I have missed the opening three rounds of the Tudor United Sports Car Championship due to a combination of my work schedule and their television coverage schedule. Over the last week, I have managed to somewhat catch up by watching the 12 Hours of Sebring via TUSC’s YouTube channel. Common sense dictates I should probably watch some more races before writing this post but I haven’t written any Motor Sport related posts yet this season and I do want to post a few observations on the new IMSA/TUSC series.
The 12 Hours of Sebring was a contradiction. To be frank, dismal driving standards were displayed throughout the race and there was very poor decision making on the part of both gentleman and professional drivers. At the same time, there was also some very good racing during the little green flag time there seemed to be. The problem was that just about every time the race began to get interesting someone did something stupid to cause a yellow flag and those yellow flag periods lasted entirely too long. If it broke up the rhythm of the race for the fans I can’t imagine the effect it had on the drivers and teams. That is the basis for one of my major observations of the season so far, my other has to do with Prototype class balance of performance. At Sebring, IMSA appeared to have that balance of performance very close.
The series cannot continue to have yellow flag periods consuming half of the race time like it did at Sebring. You can’t hold the attention of new or prospective fans losing that much racing time and you are going to lose current fans the same way. It was tedious and at times you could tell that even the TV crew (more on them to come) thought it was getting tedious. Consider what would result if you lost half of the race time in a 2 hour 45 minute race. While IMSA has said they are going to make more use of quick yellows as opposed to the normal yellows in which they pit different classes on different laps, I hope they still consider the use local yellows to clear some incidents of minor debris or easily removed stalled cars.
The balance of performance appeared to be quite close at Sebring as opposed to being well off at Daytona. I don’t know that IMSA will be able to ever equalize the P2s and DPs at Daytona because of the long amounts of time spent on the banking; the higher horsepower DPs just have too much advantage there. At Sebring, however, the ESM P2s were both very competitive and led a considerable number of laps while the Oak Racing Morgan was also competitive. All things equal though, I think with the DPs having more “grunt” they have an easier time getting through traffic than the P2s which are more dependent upon momentum than power. This may not be a popular opinion, but I also think that there are some stronger engineering squads on the DP side of things than there are on the P2 side. For those reasons, combined with sheer numbers, I think we’ll see more DPs winning races than P2s. That said, we cannot count out the P2s; if it wasn’t for the late yellow at Sebring that fell to the 01 Ganassi DP’s advantage, the 1 ESM P2 had a very good chance of winning the race.
Here’s another unpopular opinion: I was pleasantly surprised with how much improvement that IMSA has made with the DPs while watching Sebring. I never was a big fan of the DPs in Grand Am and while I’m still not a fan of how they look I’ve got to admit with the changes IMSA has made to them, they’re performing at a higher level and maintaining the close competition that made them popular with Grand Am. I think the key to the future is fans getting past the DP/P2 rivalry and just enjoying good racing whether a DP car or P2 car is leading or winning. Just as IndyCar fans have had to quit taking ChampCar and IRL sides, it’s time for us as fans to quit taking ALMS or Grand Am sides and take the TUSC side. Quit living in the past and enjoy the present and the future.
Another observation has to do with officiating, which at Daytona and Sebring were less than optimal (to be kind). Making wrong calls that have to be corrected post race and making wrong calls that directly affect the outcome of a race without evening making an attempt to correct them are unacceptable. After Sebring, changes were announced but I think that IMSA must take another step. Just as there are measures in other professional sports to discipline officials that make mistakes, IMSA must do the same. Furthermore, in order to maintain the confidence and respect of the participants and fans those disciplinary measures must be announced just as disciplinary actions against drivers and teams are announced.
While I didn’t watch, nor have I seen, any of the 24 Hours of Daytona coverage, I did listen to some of MRN’s coverage via SiriusXM. It was abysmal. There seemed to be no effort on the part of the NASCAR-centric crew to learn or adapt to calling Sports Car racing. I understand that they added Greg Creamer and Ryan Eversley to the Sebring coverage and that was an excellent call. Creamer has long experience with sports cars, knows the sports car community, and knows his business. Eversley is new at the job but anyone who followed the Dempsey Racing twitter account that he operated during last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans knows what he is capable of. While watching the 12 Hours of Sebring I really enjoyed the Fox Sports TV combination of Brian Till, Tommy Kendall, and Justin Bell (not that the combo of Varsha, Fish, and Schroeder were bad). Justin Bell’s frank, to the point commentary was particularly welcome. It’s always good to hear an analyst that doesn’t have a problem calling it as he sees it. It seems that while coverage may have stumbled at the beginning of the season (and there are still problems with lack of coverage and channel availability) things seem to be improving.
Another concern has to be the exit of the Level 5 and Muscle Milk teams from TUSC (and possibly that of Turner) by the third race of the season; I’m not ready to consider it a crisis or an exodus yet. I think Level 5’s exit had more to do with just dissatisfaction with the series and I have to wonder if Muscle Milk just bit off too much after getting a very late start with their Oreca Nissan. I will say that I’m very disappointed that Muscle Milk pulled out of the series; I’ll definitely miss them and I hope that they turn up somewhere in the near future.
Overall, I’m keeping a positive outlook for IMSA and TUSC. Although I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, I have the Long Beach race on DVR at home and I’ll be catching up on it this Friday or Saturday. From what I’ve heard they didn’t have any major officiating issues and the racing sounded like it was pretty good (at least in GTLM, I haven’t seen that much about the Prototype class). I’m disappointed in a lot of the negative comments and the jumping to conclusions I see in the comments sections on some websites. We as fans need to maintain an even keel and not let our frustrations get the best of us. Yes, there have been problems this season but we still need to support the series and try to bring new fans to it. Look at how long it has taken for IndyCar to get solidly on its feet since their unification; it was a long rough road and they’re still working on it. We can’t expect IMSA and TUSC to get everything right in one season much less one race. This is a transitional season and we need to remember that. If things aren’t showing some sort of improvement by the end of the season then it will time to get worried, but for now let’s keep on giving them a chance.