It’s an underlying theme of all motorsports, especially sports car racing. Competing against other manufacturers in front of potential buyers of production vehicles is as old as the automobile itself.
How, then, is that race-to-sell dynamic expected to work with the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class that will debut in January in the Rolex 24 At Daytona?
Just fine, if you ask the four manufacturers preparing to compete in the new top class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The crowd that gathered to see the new cars earlier this month before the start of Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta spoke loudly.
“Racing must be relevant for the brand – that's really important,” said Thomas Laudenbach, Porsche’s vice president of motorsport. “The presentation of the GTP cars from BMW, Cadillac, Acura and Porsche at Road Atlanta gave us an impression of how the fans love the brand new prototypes. There was a huge crowd taking pictures, filming and talking to drivers and senior team management. It was a perfect showcase of what’s to come in 2023.”
That showcase works in terms of the buzz surrounding the GTP class, which – the theory goes – will be a positive force in showrooms.
“Part of the reason why we participate in IMSA is the audience we’re able to reach,” said Meagan Quinn, Cadillac’s product marketing manager. “… When we’re wearing Cadillac Racing gear and we’re somewhere in public, people are like, ‘Cadillac races? I didn’t know that.’ It’s something we’re always trying to create awareness around. This platform has been so good for us.”
That sentiment is echoed by the other three manufacturers, as well. Since 2018, Acura competed in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class in the WeatherTech Championship alongside its popular Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) program, which won at Petit with the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 co-driven by Mario Farnbacher, Kyffin Simpson and Till Bechtolsheimer.
As that was happening, Meyer Shank Racing claimed the DPi championship with the No. 60 MSR Acura ARX-05 co-driven by Tom Blomqvist, Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves. The following Monday, Acura had a pair of new GTP race cars turning laps at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta to prepare for the 2023 season.
The GTP and GTD programs fit Acura’s North American marketing strategy.
“They’re both being used really well by Acura marketing to showcase the brand,” said Kelvin Fu, vice president of Honda Performance Development. “It was impressive when we were at Monterey Car Week (in August) to see the Acura brand along with all the other ones we’re going to be racing against. There was BMW, Cadillac and Porsche. Being able to compete against those in both GTD and GTP definitely helps and aligns with what Acura is trying to do from a marketing perspective.”
GTP checks a number of boxes for the four manufacturers that have begun the busy and complicated process of testing and refining the new hybrid-based GTP. Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche are laser-focused on the U.S. market, and they want to compete against the same manufacturers they face in the marketplace.
“That’s definitely the case,” Porsche’s Laudenbach said. “North America is one of the most important markets for our brand. Especially in IMSA, the Porsche fans at the racetracks are often owners of a Porsche sports car. We race in front of our customers. The well-known claim ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ still works for us in the U.S.”
Case in point from a competitor’s perspective: Cadillac is offering three IMSA-related versions of its 2023 CT4-V Blackwing featuring Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Sebring International Raceway and Watkins Glen International. The special editions make the connection between IMSA, the three tracks and the Cadillac GTP car, which features design cues familiar to the CT4-V Blackwing.
And the Blackwing buyers have stories to tell.
“The people who are buying these cars are telling us the stories about how these tracks resonate with them,” Quinn said. “They have this long history with the track – of going to the track with their dad when they were a kid and getting into that emotional side of connecting this race experience with a production car. That’s really what we’re bringing to life.”
Jeff Olson - IMSA Media