The noise and fury of a Rolex 24-hour race held in the tarmac melting pot known as Daytona dissipates surprisingly quickly.
Three hours after a triumphant introduction of IMSA’s new GTP class to the largest crowd to witness a sports car race here, one of the world’s most revered circuits was almost empty save for the occasional gull swooping in the late afternoon sun on a balmy breeze. and an additional close-up crew.
That included a coterie of media center journalists from around the world writing for the trade journals, hammering out the e-news about the first step touted as becoming a giant leap forward for sports car endurance racing.
As these occasions progressed, IMSA’s slice of the convergence era, designed to elevate what was sometimes a fifth wheel in motorsport, delivered what it promised. Long the calling card of endurance racing, the Prototype class featured a compelling cast of manufacturers, cars, teams and drivers catapulting around the historic high banks. In a sport accustomed to often being treated like a mistress by factories that come and go at the whim of the boardroom, this time at the forefront of the automotive industry’s electrification and the wisdom learned from years past means stability and more of what Saturday and Sunday saw.
What we saw qualified as spectacular due to the exhilarating speed and expertise of the five classes of the WeatherTech Championship. The new GTP hybrids with their remarkable closing prices at full chat had a ready tableau provided by the supporting cast of entry-level prototypes and a full buffet of the highly developed GT3 cars. It is this mix that is the calling card of sports car endurance racing, the contrast between the wealth and power of the factory-powered machines and their close calls on the track with the lower classes, often financed by individuals who are merely wealthy by comparison. are with global manufacturers.
The luxury of massive prototype budgets spent by four manufacturers (with a fifth due next year) passionate about hybrid cars puts this form of racing in a new neighborhood, one that organizers hope will gain more recognition. It helps that there’s the onset of in-house stars, such as winning co-drivers Tom Blomqvist and Colin Braun, to come along with the great cars that have so often dominated endurance racing. These drivers’ confrontations in the upcoming season with other duos who can challenge them on any given race day will likely be the stuff of champions, if not the kind of drama admired from afar, driving TV, sponsorship and ticket sales.
So, a big step and where does it go from here? Le Mans looms in June with its plethora of hybrid prototypes from other manufacturers. Indianapolis will begin hosting a major endurance race. Sebring’s 12 Hours remains a fixture in the fragrant orange groves of central Florida. Nearly everyone in the Rolex garage is heading to Petit Le Mans to pursue a championship at the end of the season.
Either people understand this formula of racing and fall into the mundane rhythms of major endurance races, or they don’t. Considering the remarkable number of fans who parked in satellite lots to walk into the French family’s Speedway by the Sea, next to the bumper-to-bumper packed house in the infield, perhaps this indicates a change of seas.
Maybe, just maybe, a combination of the millennials who drive today’s market and those who see this new deal as a reminder of their own childhood, when factory giants roamed endurance racing in the 1960s, will hasten a new dawn.
The intoxication of the roaring scene of exotic cars disappearing down the straights faster than the fleeting (and exciting) days of youth spawned many fans from this yin and yang demographic. As a famous TV announcer hosting a media conference might say, let’s give it a round of applause.
There is enough room for cynicism, despite all the bright minds who have organized the long-sought convergence, very important combined with stability. At the top of the group are two of the world’s most powerful racing middlemen: the organizers of Daytona and Le Mans.
Where can things go wrong? Well, after this year’s Sebring, there is no sanctioned race in the US for the World Endurance Championship hybrids that seem to be leaning towards Le Mans. As other sports have experienced, money from the Middle East buys racing data (see Qatar) just as it buys the souls of golfers willing to overlook authoritarian values that don’t fit modernity.
Will convergence actually turn into a one-way street leading to the Circuit de la Sarthe with no reciprocity in Daytona? If the crowd was the biggest ever this weekend, what would a Ferrari 499P pull?
Although Cadillac has made a commitment to the new three-year IMSA formula, according to the sanctioning body’s factory participation agreement, will the budget still be there if the GM brand enters Formula 1 with Andretti Autosport within four seasons?
As in the past, will IMSA take the opportunity to give itself some star power by promoting its drivers as well as its cars and lifeblood manufacturers? Why not Blomqvist and Braun on Good Morning America on Monday morning – or Jimmy KimmelLive! No one is heading to Disney World, just down the road, for God’s sake (and racing).
The driver ratings system is broken, if not warped, as usual. Can IMSA and Daytona survive without the one made by people who have their hands in organizing the WEC, Le Mans and second-tier sports car racing? Here we are talking about the FIA, which summarily removed sports car racing from the spotlight in favor of Formula 1 to begin with. (Well, maybe there was a lot of blood on the floor from the self-inflicted wounds of sports car racing when it comes to this topic…)
But hey! This is just a big picture, like you’re floating high in the sky on a nice, breezy, sunny afternoon after a sports car racing weekend that’s so damn good you almost want to cry.