It is possible to gauge the level of interest in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in a number of ways. It is evident from the growth of the field for 2022's Rolex 24 At Daytona, which exceeded 60 cars for the first time in eight years.
IMSA officials are optimistic that Daytona International Speedway's pit lane, paddock, and garages will be filled with a full field of competitors in January 2023 as early returns for the 61st running of America's classic 24-hour endurance race have been accepted since October 11. It seems likely that demand from teams will exceed the finite amount of space available, based on early conversations.
Series and track officials are working overtime to determine how many entries can safely be accommodated for the race.
“It’s a nice problem to have, frankly,” IMSA President John Doonan said in assessing the boosted buzz surrounding the WeatherTech Championship, especially the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class that will debut at Daytona.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of momentum for the sport — for IMSA and all the fans of IMSA – and I think 2023 is not going to be any different,” Doonan noted. “Even compared to a year ago at this time, we’ve had another lift in interest from competitors wanting to run the Rolex 24 and the WeatherTech Championship season as a whole. New cars aside, it’s a really special time for the sport.”
There is no doubt that the upcoming class of cars Doonan refers to is part of the reason IMSA is attracting more attention. Daytona's GTP field is expected to include at least eight - and possibly more - hybrid-powered prototypes.
At Daytona, Acura, BMW, Cadillac, and Porsche are expected to field two factory-backed cars each, with an additional entry possible.
In addition, brand-new GT3-specification cars from Porsche and Ferrari, as well as a 2023 EVO2 update for the Lamborghini Huracán, are eligible to join the GTD and GTD PRO categories. That same trio of European marques fielded a combined total of 15 cars in the classes this year at the Rolex 24. Each has hinted at the possibility of increasing their numbers for January.
Doonan anticipates a robust entry across all five competing classes at Daytona.
“The good news is that not one class can be singled out in terms of the momentum and the growth we’re seeing,” he said. “LMP2 has seen a lot of interest in the last couple seasons, in particular some teams that have traditionally competed in Europe are interested in coming to the North American market for corporate partnership reasons. LMP3, in a similar manner, has attracted an entry number that’s in sort of a sweet spot. You add up all of those, and that’s probably half of your Rolex grid, with the other 50 percent GT cars.
“The momentum around the GT classes is significant, and around the corner in 2024 comes a Ford Mustang program and the availability of a customer Corvette,” Doonan added. “We’re real pleased with how GTD PRO came off as a category in its first season, and I think you’ll see consistent numbers similar to what you saw in 2022 for that segment of the grid. So, we are in a very fortunate position of having this much interest.”
All this means there will be very little space to stretch out at Daytona. This is despite the fact that it is one of the most modern and expansive racing facilities in the world.
If the size of the field needs to be capped, IMSA’s full-time teams and manufacturers from previous years will be given higher consideration for their entries, followed by new teams intending to field full-season efforts in the WeatherTech Championship. Among part-time entries, consideration will be given to those who have competed previously on a part-time basis — such as the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup or WeatherTech Sprint Cup — followed by new part-time entrants and historical IMSA event participants.
The unspoken message to all potential competitors is clear: Get your Rolex 24 entries in as soon as possible.
“You can’t create more square footage at a lot of our tracks, and one of the things we need to look at in the case of Daytona entries is the number of garages, the paddock space and, of course, pit lane,” Doonan said. “There are only so many boxes you can fit safely on pit lane. Last year, we had 61 cars, which was tight. With the new GTP cars, obviously there are some items that surround those cars and the hybrid technology that may require us to give them just a bit more space.
“Again, it’s a good problem to have.”
The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship opens with the Roar Before the Rolex 24, a three-day test session at Daytona from January 20-22. Rolex 24 at Daytona race week runs January 26-29.