IMSA may be forced to restrict car field sizes at some tracks

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When it comes to numbers, IMSA is hot, red hot.

So much so that as it prepares for its 50th anniversary season, the sanctioning body may be forced to restrict the number of cars entered for some events in the upcoming 2019 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship campaign.

IMSA issued a media release Wednesday noting that due to “a significant increase in the number of full-time teams confirmed to compete (in 2019) … the sanctioning body may need to restrict the number of cars at some events.

There are currently 37 full-time “premium” teams entered for a full season in 2019. While most race tracks have room on pit road for significantly more cars, pit lanes at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca are able to accommodate just over 40 cars in an event.

As a result, there is a real possibility that “restriction protocols may be deployed for the first time since the inaugural WeatherTech Championship season in 2014,” according to the media release.

IMSA said factors it may use to determine priority include: teams with season-long premium entries, commitments to participate in all seven WeatherTech Sprint Cup events and/or the four-race IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.

Other determining factors include time stamp on teams filing standard, single-event entries; potentially limiting cars per class; as well as taking into account a team’s history of competing in IMSA-sanctioned events.

“While we are not yet in a situation where restrictions are needed, we believe it is important that our constituents be made aware of this situation and understand the criteria we will use if it becomes necessary,” IMSA vice resident of competition Simon Hodgson said in the media release. “This is a good problem to have – and the fact that there is a need for us to discuss these contingency plans is a testament to the attractiveness of our WeatherTech Championship platform.

“Our 50th anniversary season is now confirmed to have one of the largest and highest quality fields of full-season competitors in IMSA’s history.”

IMSA cars take to the track at the preseason Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 4-6, followed by the Rolex 24 Hours season opener Jan. 26-27.

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INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter