IMSA at 50
Saturday, June 22, 2019

It was 50 years ago today – June 23, 1969 – when the articles of incorporation for the International Motor Sports Association were filed in Connecticut.

Fifty years later and after many twists and turns, IMSA is the premier professional sports car sanctioning body in North America, living what many might consider its best life right now. IMSA has a complete schedule of the best road racing tracks and events in the U.S. and Canada, 19 participating manufacturers, long-term partnerships with WeatherTech, Michelin, NBC Sports and others that have positioned IMSA for sustained success well into the future, world class teams and drivers, and a growing base of passionate sports car racing fans.

What follows is a thorough look at IMSA’s history – including many of those aforementioned twists and turns – to illustrate how we got from that fateful day 50 years ago to today.

Overview

The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) was founded in on June 23, 1969 by John Bishop with the assistance of NASCAR President Bill France Sr. Bishop was a 12-year employee of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), who elected to follow his own vision for professional road racing. Bishop and his wife, Peggy, brought a family-style feel to the organization, based first in Fairfield, Connecticut and later in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The first IMSA-sanctioned race was at Pocono International Raceway on Oct. 19, 1969, a Formula Ford and Formula Vee event that paid $3,000 and attracted 348 spectators. Bishop abandoned his plans for open-wheel competition by the end of 1970, concentrating on forming a six-race series in 1971 for FIA Group 2 and Group 4 sports cars, along with “Baby Grand” sedans.

That series became the IMSA GT Series. The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company began sponsoring what became Camel GT in 1972, and the series quickly gained in popularity. Bishop’s vision of adding prototype sports cars in the early 1980s proved to be a huge success, and the series thrived throughout the 1980s with many of the top names in U.S. and international sports cars battling on North America’s top road circuits in Porsche, Jaguar, Ford, Nissan, Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, Mazda and Toyota Camel GTP Prototypes.

In addition to the GTP Prototypes, Camel GT also featured Camel Lights Prototypes and production-based competition in the GTO, GTU and American GT classes. IMSA also sanctioned American road racing cars in the Kelly American Challenge; small sedans in the Champion Spark Plug Challenge, production cars in the Firestone Firehawk Endurance Championship, exotics in the Bridgestone Super Car Championship; and open-wheel cars in the Barber Saab Pro Series.

Bishop sold the organization to Florida businessmen Mike Cone and Jeff Parker in 1989, and the company was relocated to Tampa, Florida. With a sharp drop in participation in the GTP class due to a challenging worldwide economy, IMSA announced a shift to a revolutionary concept for 1994, introducing the World Sports Car, an open-cockpit prototype.

There were many additional changes for 1994. Florida businessman and GT racer Charlie Slater purchased IMSA. Exxon USA took over sponsorship of the series, which became the EXXON World Sports Car Championship, while GT competition took place in the EXXON Supreme GT Series.

In September 1996, the International Motor Sports Group – a conglomerate including Roberto Mueller and Andy Evans – purchased IMSA and changed its name to Professional SportsCar Racing for 1997.

Many changes took place over the following three years. The United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) sanctioned races with the assistance of the Sports Car Club of America in 1998-99.

While originally affiliated with the USRRC, Don Panoz departed to hold the inaugural Petit Le Mans endurance race at Road Atlanta in 1998. He expanded that concept into a full series in 1999, the American Le Mans Series. He envisioned bringing European-style endurance sports car racing to America – highlighted by the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans. Panoz also acquired rights to IMSA, which became the sanctioning body for the organization.

Without a sanctioning body for Daytona International Speedway’s flagship road race, the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Jim France put together a team of investors who shared his vision for a new North American sports car championship to carry on the legacy of the series co-founded by his father, Bill France Sr., 30 years earlier. GRAND-AM Road Racing – with John Bishop as its commissioner – debuted with the 2000 running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona and ran its opening three seasons with similar classes to the ALMS.

From its birth in 1999, the ALMS proclaimed its racing “For the Fans,” and built a loyal group of followers. The series later undertook a number of initiatives to become recognized as the Global Leader in Green Racing, gaining both national and international recognition for its Green Racing protocols.

GRAND-AM took a radical step when it introduced the Daytona Prototype as its lead class beginning in 2003. The new car became popular with both fans and drivers for its durability, affordability and safety – and most especially for the close competition it offered. The DP attracted competitors from NASCAR, IndyCar and international sports car racing, especially for GRAND-AM’s marquee events at Daytona, Watkins Glen and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

While both series were successful on their own, it became apparent that they would have to combine in order to grow the sport. The two groups announced in Sept. 2012 they would merge into one organization beginning with the 2014 season. Fittingly, it was also announced that the name for the sanctioning body that would administer the united series would be called “IMSA.”

