The International MotorSports Association (IMSA) has long been known as a great staple of motor racing, ever since the days of the IMSA GTO series.
However, in the late 90s and early 2000s, it lost some popularity due to a rough patch, where some of the decisions made by the leaders of the sanctioning body were questioned by the mass public, and where the safety of the drivers and fans meant making sacrifices to the quality of the racing.
In 2016, however, things have now changed. We held our breath with anxiety, in 2014, as we heard that IMSA was buying the American Le Mans Series of yesteryear, as the ALMS was arguably the more popular of the two series at the time. IMSA had made some mistakes, some "ugly" cars, (we won't agree or disagree) and we were nervous about whether ALMS and IMSA could really join together and create the "United Sports Car Championship." At least, we wondered if they could do it successfully.
Well, to cut to the short version of the story, they did. 2016 was arguably one of the best seasons ever in the history of the IMSA sports car series, simply because of the caliber of the cars and teams, and the enthusiasm and spirit of the organizers, sponsors, media and fans. The cars that made it out to the 2016 races were incredible, too!
I do have some areas of improvement that the IMSA team could work on, based on the 2016, but they're all fairly minor, and I'll list them after the reasons why you should watch the series in 2017.
Reason #1 to Watch: The Cars
Obviously, the most important thing to mention when discussing the IMSA series in 2017, is the cars. There's no way around it. IMSA's GT field will have some of the best cars in sports car racing, some of which won't race among each other anywhere else in the world!
Beginning with an explanation of the class system, we'll introduce the cars. There are four classes that will compete in 2017, which are not racing against the other classes, but racing among their own class. Top honours go to each class individually, as well as the "Overall" win, which is mostly for bragging rights (like, for example, the Porsche 911 RSR should not have won Overall in the 2015 Petit Le Mans, but crazy weather meant that the Overall winner was not from the fastest class, which meant that a GTLM car claimed overall victory and had massive bragging rights, but didn't score any bonus points or anything.) You can win the race, even if you don't win overall.
Let's start with an explanation of the biggest class in the field, the Grand Touring: Daytona (GTD) class. GTD is known as the slowest class, generally, because it is intended to be the heaviest, least powerful class with the least downforce and somewhat limited modifications. It's all meant to mimic GT3 spec cars for international continuity between series. This doesn't mean that they can't win overall, as it has happened before in some strange races back in the late 2000s, but it means that it shouldn't. For a GTD car to win, things have to go fairly badly for every other class! This class's entry list for 2017 could include:
GTLM class, the Grand Touring: Le Mans class, is a step above the GTD class. It's still based on road going cars, but this time, they're heavily race prepped with massive downforce and more power and so forth.
2016 saw the arrival of the Ford GT, battling with the Porsche 911 RSR, Ferrari 488 GTE, BMW M6 GTLM and Corvette C7R. Those cars are expected to return for 2017, with no major changes to the series, except that Porsche is going to upgrade the 911 RSR up to a dedicated GTE car, which will still be known as the  911 RSR. The 2017 911 RSR is expected to make better use of the specifications to be more competitive and more evenly-matched within the GTLM class. The previous generation 911 RSR was actually based on the GTD car, and was therefore not fully optimized for the GTLM class, because the car was not immediately designed for that particular class. The changes that were made were able to make the car successful, but there were vast differences in the performance of the GTLM cars, which made the Porsche faster in some sections of track, and slower in others. It didn't have the downforce of the true GTLM cars, and therefore usually did well on tracks with longer straights and slower turns. This explains its lack of pace at Road Atlanta, a track with lots of high speed turns. The 2017 car aims to be competitive at every track, making the racing even more closely contested!
The Prototype Challenge class is a spec series, meaning that every car in the Prototype Challenge class is the same. Winning in this class depends on driver talent.
The PC class is an open-cockpit prototype series. What this means, is that the PC class is not based on road going cars, but instead was created with the sole purpose of racing. The car is not available for purchase for use on the road in any way. It's noticeably lighter and more aerodynamically efficient than any road car, permitting it to be faster than the GTLM cars with less engine output, with power around 485 horsepower. PC is the only class where driver assists are completely banned, meaning absolutely no traction control systems can be fitted, making it a great test of driving talent and capability.
The Prototype class is open to closed-cockpit prototypes, including the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) bodystyle, and the LMP2 bodystyle. DPi cars are made to be equally fast as LMP2 cars, but they are permitted to design the cars to mimic the styling of road going cars, with design features such as grilles, headlights, and taillights. These cars are essentially the same prototypes as in PC class, but they are closed cockpit, and make about 100 horsepower more. This makes them very, very fast.
Chassis manufacturers are as follow:
Reason #2 to Watch: The Tracks
America and Canada have long been known as the area where you will find some of the most prevalent and unchanged racing history, and most challenging circuits outside of the Nuerburgring.
With circuits like Road Atlanta, Sebring, Virginia International Raceway, Watkins Glen, Mosport and Circuit of the Americas, the tracks on offer from the IMSA WTSC are truly extraordinary.
The bravery required to storm through VIR's undulating section of turns, from Turn 6 to turn 10 full-throttle is unmistakable. If you thought that the Nuerburgring was terrifying, you've never driven VIR. Being on two wheels for most of the section of corners from turn 5 to turn 9, at speeds of up to 260 km/h is probably one of the most terrifying sections of track in endurance racing, anywhere.
The immense, stomach-churning drops of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (aka Mosport, because I'm a stubborn Canadian and I remember what it used to be called,) make the section of track from Turn 1 all the way through to Moss Corner (Turn 5) incredible. Turn 1 is flat-out with little run-off room. It's not quite VIR terrifying, but it's very, very close. Dab the brakes for turn 2 and again for turn 3, and ride the helical turn 4 down into the depths of Hell and back up through the rise of Moss Corner, which is so steep that it's difficult to walk on (as I found out in 2010, first hand, while walking the track after the American Le Mans Series races). The speed of the car will barely drop below 210 km/h through that section of track, before the braking zone into Moss.
The precision required at Watkins Glen, where the corners flow into each other, means that if you're an inch off of the first apex, you're several feet off of the next, and, if you don't correct in time, you're into the wall.
The tracks of the IMSA WTSC really set the series apart from other series. There's less runoff room, there are higher speeds, and there's a lot more elevation change and undulating series of corners. Sorry, Europe and Asia, we have the best tracks!
Reason #3 to Watch: It's FREE!
Since you can read this, it can be assumed that you have an internet connection. Since you have an internet connection, click this link:
That's right. There's a YouTube page dedicated to IMSA race uploads for all of IMSA's major racing series. You're welcome for the link. Enjoy it.
How Melons' Better Driving Wants to Make it Even Better
Before I go into this list, let me point something out: This is pulling hairs. There is so very, very little to improve that this list is going to be short, and it's going to be full of very minor, trivial concerns.
Andrew Geier is an accomplished automotive enthusiast, with 15 years of automotive experience. At age 22, he created Melons' Better Driving in an effort to make people rethink the automotive world with insightful vision and articles about the future of the automotive culture and all of its subcultures, including motorsports. Seen in the site's background image, examining a road which was torn up by rally cars with his friends, his passion is clearly demonstrated by his excited pose.