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50 points for IMSA’s 50th Anniversary

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Entering its sixth season under the restored International Motor Sports Association banner, IMSA is riding an unprecedented wave of positivity. In honor of its 50th anniversary, here are 50 points of interest to follow as America’s defining endurance racing series launches its 2019 championship this week at Daytona.

1. CADILLAC: After two years of keeping tight control over its all-conquering DPi-V.R, Cadillac has opened the books, making two new prototypes available to the rising JDC-Miller Motorsports team, plus one to the incoming Juncos Racing outfit. Together with the two Action Express Racing Cadillacs and Wayne Taylor Racing’s DPi-V.R, six of the growling V8-powered machines make for IMSA’s most successful and popular prototype solution.

2. MICHELIN: Welcome home. Michelin’s tires have long been the international standard of excellence in sports car racing. With Michelin taking over as IMSA’s sole supplier in 2019, the entire WeatherTech Championship finally has the tires its teams have always deserved.

3. PRUETT, MARSHAL: Scott Pruett may have retired following last year’s Rolex 24, but he’s back at the race where he co-owns the record for victories to serve as Daytona’s grand marshal.

4. SPIRIT OF DAYTONA: The veteran Grand-Am team, which competed through the 2018 IMSA season as a member of the Cadillac DPi-V.R family, will be missing the Daytona grid for the first time in decades as it searches for sponsorship to resume operations. While SDR won’t be in the race, a number of its crew members are helping other teams this weekend in their quest for victory.

5. NBC SPORTS: Passion for motor racing underscores the NBC Sports brand, which makes its new exclusive contract to broadcast IMSA’s races a perfect marriage of storytellers behind the cameras and the storytellers on the race track.

6. MPC: Like IndyCar’s Indy Lights series, IMSA’s top training ground for future WeatherTech Championship GT competitors is ready to roll with a new name. Formerly known as the ‘Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge’ series, it’s been rebranded as the ‘Michelin Pilot Challenge’ series. Where the CTSCC had an easy nickname to use — the ‘Conti series’ — the new moniker lacks an obvious abbreviation unless, of course, the ‘Mishy series’ takes off…

7. IPC: And don’t forget the IMSA Prototype Challenge series, which has undergone a rule change to make the singular use of the LMP3 formula a requirement for teams, drivers, and crew members with an eventual interest in joining the WeatherTech Championship’s DPi or LMP2 grid.

8. TRAVEL: 2019 is turning into a tribute tour as Acura Team Penske, CORE autosport, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Riley Technologies, Starworks Motorsport, and more will feature throwback liveries for one race — or the entire season — that pay homage to some of IMSA’s most memorable color schemes.

9. RICARDO JUNCOS: Diversity among IMSA’s team ownership base has increased with the arrival of Argentina’s Ricardo Juncos. The IndyCar and Road To Indy entrant’s love for sports cars resulted in acquiring a Cadillac DPi-V.R and adding third program to his business. Living the American Dream, Juncos gives the series a Spanish-speaking owner who opted in for all the right business reasons, both of which are rare.

10. IMSA’S 50: It’s the golden anniversary for IMSA, and what a mighty fine time to think back on all that made the series founded by John and Peggy Bishop, and the France family, such an amazing part of our racing culture.

11. MEC: With the withdrawal of Tequila Patron from all racing sponsorships, its name has been removed from the masthead of IMSA’s former ‘Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup’ that awards separate championships for those with the best performances at the four long races on the WeatherTech Championship calendar. In a growing trend, Michelin filled the void and shortened it to the ‘Michelin Endurance Cup.’ Despite the title change, the MEC remains the same with endurance championship points being awarded at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, and Motul Petit Le Mans.

12. YOUTH MOVEMENT: More young drivers than ever are choosing the WeatherTech Championship as the place to build professional careers. This year’s prime example is Pfaff Motorsports’ Scott Hargrove, a young Canadian driver who should, if all the necessary opportunities came his way, be an IndyCar star. A race winner in Indy Lights, the open-wheel road closed due to a lack of funding, and with a new door opened by Pfaff, Hargrove has gone from pondering a life working 9-to-5 to realizing his dream, albeit in a different form of racing than he originally pursued.

13. OVAL CHANGES: Ford’s ultra-successful GT program enters its fourth and final season. Barring a reprieve, GTLM fans will have from now until October to watch the knee-high rockets in action. But don’t worry, Ford fans: a DPi has been in development for the 2020 season for quite some time.

14. FITTIPALDI FAREWELL: Christian Fittipaldi’s long and illustrious career behind the wheel will reach its conclusion at the Rolex 24. The Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR, Grand-Am, and IMSA pilot has been an amazing ambassador for the sport, and with his transition into a full-time role as Action Express Racing’s sporting director, his decades of knowledge won’t be lost.

15. WTSC: The shift from 2018 to 2019 has seen a surprising amount of name changes and acronym adjustments within IMSA. One brand-new creation of interest is the WeatherTech Sprint Cup for entrants in the GT Daytona category. In an effort to offer a cost-saving alternative to competing in the full GTD championship, the WTSC strips the four expensive MEC rounds from the calendar to create another championship-within-a-championship. The WTSC kicks off in May at Mid-Ohio.

