Theory of evolution
This year’s inaugural Tudor United SportsCar championship – a merger of the Grand-Am and ALMS – is at the beginning of a new road to discovering the future of American sports car racing. Through the opening three races of the season – Daytona, Sebring and Long Beach – the new body searched (to the considerable displeasure of many) to find the right balance of performance for the Daytona Prototypes and P2 cars. P1 cars have been ruled out and many observers believe the Daytona Prototypes will be encouraged to emerge as the dominant force in the new series. Nevertheless, slowly but surely it is finding its way forward, and recently I discussed the series’ growing pains with IMSA’s president Scott Atherton, who spent the previous 14 years in a similar role with the ALMS.
“There are many positives to a unified championship and I am confident that we will progress on all fronts,” Atherton said. “We’ve got plenty of true factory teams on the GT side. The GT categories are very strong and we are working hard to balance the performance of the DP and P2 cars, to push the prototype category forward in the best possible way.
“To have taken those two very dissimilar categories and merged them was the most challenging, most excruciating process I have ever experienced. There was some tough sledding through my 14 years with the American Le Mans Series, but this process made that look like a walk in the park.”
Atherton itemised the TUSC’s strengths. “We have a tremendous calendar of 12 races at great venues around the country and into Canada, plus we have a five-year commitment from a major sponsor in Tudor Watches.
“We also have a five-year agreement with Fox Sports, a real TV partner who wants to build the sport in partnership with us, plus 11 car manufacturers and three tyre companies.”
Atherton hopes to find a solution to the thorny question of whether we will ever again see the latest Le Mans P1 cars racing regularly in America. “I believe we can get to a place where we are more integrated with Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship,” he said. “We have continued our relationship with the ACO and share an end goal of bringing commonality to the series in 2017.
“We’re trying to take very much a long-term view. Our initial goal was to protect our teams and their inventories. We wanted to keep them viable so that everyone involved in both the Grand-Am and the ALMS would have a home in the new series.
“The conversations have already started to define the next generation of prototype rules and regulations. The same conversation is focused around the GT category, so that when we do announce the next generation it won’t be a formula that’s unique to the Tudor championship but will be in line with the rest of the world – a single formula that would be applicable to the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Tudor championship in America, a European championship and an Asian championship.”
Atherton would love to see P1 cars racing in the TUSC but is deeply sceptical of achieving his dream. “I think that’s the biggest challenge we face,” he said. “Nobody is a bigger fan of P1 cars than I am, but history suggests – and frustratingly we’ve proven to ourselves more than a few times – that it’s not sustainable for anyone other than a few factory teams.”
It will be interesting to see how the TUSC evolves. Will it become an integrated, regional partner of the WEC in 2017? Or will it settle down for the long run as a more restricted, NASCAR-like form of racing? Time will tell.