How IMSA is winning the race to tomorrow

Time is a racer’s unrelenting enemy, and speed is their ultimate ally. There is only now in the race to what’s next. Performance under pressure reveals the great ones, who do much more than merely entertain us. They show us what is possible when we push ourselves to the limit, and beyond. This extends to everyone who competes, at every level within the sport. If they’re in it to win it, they must expect only the best from themselves and their teammates — especially when the odds are against them.

This is particularly true for those who lead a top racing series. Success isn’t simply about delivering safe and fair wheel-to-wheel competition, controlling cost and improving TV ratings, digital engagement or ROI for partners. Ultimately, it is about driving positive change, and creating meaning that generates value at every touchpoint in the competitive and cultural environment of the sport. The best understand that they need to drive change to benefit their series stakeholders and attract new partners. Most importantly, they know they must consistently deliver something truly worthy of devotion by current fans and can attract new fans in an era where audience energy amplifies cultural gravity via social media.

This winning mindset has been apparent in the relentlessly competitive behavior of IMSA’s leadership in the 21st century. IMSA’s first stint in the new millennium was driven by former president Scott Atherton, who took the wheel during the Don Panoz-owned American Le Mans Series era from 2000-2013. Scott then was central to the welcome unification of IMSA and Grand Am as part of the successful NASCAR family of companies, where he continued his stint as president. Atherton then helped to deliver a game-changing alignment of rules, competitive philosophy and future vision between IMSA, FIA WEC and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), that controls the sport’s defining event, and arguably, the world’s most important race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.


Since Atherton’s well-earned retirement at the end of 2019, IMSA’s next president John Doonan has been boldly driving meaningful change for Jim France’s highly-capable IMSA organization. Under John’s able leadership, IMSA and the Weathertech Sportscar Championship is evolving and adapting to the new realities of this young century. As a result, IMSA is now several laps ahead in the all-important race to relevance for auto manufacturers, suppliers, racing fans, enthusiasts and consumers influenced by motorsports. This is because what happens next in IMSA has meaning, and it matters — especially to the companies who invest their resources, technologies and brand reputations into the sport.

Atherton set IMSA up for its current success during his tenure as president, overseeing the unification of the ALMS and Grand Am, and later, an alignment of rules and philosophy between IMSA, the WEC and Le Mans. Motorsport Images

It’s no surprise that there are now 18 manufacturers in IMSA’s paddock. Clearly, France and Doonan know how to leverage the powerful emotional and intellectual attractors represented by the rich diversity of IMSA’s automakers, racecars, teams and drivers who are literally, and metaphorically, racing to tomorrow.

This connects directly to the original authentic DNA of auto racing and is vibrantly represented in the remarkable lives of Gaston and Louis Chevrolet, Enzo Ferrari, Henry Ford, Soichiro Honda and Ferdinand Porsche. Driving change is core to racing’s origins. Special places like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Daytona International Speedway and the Circuit de le Sarthe exist to do more than simply entertain us.

Auto racing’s ultimate truth and intuitive raison d’etre is to inspire us to dream bigger, to push harder, learn more, and take chances to get to tomorrow, faster.

But there is another ultimate truth: Nothing lasts forever… except a fatal mistake.

Current IMSA president John Doonan steered IMSA toward a formula that has proved a hit with fans and manufacturers alike. Richard Dole/Motorsport Images

History teaches us that overly cautious behavior in an intensely competitive arena undergoing rapid transformation is, ironically, risky. It reveals a lack of situational awareness, low confidence in the future, and an absence of commitment necessary to win.

This is especially important in this high-speed age where new technologies deliver infinite and immediate access to information, goods, services, entertainment and experiences.

Today, game-changing companies embrace disruption as they redefine the markets that they serve by rapidly shaping what’s next. This is exactly what IMSA is doing as it strives to prove it is built to win the race to a better future for our sport. But first, it must win the race to earn your interest and engagement.

Although the combined audience for the IMSA (and WEC) is substantial on, and in our off-site digital channels, it has historically been smaller and less engaged than the audiences for the top three racing series: No.1 IndyCar, No.2 NASCAR and No.3 F1. For comparison, the NTT IndyCar Series is our RACER audience’s perennial favorite, and its 17 races in 2023 generated 70.5% more page views than IMSA’s (11 races) and WEC’s (seven races) combined 18 events. IndyCar also had 74.5% more shares of stories from our site, and 85% more on-site comments.

The popularity of IMSA’s new era was reflected in reader interest in the series throughout 2023. Motorsport Images

This relative performance is partially a result of the lower frequency of IMSA and WEC events. It is also important to mention that the multi-driver and multi-class format of sports car racing is complicated compared to the other top series. It requires a different, more nuanced approach to educating, engaging and growing audience.

IMSA and WEC have been doing this aggressively and it is paying off. RACER’s key digital metrics also show that top level sportscar racing is building audience energy and momentum. In January 2023, IMSA dominated every single metric we track for the first time in RACER’s history because of your intense interest in the Rolex 24 and IMSA’s new GTP era. In June 2023, RACER’s video content from the Centenary 24 Hours of Le Mans, uplifted by NASCAR’s remarkable Garage 56 LM24 adventure, set an all-time monthly video viewing record for The RACER Channel on YouTube and in our social media channels.

IMSA’s recent growth in popularity could be because its core ethos aligns perfectly with this unique moment of accelerated change in mobility, media and society. Regardless, IMSA’s resilient performance under pressure during this turbulent decade reveals that it is truly one of the great ones in our sport’s brave 130-year race to get to tomorrow, faster.

Story originally appeared on Racer