By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. When the ACO informed IMSA right before the running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans that the ACO's concept of what the LMP2 class rules will be for 2017 was etched in stone and non-negotiable - including using spec Gibson engines and spec bodies, etc. - and that accommodations would not be made for what IMSA had proposed, which revolved around rules favoring a diversity of engine manufacturers along with manufacturer-branded bodywork, war was declared by the French racing overlords toward American racing interests. Yes, back-pedaling statements were made to the contrary to mollify things, but who's kidding whom here? This emphatic gesture had all the makings of a not-so-thinly disguised "go fuck yourself" broadside from the ACO and FIA directed squarely at France, IMSA and the participating American manufacturers.
Was it a surprise? Yes, maybe at first, but upon further review it really wasn't. The history of the ACO and FIA's relationship with American racing interests is colored by the reality that they like to play nice with the American manufacturers - and with the Jim France-owned IMSA series (and the ALMS before that) - but only when it suits their needs, meaning, if there's potentially more money to be added to their coffers, fine, they will consider ideas that would be beneficial to the American interests. Otherwise they don't really give a rat's ass and can't be bothered.
That contentious action, coupled with veiled threats directed to top GM executives (also at Le Mans) by the ACO's president, Pierre Fillon, which suggested that Corvette Racing might not be welcome in GTLM next year if they don't also run a team in the WEC - this after GM and its popular Corvette Racing team has supported the 24 Hours of Le Mans unfailingly for seventeen years - has knowledgeable racing people in this country shaking their heads while thinking that perhaps the time is right for a new idea for America's top road racing series.
Longtime readers of this column know that I have advocated that the people running America's major league road racing series need to march to a different drummer when it comes to the kind of national racing championship they want to project, and that it shouldn't be dependent on the ACO or the FIA for much of anything, because it would just end up biting them in the ass at some point. And lo and behold, we have arrived at that point. (Remember, the overlords of the FIA are the same people who created the World Endurance Championship and insultingly left America's two most important endurance events - the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Daytona 24 Hours - off the WEC schedule. Seeing a pattern here?)
While Jim France and Scott Atherton et al wrestle with putting together a viable top prototype class that will work for IMSA in the coming years, a golden opportunity to make a definitive American racing statement is a legitimate alternative. The notion of a top class over and above the current GTLM class is something I have been touting for years. I see the GTX class as opening up the playing field to "run what you brung" factory specials, perhaps tinged with a little bit of an "outlaw" flavor. Not completely lawless, the class would, however, provide a substantial performance boost over the GTLM class, which would go a long way to capture racing enthusiasts' imaginations, especially if there's a diversity of manufacturers and thought.
Some general rules would "guide" the overall proceedings for these machines, as a free-for-all in this day and age simply isn't feasible. No movable aerodynamic devices, for instance. And the cars and the bodywork would have to be production based. In other words, if a manufacturer chooses to make its "homologation special" with wings and slats, etc., those must be present and accounted for on their cars available for sale. A DTM clone it wouldn't be, that's for sure, as that German series is a glorified spec racing quagmire, albeit an expensive one.
In a bit of a throwback, manufacturers would have to show evidence of having built 50 cars for sale for off-road use only in order to be eligible for the class. Remember the famous picture of the 25 Porsche 917 Coupes lined-up for FIA inspection back in 1969? And this rule could not be skirted with a "we'll get to it" wink and a nod either. Instead, IMSA inspectors would have to see verification of the completed run of cars a full three months before the season opener in order for the cars to be certified for competition in the new GTX class. And, in a move toward some semblance of cost control - although the manufacturers could fill these cars to the brim with "extra" stuff that they don't charge for - the machines couldn't exceed $650,000, retail. In other words, if you, as a manufacturer, can't design, engineer and build a homologation special for that number, well, maybe you shouldn't be in the racing business to begin with.
What would they look like? Let's take the current Corvette C7.R., for instance. Imagine the 2016 racing package without the air restrictors, or perhaps a different engine altogether. Then imagine wilder bodywork to accommodate bigger rubber (and bigger brakes), and of course the corresponding wings, slats and aero necessary for the racing package to be um, quicker. Much quicker. Several years ago the top-level GTLM cars were circulating Road America at two minutes flat, before they were restricted and slowed. My target lap times for GTX cars at "America's National Park of Speed?" Around one-minute, fifty-five seconds.
A pipe dream? As of one year ago, I would have said yes. Now, with the ACO/FIA and IMSA accelerating away from each other at rapid speed GTX might just be exactly what the doctor - and North American road racing enthusiasts - would order, if given their druthers. I sense that IMSA has arrived at a semi-comfortable place, which is admirable. It has a reasonably manageable and predictable schedule with a few iconic races, it has participating manufacturers and it features noteworthy racing, for the most part.
But let's face it, the series needs more juice and more buzz.
I am reminded of that famous conversation between "Miles" (Curtis Armstrong) and Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise) in Risky Business, when Miles says to Joel: "Sometimes you gotta say 'What the Fuck' and make your move, Joel. Every now and then, saying 'What the Fuck' brings freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future..."
It's time for the powers that be in IMSA to say "What the fuck" and make their move.
There is nothing written in stone on some sacred historical racing tablets somewhere about the French racing overlords being mandated control of what American racing interests do with their own national road racing series. The time is ripe for IMSA to march to its own drummer and establish a clear path of its own, one with loads of horsepower and plenty of swagger featuring the fastest GT cars in the world.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Editor's Note: Many of you have seen Peter's references over the years to the Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation (HERF), which he launched in 2007. For those of you who weren't following AE at the time, you can read two of HERF's press releases here and here. And for even more details (including a link to Peter's announcement speech), check out the HERF entry on Wikipedia here. -WG
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Photos courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, August, 1983. The No. 6 Zakspeed Roush Ford Mustang GTP driven by Bobby Rahal/Geoff Brabham in the pits at Road America during practice for the Road America Pabst 500 IMSA race. The duo qualified fifth and finished third. The No. 06 team car (below) driven by Tim Coconis/Klaus Ludwig qualified second and went on to win for the radical front/mid-engine machine's only victory. For that race weekend the 2.1-liter, 4-cylinder BDA turbo engines were not ready yet, so the team ran a 1.7-liter version of the BDA turbo instead.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD