IMSA releases its 2017 calendars

Photo courtesy of IMSA

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – At its quickly becoming annual state of the series event at Road America, IMSA has revealed the 2017 calendars for its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama, and newly rebranded IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda.

Starting with the WeatherTech Championship first, the big changes are twofold – the Circuit of The Americas and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca dates change.

Circuit of The Americas is now a May standalone date, separate from the FIA World Endurance Championship, which brings to an end the Lone Star Le Mans weekend at the end of this year.

Meanwhile the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca date moves to September.

Here’s your reasoning on both of these adjustments, per IMSA President Scott Atherton:

“We’ll take COTA first. We have been there from the start after the American Le Mans Series went by itself. Since we’ve merged we’ve been there with the World Endurance Championship,” Atherton said. “It’s been a spectacular weekend, but it’s come with a lot of compromise by all involved.

“It also has had issues with its proximity on the calendar to college football which is enormous in that part of the world and also in proximity to the Formula 1 race that takes place. So it definitely has a distraction from their staff, their marketing efforts. Let’s be honest: a Formula 1 weekend is their biggest so that’s where their focus is.

“So we had a desire to go to a springtime date. Grand-Am raced there in the spring, had a very successful weekend and that’s been our desire. We made that known to COTA as well as to our partners at WEC. We were able to confirm a date. I don’t have knowledge of what the WEC plans are and candidly it’s not for us to speculate. Right now, we’re pleased with that decision, looking forward to an IMSA weekend at COTA in the spring.

“The second example, simply the opportunity to open up that weekend by virtue moving our weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Again, fall on the Monterey peninsula is a spectacular time of year. It’s a traditional time of year for road racing, big events. They’re big historic car weekend in August followed by what will now be the WeatherTech Championship, got an entire weekend there in September. So same venues, slight modifications on the weekends and some other alterations on the class structure at each event. But all in all, couldn’t be more pleased with the calendar.”

Here’s the WeatherTech Championship schedule:

2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Schedule
Date Event (Duration) / Venue Classes / Duration
Jan. 26-29 Rolex 24 At Daytona P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, Florida 24 Hours
March 15-18 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Sebring International Raceway – Sebring, Florida 12 Hours
April 7-8 BUBBA burger SportsCar Grand Prix at Long Beach P/GTLM/GTD
Long Beach, California 100 Minutes
May 5-7 Circuit of The Americas P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Austin, Texas 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
June 2-3 Chevrolet Belle Isle Detroit Grand Prix P/PC/GTD
Belle Isle Park – Detroit, Michigan 100 Minutes
June 30-July 2 Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, New York 6 Hours
July 7-9 Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
July 21-22 IMSA WeatherTech Northeast Grand Prix GTLM/GTD
Lime Rock Park – Lakeville, Connecticut 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
Aug. 4-6 Continental Tire Road Race Showcase P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Road America – Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
Aug. 25-27 Michelin GT Challenge GTLM/GTD
VIRginia International Raceway – Danville, Virginia 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
Sept. 22-24 Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda P/GTLM/GTD
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – Monterey, California 2 Hours, 40 Minutes
Oct. 5-7 Petit Le Mans P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Road Atlanta – Braselton, Georgia 10 Hours
IMSA WeatherTech Championship Sanctioned Test Sessions
Date Venue Classes
Nov. 15-16, 2016 Daytona International Speedway P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Daytona Beach, Florida
Dec. 13-14, 2016 Daytona International Speedway P/GTLM/GTD
Daytona Beach, Florida
Jan. 6-8, 2017 Roar Before The Rolex 24 At Daytona P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Daytona Beach, Florida
Feb. 23-24, 2017 Sebring International Raceway P/PC/GTLM/GTD
Sebring, Florida

Shifting to the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge next, changes come with a reduction in standard races to a two-hour format, from two hours and 30 minutes. Meanwhile two four-hour races are added at Daytona and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, to differentiate.

Class structure stays the same with GT4 becoming the GS platform in 2018. Discussions are possible for TCR to enter into this series by 2018.

Here’s the Continental Tire schedule:

2017 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Schedule
Date Venue / Location Duration
Jan. 27 Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, Florida 4 Hours
March 17 Sebring International Raceway – Sebring, Florida 2 Hours
May 6 Circuit of The Americas – Austin, Texas 2 Hours
July 1 Watkins Glen International – Watkins Glen, New York 2 Hours
July 8 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada 2 Hours
July 22 Lime Rock Park – Lakeville, Connecticut 2 Hours
Aug. 4-6 Road America – Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin 2 Hours
Aug. 26 VIRginia International Raceway – Danville, Virginia 2 Hours
Sept. 23 Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – Monterey, California 4 Hours*
Oct. 6 Road Atlanta – Braselton, Georgia 2 Hours
* – Subject to final confirmation

The Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series is the rebranded Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires, which in 2015 was the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites presented by Mazda.

It adds LMP3 race cars, and the new championship will race a 13-round schedule at seven premier North American circuits.

Prototype Challenge action will be divided into two classes, blending new and existing IMSA machinery. The PC1 class will feature LM P3 chassis from as many as six different constructors powered by identical V8 engines.

The PC2 class will use the existing Élan DP02 chassis powered by Mazda engines currently used in the Lites 1 class of the Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires, the foundation for the new IMSA Prototype Challenge series.

Here’s that schedule:

2017 IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda Schedule
Date Venue
March 17-18 Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, Florida*
April 21-23 Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Alabama
June 30-July 2 Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, New York*
July 7-9 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bowmanville, Ontario*
July 21-22 Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Connecticut* **
Aug. 11-13 Grand Prix of Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, Quebec
Oct. 5-7 Road Atlanta, Braselton, Georgia*

* — In conjunction with IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship events
** — Will feature a single, 45-minute race

The only note of note from the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama was the inclusion of a couple Verizon IndyCar Series dates. See that schedule below:

2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama Schedule
Date Venue
March 17-18 Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, Florida*
April 21-23 Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Alabama
May/June To Be Confirmed
June 30-July 2 Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, New York*
Aug. 4-6 Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin*
Aug. 25-27 VIRginia International Raceway, Danville, Virginia*
Sept. 15-17 Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, California
Oct. 5-7 Road Atlanta, Braselton, Georgia*

* — In conjunction with IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship events

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).