16. CALM WATERS: IMSA’s leadership is unchanged, yet again, as the key architects and administrators of the WeatherTech Championship continue into another season.

17. CORE: One of IMSA’s most successful teams has finally made it to the top category as CORE autosport takes over ESM’s Nissan Onroak DPis. After purchasing the entire ESM inventory, including two Nissan DPis, the team owned by Jon Bennett will field a single car as it embraces the role of a spoiler among the big Acura, Cadillac, and Mazda factory teams.

18. RMMR: To celebrate IMSA’s 50th anniversary, the series has been named the marque of honor for August’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion vintage racing event. More than 500 cars, across all manner of classes, receive invitations; seeing 50 years of incredible cars and drivers will be worth the trip.

19. JACKIE HEINRICHER: She’s IMSA’s only female co-owner in the WeatherTech Championship, and has big plans to grow her all-female GTD entry with Meyer Shank Racing and Acura, along with sponsor Caterpillar.

20. THE PINEAPPLE: Alex Zanardi is here for a one-week engagement at Daytona. The warmth and joy emanating from the Italian should serve as a wake-up call for some of his rivals, who, for reasons unknown, spend less time connecting with fans and making lifelong memories for those who have paid to see the Rolex 24.

21. IMSA RADIO: IMSA’s excellent radio service has been bolstered by the signing of Jamie Howe, one of the best pit lane reporters in sports cars, and Brian Till, whose versatility in the booth and the pits has made him a staple across numerous series. A great product, made even better.

22. PMR: Defending GT Daytona champs Paul Miller Racing are generally averse to change, which makes the driver ratings-related uncoupling of its title-winning duo in Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow, Snow’s subsequent ‘retirement,’ and the addition of Ryan Hardwick to partner with Sellers a proper shakeup that will test PMR’s ability to adapt and overcome significant change.

23. M ON M: Look for improved braking, cornering, and acceleration this year due to the entire WeatherTech Championship running on Michelin tires. With Michelin’s rubber — and its rubber alone — being worn into the track, we’ll a hand-in-glove scenario where added grip and performance is the result.

24. SEESEVEN R: Corvette Racing isn’t ready to announce when its ultra-successful front-engine C7.R will be retired in favor of the mid-engine C8.R, but we know the majestic yellow beasts are headed for the museum in the near future. If you love the C7.R’s exhaust note, don’t wait until 2020 to hear it again.

25. McLAREN’S COMING: Compass Racing will break new WeatherTech Championship ground with the entry of its McLaren 720S GT3, due in May for the shortened WeatherTech Sprint Cup championship. The British supercar manufacturer has been part of the CTSCC series, but until now, its products have been absent from IMSA’s GT Daytona class.

26. VARIABLE COMMITMENT: IMSA’s plans for a vibrant new class, LMP2, had great promise when it was announced in August. Since then, changing plans for a few teams has left LMP2 with only one entrant prepared to contest the full season, and the other is contemplating a move to the European Le Mans Series. Unless two or three full-timers turn up, the expansion from three classes to four could face an uncertain future.

27. RISI: Amid the influx of new teams, Giuseppe Risi’s delightful Ferrari GTLM team enters another season with insufficient funding to take a season-long fight to the BMW, Corvette, Ford, and Porsche factories. IMSA’s headed in the right direction, but when one of its heart-and-soul teams is stuck in a highly limited role, we’re reminded there’s still work to do.

28. TPESM: Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsports is no more. Fun, splashy, and routinely dressed in vibrant green and black liveries, the team’s loss is among the handful of setbacks IMSA will look to overcome in 2019 and beyond.

29. GLAD TO MEET YOU: Along with Juncos, Heinricher, AIM Vasser Sullivan and Pfaff, IMSA welcomes the returning Starworks Motorsport team, Moorespeed, and Precision Performance Motorsports to its GTD category.

30. NISSAN: The Japanese brand’s American arm maintained varying levels of engagement with IMSA, and with its recent worldwide exit from motor racing, barring a new Formula E project, it won’t be spending in IMSA. It’s racing division, NISMO, is a paid service provider by the CORE team, which delivers engines and name/usage rights in DPi.

31. IMSA/WEC CROSSOVER: Sports car fans win in March when the globetrotting FIA World Endurance Championship joins the undercard on IMSA’s annual visit to Sebring for its 12-hour event. With 1000 miles of WEC racing on Friday and the WeatherTech Championship headlining on Saturday, IMSA has its first proper doubleheader event to offer.

32. BRANDS NEW: It could be new cars from a current manufacturer, a new manufacturer to IMSA, or both in the coming years as Ford’s long-rumored exit from GT Le Mans to move up to DPi gets confirmed, and other high-profile brands cast their lot with the WeatherTech Championship. More than a dozen are currently involved, and with the aforementioned momentum in mind, IMSA’s making it easy for auto companies to sign on and race without breaking the bank.

