GM, Corvette Racing, proactive on GT class-structure changes
The best news to come from Laura Wontrop Klauser, General Motors’ new Sports Car Racing Program Manager, is that Corvette Racing has many chapters left to write in GT competition.
Klauser’s affirmation is an important one ahead of IMSA’s expected shift away from the GT Le Mans class where Corvette Racing is the only full-time manufacturer left standing. If the rumors are accurate, IMSA will replace GTLM in 2022 with a new, GT3-based Pro class for manufacturers to call home.
And if that happens, the defending GTLM champions are poised to respond.
“We’re going to have to pivot here and possibly adapt, and that’s what we’re working through. We’re figuring out, ‘Where do we want to play?’” she told RACER. “What makes sense for the company, for the brand? How do we incorporate all of this into a universal budget and get the best bang for our buck in terms of exposure, learnings, and fan interaction?
“I think we’re coming up with a pretty solid plan here, and I think we’ll, hopefully, be able to share that with all of our loyal fans in the very near future. But don’t worry. Corvette Racing is not going anywhere in terms of a Corvette being on the grid somewhere because that’s our brand. That’s what belongs out there, beating the pants off a Porsche, BMW and Ferrari, and anybody else we want to compete against.”
With IMSA utilizing the costly, ACO-based GTLM regulations for major auto manufacturers, and its own sub-class, GT Daytona, for non-factory teams using customer cars built to GT3 regulations, clear lanes—and separate rules—have pointed the factories towards GTLM and privateers to GTD. But in sports car racing’s ever-changing landscape, an ongoing series of manufacturer withdrawals has caused the GTLM class to dwindle in size while GTD continues to thrive as IMSA’s biggest category.
Adding to the costs and complexities, GTLM stalwarts BMW, Ferrari, and Porsche also build and sell customer GTD cars. Corvette, to date, has only built its C8.R to GTLM specifications, but it would not be too much of a challenge to either modify its GTLMs to comply with GTD regulations, or to build new C8.Rs to fit a Pro-level GTD class.
Assuming the changes for 2022 are confirmed, Klauser sees value in a unified approach to the GT class structure.
“Yeah, that’s actually what’s kicked off a lot of the discussion,” she continued. “It’s clear that what’s happening here in the racing space is we’re at a point where the [manufacturers] are migrating to factory efforts in one class. And a lot of that I think is just the reality of [today’s] budgets.”
Klauser also makes it clear that after Ford and Porsche withdrew from GTLM and BMW reduced its participation to part-time, having Corvette Racing as the lone factory committed to the entire GTLM season holds limited appeal beyond 2021.
“We love the connection we have with the customers and the fans, but we really don’t want to race against ourselves,” she said. “We learn a lot when we do that; it’s not that we won’t or that it doesn’t make sense. But on the flip side, it’s a lot of fun when you’re out there with other competitors. That’s where the excitement is for us and for the fans; we know that.
With the anticipated deletion of GTLM at the end of the year, Corvette Racing’s long history of competing in the ACO’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with GTLM machinery could also be subject to reevaluation.
“That’s a big deal on our end, too,” Klauser said of the legendary event where GTD cars are not invited to race. “A Le Mans presence has been another integral part of Corvette and Corvette Racing for sure. It’s the ACO sandbox, and they’re going to have to decide what they want to do. What we’re seeing on the GTLM side and over here in IMSA is not quite the same with what the WEC is seeing for Le Mans. But I think this whole concept is that the [manufacturers] are probably going to end up migrating to one class where they do factory efforts, and then it’s going to be a lot more customer-focused elsewhere. I’m sure that’s going to end up being a global impact.
“I know the ACO is aware of it because they keep an eye on all this stuff. I’m sure they’re trying to figure out what makes sense for them; all the sanctioning bodies want grids that are packed full of cars. It’s good for them, it’s good for the sport, it’s good for the show for those of us watching. We’ll see what they want to do there, but ultimately, the ball’s in their court.”
As part of her promotion, Klauser retains her responsibilities for charting Cadillac’s present and future plans in IMSA. The championship-winning DPi program has been a staple in the WeatherTech Championship since 2017, and with IMSA’s upcoming switch to hybrid powertrains in 2023 with its LMDh formula, the new prototypes could be a solid fit for GM.
Having recently changed its logo to recognize a directional change that centers on electric vehicles, GM’s manufacturing ambitions might warrant a continuation in IMSA’s top class when LMDh arrives.
“GM is very engaged and headed towards an electric future for the production side of things and full speed ahead in terms of that,” Klauser said. “What’s been a challenge for us, for the sanctioning bodies, everyone involved, is how do we incorporate this new frontier of the electric in the racing scene? And I think what’s interesting is that it’s not a snap of fingers and you just convert all the race cars to electric race cars and you’re good to go. The technology isn’t there to support a 24-hour Rolex race with electric cars right now.
“I feel like what IMSA is doing here with the hybrid system and the LMDh platform, they’re trying to find how can we make that next step where would we start incorporating some electric technology, but we’re still able to do things the way that we’ve been doing them. And the way that pulls on all of our hearts.
“So I like that IMSA took leadership in trying to figure out how to start taking advantage of the world around us. And I’m really anxious to see who signs up for that platform and what it ends up looking like. We are definitely evaluating it. I know everyone loves that word evaluating, but we are, we’re trying to figure out where to take our programs in the future and that is on the table is something that we’re considering. But there’s a lot of other things out there that we need to consider too.”
Considering the long timelines required to complete the design and development process for an LMDh program, Klauser says a decision isn’t far away.
“We’re keeping a close eye on it and hopefully we’ll be making some decisions here soon so that we can decide,” she said.
Cadillac starts on pole position for this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Marshall Pruett for Racer.com