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Lessons Learned In A Month of Action, Part 3: IMSA

A whole lot of new

Third up on the globetrotting tour of the early season endurance racing action came the start of the IMSA season action at Daytona International Speedway with the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship and Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge both starting their 2017 seasons.

Here’s a trot through the major points of interest arising from a fascinating week on the Atlantic coast.

There was a whole lot of new for 2017 and the trials and tribulations of the new cars fills most of the post race postulation here.

New Prototypes

Here was the first opportunity to see the new for 2017 Prototypes in action, both to the Gibson engined LMP2 spec, and in IMSA-specific DPi spec.

The new cars look the part, in particular the DPIs, with a huge amount of paddock and press room discussion over the future prospects of the formula, and the potential for the factory backed (or in the case of the ESM Ligiers, factory supplied) cars in eventually finding a place on the grid at Le Mans.  This observers view is that can’t happen soon enough, to add a little bit more manufacturer interest in the post-Audi era and, in particular, at a point in time when numerical necessity at Le Mans takes precedence over ultimate quality.

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The Cadillac engined trio proved the class of the field in terms of both pace and reliability though the Nissan engined ESM pair proved a real surprise package, with very little testing ahead of their Daytona appearance they rose up through the order as others stumbled, an excellent start to their new programme.

The Mazdas looked superb, had real pace but suffered issues familiar to their predecessors.  They will though be better suited to other circuits later in the season.

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The LMP2s meanwhile all saw issues (though again against many expectations) the Visit Florida Racing Riley Gibson had a near perfect run.

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New car niggles, not helped by rain and low temperatures, saw the prototype field suffer 24 hours of issues that prevented any of the Gibson runners from mounting a race long challenge.

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Speed though was very encouraging, and, if the niggles are dealt with as quickly as those we’ve seen in the past the potential for IMSA’s new look premier class is very good.

New GTDs

Acura and Lexus both debuted their new GT3 spec (GTD in IMSA parlance) NSX and RC-F at Daytona and both cars were on the pace, with the NSX almost springing a major surprise.

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The initial Lexus challenge eventually fell victim to a race ending shunt for Scott Pruett, A T2 fumble putting the #14 into the wall, Pruett’s initial thought that he had been hit proving incorrect, with the second car suffering delay after it WAS hit.  Again though the pace was there, the Lexus pair in the pack before hitting trouble.

The Acura pair though rose up through the order to lead the race into morning, good stint long pace for hour after hour for the brand new Michael Shank Racing pair seeing them well in contention until late race issues saw both fall back down the order.  It was though a very encouraging start.

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Some controversy around both efforts though continues with paddock niggles around the factory focused nature of what is designed to be a firmly customer-based formula.

The Mercedes AMG GT3s aren’t as ‘new’ but are new for 2017 in IMSA racing and they too saw some pace, and some issues.  A podium for the #33 car was just reward for the effort, but the #75 SunEnergy1 car was, for a while at least, the star of the trio before problems hit home.

A packed and very varied GTD field though provided big entertainment  – and look set to be a big part of the headlines to come later in the year.

New Porsche

Porsche’s new mid-engined GTLM (GTE) spec 911 RSR made its racing debut at Daytona and initially looked just a little off the ultimate class pace.

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When the weather took a turn for the worse though then so did the form book with both Porsches rising like salmon to the top of the order and looking rock solid thereafter and always in contention.

That level of racing form, this early in the new car’s career, including a second place finish in class to the Ford GT, should prove highly encouraging for Porsche’s ambitions on both sides of the Atlantic, the conformation though of the fact that there are no (as yet publicly disclosed) plans for a road car version of the car marks a further move towards a prototypical GTE/ GTLM class – and in an era of austerity that could prove to be a rather short-termist prospect!

BoP

The issues for the prototypes also meant that we really didn’t get much stint long opportunity to see whether the balancing between the LMP2s and DPis worked, though the all-Pro nature of the factory engined cars should, in any case see the DPis ahead after a full race distance.

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GTLM and GTD though saw the IMSA BoP process again pretty well endorsed with multi-marque battles in both classes, almost all of the GTD makes in contention for, or in the lead at some point of the 24 Hours.

Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge

After a frankly rather sad display at Daytona last year that saw the recent health of the GS class evaporate with a less than double figures entry, 2017 saw an explosion of interest in the class, now embracing full FIA GT4 spec machinery.

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The world debut of Ford’s new Mustang GT4 saw the two cars present dominate qualifying (Dean Martin Above) and then initially disappear up the road until issues hit home.  McLaren’s new (to customers) 570S GT4 too saw great pace though a combination of bad luck and the inevitable new team with a new car niggles blunted their ultimate edge.

Through it all the Cayman GT4s prevailed, eventually finishing 1,2,3,4 but the signs are good that the Daytona result is unlikely to be a regular one as the new cars, soon to include the yet to race Chevrolet Camaro GT4, get into the groove.