Once again, the 12 hours of Sebring has come and gone. There was a lot of intriguing new features of the event this year, and despite some disappointment and a perhaps predictable overall finish, it was a genuinely entertaining endurance race. We got a surprise victory in LMP2 and were treated to great battles in GT, GTC, and LMPC.
But I'm here today to consider the potential future of the two Challenge classes. Obviously, they were brought about to address the issue of low car counts, but could they be something more? Some of you may recall that not long before LMPC was announced, I covered a rumor about various lower-tier forms of sports racers being brought up in a new LMP3 class to help with the car count.
There's talk of opening up the GTC class to other GT3-spec cars, like the Audi R8 LMS. Some have even advocated adopting Grand-Am's silhouette car rule to let in the Mazda RX-8s. Given what Le Mans racing is suppsoed to be about, such ideas make perfect sense.
But what about LMPC? It's major shortfall is that the main car is still a fully-fledged, and therefore expensive, LMP. As was noted several times during the broadcast, the REAL cost savings come from the 450-horsepower Corvette crate engine.
450 horsepower? You can get that kind of power out of a Formula Atlantic engine with just a little bit of work.
Say, did you know a fairly large number of SCCA C-Sport entries are powered by old Formula Atlantic engines?
Here's the thing: GT3-spec racecars are fairly cheap. Prototypes are not. But that doesn't stop tons of people around the country from racing sports prototypes that nudge the current performance level of LMPC on a daily basis. This could be the perfect way to not only give LMPC the kind of diversity that the main LMP classes already have and the GTC class will likely soon achieve, but to help bridge the gap between weekend warrior and pro racer.
Which also happens to be the exact same kind of thing that the Pro-Am driver idea being applied to LMPC does. The series is already looking to such methods to bolster it's popularity and backing, why not go all the way?
Reliability, right? Sure, that'll be an issue and scare some people away, but the cars some of those guys run are as bulletproof as an Audi R10. Many of them are purchased from dedicated manufacturers who would only benefit from such inclusion. Even then, if you're REALLY worried about that, just exclude the class from the long-distance enduros. It's not like the ALMS is hurting for cars at Petit and Sebring. Probably best to exclude them to avoid an overcrowded track.
Besides, the homebrew chassis builders are some extremely creative and technical-minded folks. Put them on the same stage and if the right factory team sees potential you could fiind the guy that would make the next great LMP.
If the ALMS wants to mix in the Weekend Warriors with the big-time pros, then bring it on. It would certainly work better than LMP1 vs LMP2 trying to separate privateer from factory entry. And it would give a MAJOR boost to SCCA Club Racing.
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