IMSA has a history of throwing things at the wall to see what sticks in a post-economic-depression economy. Following a huge fall off of entries after the 2008 racing season, which saw the death of GT1 and the eventual collapse of LMP1 in America, the IMSA-run American Le Mans Series added a Porsche GT3 Cup spec class called GT Challenge and a very cheap to operate Oreca-based GM LS-powered Prototype Challenge class. Not only did these classes add to the confusion of the casual observer, but made the racing product itself worse overall.
The thing I most remember about the GTC and LMPC years is the influx of inexperienced gentleman drivers, and the seemingly massive increase in boneheaded accidents. Contact became the rule rather than the exception, costing teams a lot of money in shredded carbon fiber and crunched chassis. This came to a head in the 2014 Sebring 12 Hour race, which saw at least half of the LMPC class in the scrap heap by the end of the event, along with several other cars they took with them on their way out.
For the 2021 season, IMSA is adding a sub-LMP2 class to its main events, fittingly called LMP3. The class has existed as an IMSA category for the last few years, running as a stand-alone support series on race weekends, also called Prototype Challenge. That series has been reasonably successful with the kinds of wealthy dudes who have graduated beyond Lamborghini Super Trofeo or Ferrari Challenge, or the kinds of young drivers who have shady financial backing from the Russian state and something to prove.
Obviously I’m not the target market for this class, and I don’t know the inner workings of IMSA’s finances, so all of this is largely an educated guess as to what will happen in the coming years as LMP3 is added to IMSA’s WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.
For one thing, I see much of the success of LMP3 as being in its sprint race format. With most races taking 1 hour and 45 minutes, with the longest being 3 hours, these races are relatively easy to finance for a fairly wealthy racer. That’s a few sets of tires and a couple tanks of gas, minimal crew and one co-driver to share race day duties with. It’s also a six-race season, which means less travel, less prep, fewer rebuilds, and relatively few race miles. Stepping up to IMSA’s top flight races means Daytona 24, Sebring 12, Petit Le Mans, and other endurance events, combined with a 12-event season, running LMP3 just got a lot more expensive.
For another thing, I can see this class both adding to the WeatherTech series’ complexity and damage bill just like LMPC did the last time this very thing happened. To its credit, LMP3 is much more complex than shoving a Chebby V8 into an already old carbon monocoque. Built by five different chassis manufacturers—Duqueine, Ave-Riley, Ginetta, Ligier, and ADESS—using a spec detuned version of the Nissan-branded 5-liter V8 found in the FIA’s LMP2 class, the LMP3 classes have a sophisticated traction control and more advanced aero than the open cockpit LMPCs ever had. That should make them easier to drive for novice rich dudes.
IMSA has seen interest in the class from Andretti Autosport, United Autosport, Riley Technologies, Performance Tech, and others.
If it were me, instead of adding more weird shit to the series, I’d focus on the classes that are delivering excellent racing and huge manufacturer and privateer interest alike, DPi (soon to be LMDh) and GT Daytona. Scrap the ailing GTLM, and allow existing LMP2 teams to compete on level ground with the LMDh cars and you’ll have huge grids and a much less complex racing format. Two classes. Keep it simple, stupid.