IMSA's WeatherTech SportsCar Championship opens annually with a pair of the world’s most prestigious endurance races – the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts – building on the vision of John Bishop and Bill France Sr. from 50 years ago.

Here’s a closer, decade-by-decade look at the evolution of IMSA and sports car racing in the United States.

The 1970s

In 1973, Hurley Haywood and Peter Gregg co-drove a Porsche 911 RSR to victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. The Daytona victory was the first international triumph for a 911-based Porsche – beginning a long and successful legacy.

While the models may have changed from the exotic 917K to the production-based 911 RSR to the turbocharged 935, Porsche served as the common denominator for winning cars in the endurance classics at Daytona International Speedway and Sebring International Raceway through the 1970s.

From 1970 through 1984, the 917s and models inspired by the 911 accounted for 21 of the 26 overall victories in the two Florida classics.

"The 911 was – and is – a great car to drive," said Haywood, who scored four of his five overall Rolex 24 victories in that production-based car. "Back then, it was the car to drive because of its reliability. It was a really strong car, while the competition was not quite as reliable. The Porsche was not necessarily the fastest car on the racetrack, but it was certainly the most reliable."

The decade began in the aftermath of the scintillating Ford vs. Ferrari battles of the 1960s. While those exciting prototypes were eventually legislated out of competition, Porsche offered its 917K. John Wyer prepared winning cars for Pedro Rodriguez in both the 1970 and 1971 Daytona races, while Vic Elford and Gerard Larrousse won the 1971 Sebring event in a Martini & Rossi entry. Ferrari continued the heritage of the Sixties in the 1970 Sebring event, won by a team led by Mario Andretti in a 512S.

For 1971, the world governing organization – the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) – moved from a five-liter to three-liter formula, making the Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512 obsolete. It also wanted to make all races (with the exception of the 24 Hours of Le Mans) six hours or less. Daytona experimented with the six-hour distance, while Sebring kept its traditional 12 hours, but both had the same winners – Andretti and Jacky Ickx in a Ferrari 312PB.

Both of the Florida races also had the same winners in the GTU class for smaller displacement production-based cars – Gregg and Haywood in a Porsche 911. That was no surprise – Porsche 911s won in class in the four 24-hour races at Daytona from 1966 through 1969.

Five prototypes dominated the field for the 1973 Rolex 24, but it was a pair of Porsche 911 RSRs that dominated the race. Gregg and Haywood took the overall checkered flag for Brumos Racing when a similar RSR fielded by Penske Racing had a mechanical problem. Haywood and Gregg backed up their victory at Sebring, in a different RSR fielded and co-driven by Dr. Dave Helmick.

After both races were skipped in 1974 due to the international fuel crisis, Gregg and Haywood repeated at Daytona in a Brumos RSR, which was the first time IMSA sanctioned the twice-around-the-clock race. BMW briefly took the limelight at Sebring in 1975 and Daytona in 1976, but Porsches dominated both classics for the remainder of the decade – driven by either Haywood or Gregg in many cases.

Haywood co-drove a former Brumos RSR owned by Helmick in 1977. Gregg and Brumos won the following year in a 935, while Haywood took the 1979 race in a 935 co-driven by Ted Field and Danny Ongais. Sebring had RSRs win in 1976 (Al Holbert and Michael Keyser) and 1977 (Brad Frisselle and George Dyer), while the 935s began a five-year run at Sebring in 1978. The 1977 race saw Porsches sweep the top 10 positions in 1977, while the marque had a top-12 sweep there in 1979.

"They were very reliable," said Frisselle, whose sons Burt and Brian later co-drove Daytona Prototypes in both GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition. "It was basically a customer car. You could buy one and take it to the race. The only cars that could race against them were Corvettes and Ferraris, and they were not quite reliable. I was used to racing other cars, but you had to basically build them from scratch."

Porsche's reliability trumped tough competition throughout the decade. John Greenwood captured the pole and turned the fastest race lap at Daytona in 1975 in his Corvette, a showroom car that he rebuilt with plastic and space age materials. It led throughout the opening hour, only to succumb to a series of overheating issues eventually traced to the failure of a $3 part that could have been replaced in two minutes. Greenwood's Corvette also took third overall in the 1973 Sebring 12 Hours.

In 1976 and 1977, Al Holbert won back-to-back IMSA GT titles in a Dekon Chevrolet Monza. Holbert would go on to legendary status as an IMSA driver, especially in the mid-1980s through dominating performances in Porsche 962s.

