The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona was IMSA’s giant leap

Rolex 24 at Daytona was IMSA’s giant leapSportswire Icon – Getty Images

The sound and fury of a Rolex 24-hour race conducted in the asphalt melting pot known as Daytona fades with surprising speed.

Three hours after a triumphant introduction of IMSA’s new GTP class to the biggest crowd to watch a sports car race here, one of the world’s most revered racetracks was almost empty except for the seagull fluttering occasionally in the late afternoon sun on a gentle breeze and a spare close-up crew.

This included a coterie of journalists inside the media hub from around the world writing for trade publications, hammering e-news on the announced first step to becoming a giant leap for sports car endurance racing.

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Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves added a Rolex 24 overall victory to his list of accomplishments on Sunday. James Gilbert – Getty Images

As these occasions unfold, the IMSA part of the convergence era designed to elevate what has at times been a fifth wheel in motor racing has delivered as much as it promised. The prototype class, long the calling card of endurance racing, had a compelling cast of manufacturers, cars, teams and drivers catapulting around the historic high banks. In a sport accustomed to often being treated like a mistress by factories that come and go at the whim of the boardrooms, this time being at the forefront of the electrification of the automotive industry and the wisdom learned from years past by stability and more to come from this was seen on Saturday and Sunday.

What we saw was called spectacular due to the exhilarating speed and expertise of the five classes in the WeatherTech Championship. The new GTP hybrids with their remarkable closing rates in full discussion had a ready array provided by the supporting cast of entry-level prototypes and a full buffet of highly evolved GT3 cars. It is this mixture that is the calling card of sports car endurance racing, the contrast between the wealth and power of factory machines and their close appeals to the track with the lower classes, often financed by individuals who are only wealthy in comparison. with global manufacturers.

The luxury of huge prototype budgets spent by four manufacturers (and a fifth on the way next year) passionate about hybrid cars puts this form of racing in a new quarter, one that its organizers hope to see spread further. It helps that there are the debuts of in-house stars such as winning co-drivers Tom Blomqvist and Colin Braun to go along with the stellar cars that have so often been the drawing card during endurance racing. These riders’ clashes in the coming season with other duos capable of challenging them on any race day will likely be the stuff of champions, if not the kind of much-admired drama that drives television, sponsorship and ticket sales.

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Tom Blomqvist, left, led from pole and brought Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura ARX-06 home on Sunday.Sportswire Icon – Getty Images

So, one big step and where does it go from here? Le Mans looms in June with its plethora of hybrid prototypes from additional manufacturers. Indianapolis will begin hosting a major endurance race. The 12 Hours of Sebring remains a staple in the fragrant orange groves of central Florida. Almost everyone in the Rolex garage left for Petit Le Mans in pursuit of a season-ending championship.

Either people understand this racing formula, falling into its daily rhythms of great endurance racing, or they don’t. Considering the remarkable number of fans who parked in satellite parking lots to enter the France family’s Speedway by the Sea, in addition to the bumper-to-bumper packed house in the infield, this perhaps indicates- be a drastic change.

Maybe, just maybe, a combination of the millennials who lead today’s market and those who see this new deal as reminiscent of their own youth when factory giants roamed endurance racing in the 1960s. 1960 will hasten a new dawn.

The exhilaration of the roaring scene of exotic cars disappearing down the straights faster than the fleeting (and thrilling) days of youth has aroused many fans in this yin and yang demographic. As a famous television presenter hosting a press conference might say, let’s applaud him.

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The crowd descended on the infield and the pits for this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.Sportswire Icon – Getty Images

There is room for cynicism, despite all the brilliant minds who have engineered the long-sought convergence allied, very importantly, to stability. At the top of the heap are two of the most powerful racing middlemen in the world, the organizers of Daytona and Le Mans.

Where can it go wrong? Well, after Sebring this year, there is no sanctioned race in the United States for World Endurance Championship hybrids that seem to gravitate towards Le Mans. As other sports have experienced, Middle Eastern money buys race dates (see Qatar) just as it buys the souls of golfers willing to ignore authoritarian values ​​out of step with modernity.

Will the convergence really turn into a one-way street leading to the Circuit de la Sarthe without reciprocity at Daytona? If this weekend’s crowd was the biggest ever, what would a Ferrari 499P attract?

While Cadillac has committed to the new three-year IMSA formula, per the sanctioning body’s factory participation agreement, will the budget still be in place if the GM brand takes over Formula 1 with Andretti Autosport in four seasons?

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Cadillac’s entry into the GTP class added to this year’s show at Daytona.Sportswire Icon – Getty Images

As in the past, will IMSA grope for the opportunity to gain star power by promoting its drivers as much as its car and engine manufacturers? How about Blomqvist and Braun on Good Morning America Monday morning—or Jimmy Kimmel Live! No one is heading to Disney World, just down the road, for God’s (and racing’s) sake.

The driver rating system is broken, as usual, if not twisted. Can IMSA and Daytona survive without the one created by people who got their hands dirty in organizing the WEC, Le Mans and second-tier sports car racing? We’re talking about the FIA ​​here, which summarily took sports car racing out of the limelight in favor of Formula 1 to begin with. (Well, maybe there was a lot of blood on the ground from the self-inflicted injuries of sports car racing when it comes to this topic…)

But hi! This is just the big picture, like floating high in the air on a beautiful sunny, windy afternoon after a weekend of sports car racing so damn good it almost makes you want to cry.

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