By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine. Photos by Jack Webster and Eddie LePine
We remember fondly the last time IMSA used the name “GTP” to define their top class of prototype racing – the 1980s.
What was new then is now new again, with the 2023 debut of the new GTP class in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series. Cars and drivers are testing this week at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the official kick off of the 2023 IMSA racing season at the Roar Before the 24 in January, a week prior to the Rolex 24.
Frankly, we haven’t seen this much excitement around sports car racing since those glory days in the mid 1980s when we saw incredible fields of GTP cars racing at Daytona (and all the other IMSA Camel GT venues). In 1986 the 24 Hours of Daytona saw 66 total cars take the green flag, with 21 GTP cars and 12 Camel Lights cars in the mix. In 1987 69 cars took the green, again with a large field of prototypes – 15 GTP and 15 Lights. 1988 saw perhaps the pinnacle of GTP racing, as a total of 75 cars started the 24 Hours of Daytona and among that list were 22 GTP cars and 19 Camel Lights cars. Staggering numbers.
As impressive as the number and quality of the entries were in those IMSA Camel GT halcyon days, the crowds who came to watch these machines were equqally impressive. People were exposed to sports car racing at its finest and every track on the IMSA calendar experienced record numbers of spectators with rockstar-like drivers lining the grids.
The newest reincarnation of IMSA, born from the merger of Grand Am and the American Le Mans Series has certainly learned from the past and has worked tirelessly to put sports car racing back where it belongs – at the top of every motor racing fans ‘must see’ list.
Without doubt, we are on the cusp of the greatest era of prototype racing in the history of IMSA competition. Under the sterling leadership of IMSA and its President John Doonan, we have seen the convergence of worldwide prototype rules to create this new GTP class. Teams and manufacturers from around the world have embraced these new rules and since they were announced they have been busy building their new cars in preparation for the 2023 debut of the class.
John Doonan: “The official launch of GTP has arrived and we could not be prouder. With nine of the most technologically advanced and sustainable race cars in North America hitting the track today in Daytona and even more on the way, the market has spoken loudly. IMSA’s cost-effective, entertainment driven platform is resonating with the automotive industry as a vital marketing tool.”
The Rolex 24 at Daytona will see a total of 9 of these new GTP cars from the following manufacturers – Cadillac, Porsche, Acura and BMW. The Rolex 24 grid is just the beginning, as more cars and more teams are preparing to enter the series in the near future. Frankly, more would have been on the Rolex 24 grid if they could have gotten cars in time – the interest and enthusiasm has been that high.
Not only has IMSA attracted the attention of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers, but it has become ‘the place’ for top driving talent from around the world to gather to drive these awesome machines. Drivers from the top ranks of sports car racing worldwide, Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR have beaten a path to secure rides with the top teams in IMSA for 2023.
IMSA is looking at a ‘maxed out’ grid for the Rolex 24 and will likely have to turn some entries away.
Appropriately, Daytona International Speedway will become the focus of the racing world beginning today with the official IMSA two-day test session. In January, it will be the center of the universe as the new GTP class makes its debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Everything old is new again, only reborn even better than we could have ever imagined. Mark your calendars of January 28-29, 2023 to witness the beginning of the most incredible era of sports car racing ever conceived.
It’s ‘Back to the Future’ and the start of something big. Very big.