Outside of Daytona and Sebring, several of racetracks that are mainstays of the current IMSA schedule hosted IMSA GT racing, including Lime Rock Park, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Road America and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

A Ferrari 365GTB Daytona took second overall in the 1979 Rolex 24. The car was driven by John Morton and Tony Adamowicz in honor of car owner Otto Zipper, who died suddenly the day before the race. An all-women team of Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James and Bonnie Henn finished 17th in the 1979 Sebring race in a Ferrari Daytona.

At the end of the decade, Yojiro Terada led a factory lineup that finished fifth overall and first in GTU in a rotary-powered Mazda RX-7, setting the stage for that car's success in the following decade.

The Seventies had a few odd moments. The aforementioned 1974 fuel crises cancelled both races – although thousands of fans still went to Sebring for their annual celebration. The 1976 Daytona race was red-flagged for nearly four hours due to contaminated fuel, then turned back the clock one hour upon restarting the race. The race was still 24 hours in duration, though.

The 1976 Daytona race also included a number of NASCAR stock cars, part of the "Grand International" class added to that year's races at Daytona and Le Mans. Porsche swept the top-five positions in the 1977 Daytona race, with the streak broken by a Ferrari co-driven by famed actor Paul Newman.

Porsche's dominance didn't end with the close of the decade. Variations of the 935 won at Daytona through 1983 and at Sebring through 1984 (including a 934 in 1983). Mauricio DeNarvaez's victory at Sebring in 1984 was not the end of Porsche's domination – it was merely a changing of the guard.

The 1980s

A pair of sleek Rondeau Inaltera prototypes competing in the 1977 24 Hours of Daytona captured the attention of IMSA President John Bishop. He felt a GT Prototype class comprised of similar cars would interest American sports car fans.

While the venerable and bullet-proof Porsche 935 continued to dominate Daytona and Sebring in the early 1980s, the first GT Prototypes began to hold their own in shorter events on the IMSA GT schedule.

The first successful GTPs were the Lola T600, driven to the 1981 championship by Brian Redman, and the March 83G – including the Red Lobster-sponsored car driven by Kenper Miller and David Cowart with a paint scheme that included a pair of giant lobster claws. Bob Tullius and Group 44 offered the Jaguar XJR-5.

The 1983 24 Hours of Daytona included a pair of Aston Martin Nimrods, including a Pepsi Challenger driven by A.J. Foyt and Darrell Waltrip. When that car broke early in the event, Foyt was pressed into service to drive Preston Henn's Porsche 935 – despite the objections of lead driver Bob Wollek. That car went on to win, giving the 935 its sixth straight triumph at Daytona.

For 1984, Porsche introduced the 962 at Daytona. This car was a variation of the 956 that enjoyed success in Europe, with the front axle moved forward ahead of the driver's legs per IMSA regulations. Mario Andretti captured the pole at Daytona and, joined by his son Michael, had a strong early run in the event before the new car was sidelined by overheating issues. The race was won by the South African Kreepy Krauly team in a Porsche-powered March.

One month later, Colombian Mauricio DeNarvaez won at Sebring in a privateer 935. That was the last hurrah for the model. While March won its share of races and the GTP driver championship for Blue Thunder's Randy Lanier, Holbert and Bell broke through with the first victory for the 962 at Mid-Ohio and won five of the final eight races.

After finishing second in the 1984 24 Hours of Daytona with a reunited Foyt and Wollek in his 935, Henn purchased his own 962 for the 1985 event. Foyt and Wollek drove to victory in Henn's Swap Shop entry as 962s swept the top four positions. It was a unique race of father vs. son, with the elder Al Unser winning over his son Al Jr., who joined Al Holbert and Derek Bell in the Lowenbrau Special Porsche 962. Foyt and Wollek backed up the 1985 victory by winning at Sebring, with Holbert, Bell and Unser Jr. second in a podium sweep for the 962.

Holbert, Bell and the younger Unser returned to win back-to-back Daytona classics in 1986 and 1987, with 962s taking the top three places overall in both races. The 962s also won the 12 Hours of Sebring from 1986 through 1988, with Bob Akin's Coca-Cola-sponsored entry winning in 1986 while Bruce Leven's Bayside Disposal car won the following two years.

While the 962 was the car to beat, it wasn't for lack of competition. NASCAR car owner Rick Hendrick fielded a Corvette GTP that won the pole for the 1986 24 Hours of Daytona with Sarel van der Merwe at the wheel. Don Devendort fielded a Nissan GTP that slowly developed into a top contender.

