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Craig Murto: Professional sportscar racing is healthy

The biggest story to come out of last weekend’s running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona wasn’t the race itself, it was the health of the sport.

And judging by the field that started the 24-hour endurance race, the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) and professional sportscar racing are healthy.

That wasn’t always the case. As recently as five years ago, two series competed against each other. You had the NASCAR-affiliated Grand-Am Series on one hand, and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) on the other. Grand-Am had its Daytona Prototype class, a sort of spec prototype, and ALMS attempted to run close to the rules of the World Endurance Championship (WEC), the cars of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The competing series split entries and interest, so prior to the 2014 season Grand-Am bought out ALMS and attempted to merge the two, bringing back the IMSA name. Now, in 2018, IMSA is the healthiest form of professional sportscar racing in the world.

The top class in WEC has always been P1. And in recent years it’s seen incredible (and expensive) prototype racecars from Peugeot, Audi, Porsche and Toyota, all factory teams using technology that makes Formula One cars look simple.

But perhaps because the world economy wasn’t its best, or perhaps because manufacturers simply got all the promotion from the efforts they could get, one by one the P1 factory teams dropped out. Now all that’s left is the Toyota team and a few teams in a P1 subclass.

Meanwhile, IMSA adopted WEC’s P2 class as its top prototype division. But even at this level, WEC has self-inflicted problems.

WEC decided as a cost-cutting measure to allow only one engine manufacturer in P2, Gibson Technology, a company based in the United Kingdom. But Gibson has no products to sell the general public, so there is little promotion of the P2 class on that front.

And manufacturers find it hard to justify being part of a division in which they cannot build their own engines. WEC is in a sorry state right now as far as its headlining prototype divisions.

IMSA, on the other hand, not only allows Gibson-powered P2 cars, but any manufacturer that wants to build a comparable power plant and pay IMSA for the right to compete with it. IMSA has factory efforts from Acura, Cadillac, Nissan and Mazda. In fact, there were 20 prototypes on the grid for the Rolex 24.

IMSA’s mid-level division is GT Le Mans (GTLM), which only had nine cars, but they were all stout factory teams of professional racers, including Chip Ganassi’s Ford GT cars and the factory Corvette team that Leesburg’s Tommy Milner drives for.

And 21 of the cars in the field were the GT Daytona class, for which IMSA utilizes worldwide GT3 rules.

With three strong divisions and plenty of factory support, IMSA now stands as the strongest professional sportscar series in the world.

SUPERCROSS

The Monster Energy Supercross Series competed in Phoenix on Saturday night, and Eli Tomac dominated on his Kawasaki for his second win in a row. He was followed by Justin Barcia on a Yamaha and Ken Roczen on a Honda.

Husqvarna rider Jason Anderson still leads the points with 89, followed by Barcia (80) and Roczen (77). Due to missing a race after injuring himself in the season opener, Tomac is 10th in points with 53.

Mark your calendars for Oct. 20, when Richmond Raceway hoists the Pro All Stars Series for the inaugural running of the Commonwealth Classic, a $10,000-to-win Super Late Model race on the three-quarter-mile oval.

Expect Super Late Model competitors from across the country to attend. Northwest racing legend Garrett Evans expressed interest, and it won’t be a surprise if Colorado’s Chris Eggleston competes.

The 100-lap Super Late Model race won’t be the only event scheduled, as a 75-lap Late Model Stock Car race marks the return of that division to Richmond Raceway since the Denny Hamlin Shootout used to be held there. A race for Limited Late Models as well as a Street Stock feature makes the Commonwealth Classic an ambitious event, certainly one worth attending.

It wasn’t long ago that all the big-money short track shows were held on dirt facilities. But that seems to have turned around. According to Speed51.com, there are now 30 events in North America for pavement Late Models that pay $10,000 or more.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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