33. PIPO: IMSA has struggled to make new-era stars since the series relaunched in 2014, but Brazil’s Luis Felipe ‘Pipo’ Derani is one of the great exceptions. The pint-size phenom, whose knack for winning IMSA’s biggest races for the defunct Extreme Speed Motorsports team was downright lethal, was signed to partner with the defending DPi champions Action Express Racing. Teamed with fellow Brazilian rocket Felipe Nasr, Derani’s new opportunity in the No. 31 AXR Cadillac DPi-V.R with reigning co-champ Eric Curran included for the MEC rounds is simply ridiculous.

34. RECORDS: Drivers love their new Michelin tires, and a big part of it comes from the big spike in speed and performance. Lap records in qualifying and the races should fall everywhere IMSA goes in 2019.

35. AIM VASSER SULLIVAN: Take the 1996 CART IndyCar Series champion in Jimmy Vasser, add in his partner, sponsorship guru James ‘Sulli’ Sullivan, and the superb AIM Autosport from Canada, and you have a big win for IMSA as the trio make their debut in partnership with Lexus Racing. Colors and personality are the foundation here, and in the occasionally too-serious world of sports car racing, AVS is the readymade antidote.

36. MEDIA 500: Spread across print, radio, web, and TV, IMSA will provide credentials for almost 500 members of the media in 2019. It’s another metric that tells us the ship is pointed in the right direction.

37. MRRA: IMSA’s season finale will take place at one of its old friends, Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia, but it’s will look a bit different when teams arrive, thanks to a brand-new media center that replaces the retro building that stood for decades. And in a change that surely can’t be a surprise by now, the track’s been renamed by a certain French tire manufacturer. Welcome, ‘Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.’

38. PFAFF MOTORSPORTS: Canada has always played an important part in IMSA’s history, and with the new Pfaff team bringing its talented Porsche team to GTD, the paddock has one more tie to our friends up north.

39. VIR/LRP MASTERY: If you’re more of a GT fan than a lover of prototypes, IMSA’s pair of GT-only events at Virginia International Raceway and Lime Rock Park are must-see events. GTLM and GTD, without those pesky DPis and LMP2s stealing the limelight, offer some of the best racing IMSA has given its new-era audience.

40. NAME GAME: For the sake of consolidation, the TPNAEC is now the MEC. CTSCC is now the MPC. IPC is still IPC. RA is MRRA. And the WTSC is new. OK? LOL.

41. LEENA: Multimatic race engineer Leena Gade will spread her talents over the No. 77 Mazda Team Joest RT24-P which, when considering her immense skill, should provide a significant boost.

42. MOMENTUM: There’s always work to do and shortcomings to improve, but it’s hard to ignore the overall wave of forward progress pushing IMSA toward its best year to date since it was relaunched in 2019.

43. FERNANDO ALONSO: The Spaniard was a huge hit last year on his Rolex 24 debut and continues, as new and one-off part of the Wayne Taylor Racing team, to attract a wider international audience who knows he has a legitimate chance of adding a big Daytona win to his victories at Monaco and Le Mans.

44. ALEXANDER ROSSI: The roster of high-profile drivers outside of IMSA’s full-time base includes 2016 Indy 500 winner and 2018 IndyCar Series runner-up Alexander Rossi, who will compete with Acura Team Penske at the endurance rounds. Yet another big name, added into the IMSA mix.

45. TORQUE TALK: FOX Sports IMSA TV veterans Justin Bell and Tommy Kendall weren’t picked up by NBC Sports in the handoff for 2019, and if all goes well, it will be the best thing possible for sports car fans. The drivers-turned-analysts have created ‘The Torque Show,’ a live streaming interview program hosted inside the paddock at every IMSA race. Filling the gap before and after the NBC cameras are lit, Bell and Kendall should bring new levels of the fun and character from the like we’ve never had before.

46. KAMUI KOBAYASHI: The obvious assumption would place WTR’s Alonso as the fastest guest driver in its Cadillac DPi-V.R, but don’t sleep on Japan’s Kobayashi, who is an extraordinary operator behind the wheel.

47. SCUDERIA FINLAND: Ferrari factory ace Toni Vilander makes his transition to the GTD class with Scuderia Corsa after years of representing the brand in GTLM. Fresh off a PWC championship, the Finn is now among the throngs of ridiculously talented pros in the Pro-Am class. The gap between GTD and GTLM only getting narrower as the talent pool gets deeper.

48. LAMBO: With five Huracan GT3s on the Daytona grid, the supercar manufacturer is enjoying a renaissance of interest after securing the 2018 GTD championship. It’s the kind of metric that brings manufacturers in and keeps them engaged: when on-track success results in sales, the process is working.

49. MISSION CRITICAL: Jackie Heinricher’s all-female driving team is, as Katherine Legge said, ‘racing for something bigger than wins’ as she, double GTD champion Christina Nielsen, and stars Simona De Silvestro and Bia Figueiredo look to strengthen their position in the series, and pave the way for more women in the future.

50. MANUFACTURERS PLAYGROUND: There are more marques competing in IMSA this year than were on display at the recent Detroit Auto Show. That’s amazing.