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The Roar Before the 24 will be the first test of IMSA’s “imbedded official” approach to establish weights and power for each GTD manufacturer.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona will take the green on Saturday, Jan. 27.
With a six days between qualifying and the Rolex 24 at Daytona race, there is a winder for some changes to the Balance of Performance formulas in GTD after the Roar.
After more than a year of promotional hoopla and testing, the much anticipated first official appearance of the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 GT3.R and the Ford Mustang GT3 will take place this weekend in Daytona at the Roar Before the 24. That means even more pressure for IMSA.’s officials.
Concluding with qualifying on Sunday after two days of testing, the Roar will be the first test of IMSA’s “imbedded official” approach to establish weights and power for each GTD manufacturer. The Rolex 24 at Daytona will take the green on Saturday, Jan. 27—possibly with some changes to the BOP in GTD after the Roar.
Last year, the “old school” BOP failed noticeably as two makes, the Mercedes AMG and Aston Martin Vantage, blew the GTD Pro competition away on the banking during the Rolex 24. As the season wore on, it was clear the new Porsche 911 GT3 R was hampered by BOP. After a relatively non-competitive year, Pfaff Motorsports, which won the championship in 2022, has switched to the evo version of the McLaren 720S, which leaves Porsche without a factory-assisted entry in GTD Pro.
There is no shortage of new entrants in the Pro class, where 10 teams and 13 cars are entered, roughly double last year’s count. But the new GT3 versions of two of America’s favorite performance brands are sure to capture a lot of attention from the predominantly American fans in Daytona’s infield as well as coverage by the crews at NBC and Peacock. IMSA cannot afford another new car disaster like last year, which included Ferrari’s not always competitive 296 GT3.
Given that each manufacturer is now expected to eventually sell 20 versions of its GT3 race cars to competitors, the halo provided by victory and competitiveness is a significant factor beyond the usual racing pride and publicity.
Led by senior technical director Matt Kurdock, during the test days in the first week of December IMSA imbedded an official with each manufacturer’s GTD team to run controlled tests that called for similar tires, fuel loads and a designated gold or platinum driver. The results were shared with all manufacturers for the first time, basically asking each to find any sandbagging by their competitors. The resulting new BOP was announced on Jan. 11.
Since then, IMSA’s technical officials have been embargoed from any comments to the media until after this weekend’s Roar. That’s unusual from the media friendly sanctioning body and underscores the importance of the new BOP process.
It is a profound irony that two of the American manufacturers who created the mantra of “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday,” in NASCAR and the Trans Am in the 1960s are among the last to join the GT3 movement with their popular and relatively high volume street cars. The category, which relies on the homologation of production-based cars, has been used worldwide since 2006. It became a hit among manufacturers as well as fans due to its promotion of road cars whose sales help fund the racing. Pure genius!
IMSA, which is “converging” with the World Endurance Championship and Le Mans, will be in its first year of requiring GT3 cars from those who want to compete in the GTD Pro category.
The golden rule at Daytona is to find an edge on the banking, then hold your own in the infield. Any team that can find an edge in both the banking and infield is, well, platinum.
There are always horses for courses and it’s difficult to imagine the relatively bulky Mustang with its gigantic rear wing having any kind of an edge on the banking. One wonders how the new BOP will handle this part of the equation.
It’s likely that Ford Multimatic Motorsports will try to follow the model of the defending GTD Pro champion team of Vasser Sullivan, whose relatively bulky Lexus RC F held its own in the endurance events and won the title with its victories and points in the shorter sprints, where downforce was at a premium. On the other hand, the Vasser Sullivan team has expressed hope it can gain on the banking thanks to this year’s new BOP process.
Joey Hand, who was part of a one-two finish at Daytona with the Ford GT in 2018, was the primary development driver for the Mustang, which originated in the Flat Rock, Mich. production facility. “It’s probably going to have to prove itself a little bit, to be honest,” said Hand. He added that the entire GTD Pro class, which has been under the radar compared with the new GTP machinery, depends on good competition, which has BOP creeping into some driver comments. “We will have to prove ourselves. If we put on good shows, people will watch,” said Hand.
Now a factory assisted team, Pratt Miller will field the new Corvette, whose aluminum frame originated on the production line in Bowling Green, Ky. Tommy Milner was the lead test driver. “There has been a lot of simulator testing—just about a year before the car first hit the track—which is similar to what we did with the C8.R,” said Milner.
In addition to the two-car factory entries, a brace of Corvettes will be entered in GTD by customer team AWA and the German Proton Competition team is fielding a Mustang.
Five practice sessions for GTD Pro precede Sunday’s qualifying, where the weather is forecast to be clear with no chance of rain. There will still be a week to go before the Rolex 24 takes the green flag the following Saturday. IMSA has made an admirable commitment to keeping a multitude of manufacturers happy in the name of even competition. Time will soon tell how well it’s working.