Jaguar pulled its support from the popular Tullius Group 44 entries in favor of European Tom Walkinshaw's TWR operation, with the Tony Dowe-prepared cars quickly challenging for victories. After enjoying success in the production-based GTU and GTO divisions, All American Racers' Dan Gurney entered the GTP wars with a Toyota factory-supported Eagle. BMW and Ford also fielded factory-backed Prototypes.

At one point, nine factory teams from nine manufacturers participated at the same time in GTP – Porsche, Jaguar, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and Ford – the first time that many automakers competed simultaneously.

The result: the "Glory Years" of GTP, five seasons of some of the best endurance sports car racing ever seen. The TWR Jaguars won Daytona in 1988 and 1990, while Wollek was part of the winning lineup as Porsche 962s won in 1989 and 1991. Nissan broke through with its first of three consecutive triumphs at Sebring in 1989, including brothers Geoff and David Brabham joined by Derek Daly in the latter victory. A factory-fielded Nissan R91CP won at Daytona in 1992 – beating the leading IMSA entry, the TWR Jaguar with a lineup including Scott Pruett. Toyota won at Sebring in 1992, with Juan Fangio II and Andy Wallace in an Eagle Mk III.

The landscape changed suddenly in 1993. With Nissan and Jaguar both pulling their support – and many of the privateer Porsche teams having fallen by the wayside – Gurney's Eagles were virtually unopposed in the GTP ranks. The Toyotas opened up 1993 with back-to-back triumphs at Daytona and Sebring. The team won every race it entered – it sat out the Road America round with the championship well in hand – and then also called it quits at the end of the year.

There was stiff competition in both the GTO and GTU ranks throughout the ‘80s. In GTO – production-based cars powered by engines three liters and over – Jack Roush began a streak in 1985 that saw the former drag racer win the 24 Hours of Daytona 10 times over an 11-year span in Fords and Mercuries. Roush also won the GTO class at Sebring four times from 1985 through 1990, including a victory for Pruett and Olympian Bruce Jenner in 1986. Terry Labonte prepped for his 1984 NASCAR Cup Series championship by doubling at both Daytona and Sebring, co-driving with NASCAR car owner Billy Hagan and Gene Felton.

The GTU class for smaller-displacement production cars saw a changing of the guard during the decade. With the class once dominated by the Porsche 911, the Wankel rotary-powered Mazda RX7 scored a breakthrough victory at Daytona in 1979, Mazda next won Daytona in 1982, beginning a streak that lasted until Porsche won in 1994. At Sebring, Mazda RX7 won the class every year from 1980 through 1988 with the exception of a Porsche victory in 1985.

With the disappearance of the factory-backed GTP Prototypes, it was time for a change in sports car racing's top class – with the result the open-cockpit World Sports Car.

1990s

The 1990s proved to be a tumultuous decade for North American sports car racing. Opening with the "glory days" of the IMSA GTP Prototypes that was documented above report, the decade concluded with open wounds that led to an acrimonious split that is only recently healed with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Major teams with the Porsche 962, Jaguar XJR-12, Nissan GTP-ZXT, Ford Probe GTP, Chevrolet Corvette, Buick March, Pontiac Spice and Toyota-Eagle Mk III produced full fields and great racing. However, with the great cars came spiraling costs, driving away the smaller teams and eventually even the factories called it quits.

By 1993, only Dan Gurney's All American Racers remained. P.J. Jones set the all-time Daytona sports car qualifying record with a lap of 1:33.875 (136.522 mph), and then joined Rocky Moran and Mark Dismore in a 10-lap victory over a GTS Ford Mustang fielded by Jack Roush – his ninth consecutive victory in the class. At Sebring, Juan Fangio II and Andy Wallace scored their second consecutive 12 Hour victory in the team's No. 99 Eagle. The team went on to win every race it entered (it sat out the Road America round with the title well in hand), and Fangio and Jones finished 1-2 in the final standings. The GTP era came to a close when Jones took the checkered flag for the season finale at Phoenix.

IMSA was ready, though, with a new open-cockpit prototype – the World Sports Car.

As early as 1988, five-time IMSA champion and two-time 24 Hours of Daytona winner Al Holbert was working on an open-cockpit Porsche prototype. Serving as director of Porsche Motorsport North America, Holbert met with IMSA officials shortly before his untimely death in a plane crash on Sept. 30, 1988, on the eve of the IMSA GT race in Columbus, Ohio.

With the loss of factory teams over the next two years, plans for the new class accelerated. Plans were announced to competitors at the end of the 1992, with the GTP cars eligible for only one more season.

