Since it started life in 2014 as a merger between the ALMS and Grand Am Rolex series, the WeatherTech United Sportscar Championship has undergone several changes. But 2017 represents the biggest transformation since that inaugural season, with the Prototype class taking on a new look for 2017.
Until the end of last year, the top class of the series featured Daytona Prototypes fighting against LMP2 machinery. Drastic rule change for this season means it’s out with the DPs, and in with the DPi’s – Daytona Prototype International vehicles. These are ACO/FIA homologated LMP2 vehicles, which in some cases have already hit the track at the December test and the ROAR last weekend.
These DPi’s will be battling it out with the also new-for-2017 LMP2 machinery, featuring constructors such as Ligier with their updated JS P2 and ORECA with their brand new 07. Both the DPi’s and LMP2s are visually striking and significantly quicker than last season’s challengers.
Sanctioning body IMSA has already attempted to achieve parity of performance between the two types of Prototype, with comprehensive pre-season windtunnel testing and the ability to adjust the balance throughout the season.
As with most ROAR weekends in recent years, most of the times were not representative of what the cars could really do. Widespread ‘sandbagging’ was again the story of the weekend, with teams being careful to keep their cards close to their chest so as not to endure any performance penalties which would hinder their Rolex 24 effort.
However, it will be fascinating to watch how the DPi’s and LMP2s stack up against each other come race day. So far, it appears that the ORECA 07’s – particularly of Rebellion Racing and DragonSpeed – have the pace, with the Cadillac DPi’s just behind, or simply yet to show their hand. The Ligier based Nissan DPi run by Extreme Speed Motorsports also featured at the test, albeit slightly behind on development.
2017 marks the final year for the Pro-Am Prototype Challenge category, with the championship switching to a three-class format for 2018 onwards -comprising Prototype, GTLM and GTD.
The spec ORECA FLM 09 chassis first saw life in the ALMS in 2009, and has since seen eight seasons of racing both in the ALMS up to 2013 and more recently in the United SportsCar Championship.
The class never fails to provide action throughout the race, particularly in qualifying, and the Pro-Am element means gentleman and silver rated drivers can make all the difference alongside the professional drivers in their lineup.
The GT Le Mans class is widely regarded as among the most competitive GT fields anywhere in the world. Abundant factory efforts include Ford, Chevrolet, Porsche, BMW and strong customer teams running Ferrari’s.
The Pro category features the best GT factory drivers across the globe, and race long battles and close finishes have become the norm. The gap at the line between the two Corvettes at the Rolex 24 last year was just 0.034 of a second. After 24 hours of racing.
This season should be fascinating, with Porsche’s brand new mid-engined 911 RSR making its competitive debut at the Rolex 24 later this month. The returning Fords, Corvettes, BMWs and Ferrari’s are all looking strong for the season, having debuted their new cars last season.
The Ford GT topped many of the test sessions at the ROAR – and are looking very strong – but again sandbagging would have inevitably featured and it’s anybody’s guess as to who will emerge on top at the end of the season.
The GT Daytona category features the lastest FIA-GT3 spec cars with another very strong manufacturer presence. This season that has been added to with Acura, Lexus and Mercedes joining a list that already features Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, BMW, Audi and Lamborghini.
As with all classes excluding PC, IMSA can balance the manufacturer’s performance if they have an advantage, and no matter the objections to the system – the net result is ultimately very close racing.
The GTD class is also a Pro-Am class, meaning driver line up is crucial, with the speed of both the professional and silver rated drivers playing a huge role in the result they will achieve.
With even more manufacturers for 2017, as well as a strong full season entry, this class is looking just as competitive as the others and will certainly be one to watch.
North American Endurance Cup
It’s not just the overall championship we have to keep track of in the WeatherTech series, but also the ‘championship inside the championship’ – the NAEC. This awards teams points for their results at the endurance rounds of the championship, starting with the Rolex 24 at Daytona, moving onto the Sebring 12 Hours in March, the 6 Hours of the Glen in summer and the season finale at the 10 Hour Petit Le Mans race.
Some teams also competing in the WEC, such as Rebellion Racing, who don’t compete for the full season in IMSA are entered for the NAEC races because of the prestige of winning these historic races, which boosts the entry lists even further.
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