Picking up where we left off yesterday with part one, here's the second half of how to improve IMSA racing in immeasurable ways. I believe in constant reevaluation and pushing the sport that I love to be more competitive, more interesting and more fun for everyone involved. Sometimes progress costs a dumpster full of cash, but these fixes are free. Let's continue:
#6: Limited Amount Of Tires
Some teams have more money than others, that's racing and that's life. We can't put a limit a team's financial resources or mental capital, but we can limit the amount of tires allowed during the race weekend. It's the only way to control the "endless breadsticks" style of tire management employed by some. On a typical race weekend with two hours of practice, 15 minutes of qualifying and 2.5hrs of racing, teams should be limited to 3 sets (12 total) of new tires.
Taking this concept further, let's only allow teams to change two tires per pit stop. That will put more pressure on drivers to look after the tires during their stint. Smooth drivers will be have grip left deep into their stint and teams with balanced setups will reap the reward when the checkered flag comes out.
Cost: $0.00 (this would force some teams to spend less on tires, though surely they will spend that money elsewhere)
#7: Longer Races
The IMSA Tudor series has a great mix of true endurance races to supplement the standard races that are each 2 hours and 45 minutes. There's the Rolex 24 hour, the Sebring 12 hour, the Sahlen's 6 hour at Watkins Glen and the 1,000 mile Petit Lemans.
In Conti, we could use some of that variety. Keeping in mind that our cars are built from street cars, we have to be realistic about reliability concerns - a 24 hour race isn't going to work and it rubs against our goal of being cost effective. However, extending a few races to 4 hours, and throwing in a 6 hour somewhere in the season would help set the series apart. Looking back to 2007/08 the series finale was a split class 6 hour event at VIR (initially proposed as a combined 12 hour that had everyone very excited - thankfully sense prevailed), so it has been done before. It would create extra value for teams, who could bring in a 3rd driver for the longer races which would mean more opportunities for established professionals, up-and-comers and gentlemen drivers looking to dip their toe in at the pro level.
What prevents this is how crowded the IMSA race weekend schedule has become. With the Tudor United SportsCar Championship, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup, Cooper Tire Prototype Lites, Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Ferrari Challenge and Battery Tender MX5 Cup all competing for space on the schedule, it's no wonder that we haven't seen this kind of expansion. IMSA has a healthy business model, charging substantial entry fees to every car on the schedule. Dropping one series to benefit another wouldn't happen. We need to get creative.
I see two solutions. Extend the schedules and race into the night, or hold select stand-alone CTSC events (which would also allow the series to return to fan favorites like Trois-Rivieres and Santo Domingo, DR).
Cost: It's hard to say. Certainly the teams would incur higher running costs during the longer events, but they could also be offset by bringing in an extra funded driver. Of those teams and drivers that I've talked to, most say they would prefer running a shorter season (9-10 races) with a few longer races thrown in versus a longer season (12 races, like in 2014) of all standard length races.
#8: Night Racing
There isn't a more dramatic visual than a racecar diving into a corner, headlights gleaming off of the pavement, brake rotors ablaze, streaking through the darkness. The colors are brighter, the exhaust notes rip through the cold night air. You can smell the brakes burning and the tires melting, it's a visceral experience. Night racing, while difficult to capture on TV, is best experienced live and adds an incredible challenge for the drivers.
We have raced into the darkness at VIR, Trois-Rivieres, Miller Motorsports Park and this year at Kansas Speedway we finished under the lights. Logistically speaking, the weekend schedule has to shift a little bit, but nobody complained at Kansas this year when the track opened at 10:00AM and the first thing on the race-day schedule was the drivers meeting at noon.
