24 Hours of Le Mans

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Jim France: IMSA’s blockbuster news could herald new ‘Ford v. Ferrari’ era

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jim France is hoping that Friday’s announcement of re-creating a sports car bridge from Daytona to Le Mans will resemble a recent Hollywood blockbuster

“The way I view it is if you ever catch the Ferrari vs. Ford movie where the cars went back and forth with Le Mans, that’s the era that we’re getting ready to enter into here is my optimistic hope,” said France, the chairman of IMSA and CEO of NASCAR. “I can’t control what the manufacturers do and how they approach it, but the opportunity will certainly be there.”

In a joint news conference with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (the ACO is the global sanctioning body for sports cars), IMSA announced that its new DPI car for 2022 will be eligible to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The rebranded class will be known as Le Mans Daytona h (LMD h) and allow crossover between the top categories in IMSA and the FIA World Endurance Championship (whose top division will be Hypercar). Currently, the LMP2 and GTLM classes of IMSA can run at Le Mans, but its premier division isn’t eligible for the world’s biggest sports car event.

“Ford vs. Ferrari” (an Academy Award-nominated film released last fall that stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale) chronicles a bygone era in which it was possible for a manufacturer such as Ford to win the top class of both prestigious races.

During a rare interview with reporters after the news conference, France said he is optimistic that the new regulations will goose manufacturer involvement.

“The proof will be when we have a car that wins Daytona and wins Le Mans in the same year, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” France said.

He also is “very much so” looking forward to the return of NASCAR to Daytona International Speedway next month. The Daytona 500 will kick off the Cup Series season Feb. 16.

“We’re coming off of a very good year I felt like last year where we’re really getting some momentum back,” France said. “It’s exciting now going into this coming year.”

Much of the focus is on the discussions around a possible revamping of the 2021 schedule.

“(NASCAR President) Steve Phelps is working diligently on that,” France said. “There’ll be announcements coming in the not-too-distant future.”

France said last year’s merger of NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., which had been publicly traded before the deal, provides more flexibility on the schedule.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to respond quicker to the changing environment out here with the economy and all the things that are going on that impact motorsports. It was a major big step that we needed to make probably for quite a while.”