in the past.
As expected, those hosting races next year are expressing their pleasure with the inclusion in the 2014 schedule: “The momentum and excitement surrounding the Rolex 24 At Daytona continues to grow every year,” Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood III said.
“With the 2014 edition of the Rolex 24, we will begin a new era in North American sports car racing and race fans will want to witness in-person the first event for the Tudor United SportsCar Championship.”
“To be one of only 12 tracks selected to host the series speaks volumes to Watkins Glen International’s standing in the sport,” Michel Printup, WGI president said. “We think the wide array of high-performance cars in the championship will produce great action,” added J. Douglas Boles, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president, “and are very happy that the Brickyard Grand Prix will remain as one of the marquee events.”
Jim Michaelian, Grand Prix Association of Long Beach president and CEO is “extremely pleased to offer our fans what is now, without a doubt, the very best sports car racing in the nation.” Myles Brand, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park president and general manager concurred: “Sports car racing has played a major role in [our track's] history and in 2014 we will be fortunate enough to continue that legacy.”
“VIR is honored to be on the schedule and to be a part of history as this new chapter in racing unfolds,” Connie Nyholm, Virginia International Raceway owner and CEO declared. Bud Denker, chairman of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix was equally effusive: “We are excited to host the new championship in Detroit next year and we are thrilled to be a part of it here.”
Drivers, including five-time Rolex Series Daytona Prototype (DP) champion Scott Pruett weighed in: “I’m excited to see the season starting with back-to-back races at Daytona and Sebring. That’s back to the old tradition of the early days of IMSA – and the start of my racing career.”
“The new schedule is bad to the bone, love it,” said Alex Gurney, a two-time titleholder in the Rolex Series’ DP class. “It sure looks like a terrific schedule,” added Bob Stallings, owner of the GAINSCO team for whom Gurney drives. “The schedule is] a great combination of street circuits and permanent road courses – all unique and challenging in every way,” said Scott Sharp of Extreme Speed Motorsports.