#9: Pit Stop Competitions
Each weekend, teams can be chosen at random, 5 each from the Continental series and the Tudor series to compete in a bracket-style pit stop competition. Each team will nominate four crew members to compete. This would take place on pit lane, be open to fans and filmed so that highlights and winners will be shown on TV during the race broadcast. IMSA can work with existing sponsors and manufacturers to provide prizes for the crews and vehicles to feature in the competition. Now the unsung heroes of the weekend, the crew, gets to have their moment in the spotlight. Camaraderie and morale are built during competition and giving the crew members a chance to compete would boost both for every team in the paddock.
Cost: The extra production cost would be minimal and could be turned into a net gain by selling sponsorship of the competition to a series partner.
#10: Championship Ladder Opportunity
IMSA's manufacturer partners now include Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Ford, HPD, Lamborghini, Mazda, Nissan and Porsche. All except for Ferrari and Lamborghini are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and despite being a development/ladder series, there doesn't exist a proper feeder to the next level of racing. We could fix this by offering a chance to test in next level machinery for the ST and GS driver champions and rookie of the year.
There are very few opportunities like this, which boggles my mind. Mazda has it figured out with their ladder system:
And there's also the Sunoco Challenge. Sunoco is a 125-year-old American company, headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They're the Official Fuel of NASCAR and every year they have a award a fully funded ride in a Daytona Prototype in the Rolex 24 hour... to a European racer. Don't ask. I don't know.
Like the Formula 1 young driver test and the proposed WEC LMP1 test for top P2 drivers, this would be a springboard for rising talent. For a young and developing professional driver, forging a relationship with a manufacturer or a top level team is a priceless opportunity. Any of the partner manufacturers could easily place a champion driver in their machinery to test for the future. Gentlemen drivers, aspiring pros and even established pros would look to Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge as a true development arena and a championship would mean more than just a way to justify the money that was spent to get there.
Cost: (to manufacturers) ~$30,000. Ok, this one isn't cheap.
BONUS! #12: Standalone Events with NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula Drift
I'm not trying to bastardize something that works and is already well liked. Hear me out.
We're owned by NASCAR and we run with the Xfinity (Nationwide) series at their Road America weekend. Conti could easily follow NASCAR to another one of their road course events: A 4 hour night race, paired with Xfinity at Mid Ohio. How 'bout a 6 hour race with Sprint Cup at Watkins Glen - but on the original 6.6 mile street course through town! Sorry, going a little bit off the rails here...
Sliding up next to IndyCar isn't going to happen, their weekends are jam packed with events already and they're already in bed with a competing sports car series, Pirelli World Challenge.
The real opportunity here is Formula Drift. Those of you who have attended an FD event know where I'm going with this. The demographic is a sponsor's wet dream. Events are packed with young, passionate (drunk), informed fans - who aren't afraid to spend their money on cars, clothes and booze. Many events sell out; two weeks before the race, I couldn't get a ticket to the finale at Irwindale last year! The atmosphere is very friendly, with open paddocks (like IMSA events), approachable drivers and teams and huge vendor turnout and brand interaction. FD occasionally partners with Global Time Attack - at Palm Beach two years ago I was part of the joint event. The fan turnout was massive (their average event packs in 15,000 fans, 86% between 18 and 39, 74% male/26% female) and we had tons of track time. Exposing our show and sponsors to a new group of young and excitable fans could breathe new life into the series.
Cost: Just humor me on this one.
I don't have all of the answers (clearly). But I see too much opportunity for evolution and growth to sit around and watch costs skyrocket, opportunities for professional drivers dry-up, and teams close their doors while the nay-sayers control the conversation.
Photo credit: Sideline Sports Photography
About @JonLeeMiller (not the Jonny Lee Miller who was married to Angelina Jolie): Jon is a racing driver and coach who has competed in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge since 2006. He collects Hot Wheels and action figures and hopes to race at LeMans or appear as an extra in the new JJ Abrams Star Wars films. A University of Central Florida graduate, he now lives in California with his wife, Denise and their future pet dog, Mr. Pickles and recently adopted pet dog, Bob Barker.