The WSC debuted at Miami in 1993, with Brent O'Neill – who now owns the Performance Tech Motorsports IMSA team that fields WeatherTech Championship and IMSA Prototype Challenge entries – finishing 12th in a Buick-powered Kudzu as one of two cars in the new class. By the end of the year, five cars were on the grid for the Phoenix season finale, won by Andy Evans and Fermin Velez in a Buick Kudzu.

At first, WSC was populated by chassis based on cars competing in the Camel Lights class for smaller GTP Prototypes – with more powerful engines. Some cut the roofs off existing GTP or Lights cars. Other showed ingenuity, such as Rob Dyson, who put a Ferrari 348 engine in a Spice chassis.

The World Sports Car opened the 1994 season as IMSA's lead class – and competed in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Twelve Hours of Sebring for the first time. Clayton Cunningham's Nissan 300ZX, competing in the GTS class, won overall in both of the Florida classics. Scott Pruett won his first overall victory in the Rolex 24, joined by Paul Gentilozzi, Butch Leitzinger and Steve Millen. At Sebring, Johnny O'Connell joined Millen in the same car. A Harry Brix-owned Oldsmobile Spice won the class at the Rolex 24, finishing ninth overall with a driver line-up including Jeremy Dale. At Sebring, Derek Bell, Andy Wallace and James Weaver took the class in the Auto Toy Store Chevrolet Spice, taking second overall.

It quickly became obvious that it would take more than a homemade special to win in World Sports Car. Ferrari raised the bar when it commissioned the Ferrari 333SP. Realizing it would take more to win than a homemade hybrid, Dyson commissioned Riley & Scott to build the R&S MK III. The two would dominate the class for the remainder of the decade.

Looking back, the 1995 Rolex 24 was a great "what might have been" event. Porsche entered a pair of turbocharged Le Mans WSC Prototypes, and tested at Daytona with Mario Andretti and Scott Pruett – with four-time Rolex 24 winner Bob Wollek also in the line-up. Only two weeks before the event, IMSA imposed additional restrictions on the air intakes for the new Porsches – and the factory promptly withdrew both cars.

Ironically, the Kremer team raced a Porsche K8 with the same restricted engine – and won overall with a line-up including Christophe Bouchut and Marco Werner. The race had a 74-car entry – its largest in many years – including 20 World Sports Cars. Stealing the headlines from the overall winner was the GTS class. Jack Roush returned to the event after a one-year absence, and won it for his 10th straight attempt in the No. 70 Nobody's Fool Ford Mustang. The car was a 70th birthday present for Paul Newman by his Hollywood studio, with Tommy Kendall, Mark Martin and Mike Brockman co-driving.

At Sebring, Evans, Velez and Eric van do Poele won in a Scandia Ferrari 333SP.

The remainder of the decade was dominated by the Ferrari and Ford Riley & Scott WSCs.

Wayne Taylor and Jim Pace swept both classics in 1996 driving an Oldsmobile-powered Riley & Scott, joined by Scott Sharp at Daytona and van de Poele at Sebring.

Gianpiero Moretti, Mauro Baldi and Didier Theys swept both Florida races in 1998, joined by Arie Luyendyk at Daytona in the No. 30 Momo Ferrari 333SP. Velez and Evans repeated at Sebring in 1997, joined by Yanick Dalmas and Stefan Johansson.

Dyson's investment paid dividends at Daytona in 1997 and 1999, when a pair of Ford-powered MK IIIs won overall. The 1997 race saw Dyson's lead car break at 6 p.m. He had entered a second car that year, partly for insurance reasons and partly to reward fellow veterans John Schneider and Elliott Forbes-Robinson, who co-drove with the New Yorker. When the primary car broke, that car was six laps down. Butch Leitzinger and John Paul Jr. (later joined by Wallace and Weaver) made up the distance, and Leitzinger prevailed over Velez in a final hour battle.

The on-track competition was fabulous. Car counts were also solid – the 1997 Rolex 24 had an 80-car starting field, only two shy of the record set in 1984. However, politics dominated the talk as the decade progressed.

IMSA had been in good hands under the leadership of John Bishop. A succession of different owners tried in vain to carry that momentum. Mike Cone and Jeff Parker led IMSA through 1994, relocating the organization from Connecticut to Tampa, Florida, prior to selling it to Charles Slater. Two years later, Evans and Roberto Mueller bought IMSA, and changed its name to Professional Sports Car Racing prior to the 1997 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Concerned with the future of that sanctioning body, Daytona International Speedway awarded the sanction for the Rolex 24 to a new organization. The USRRC, an alternative series sanctioned by the SCCA, folded only three races into the 1999 season.

Impressed with a visit to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Dr. Don Panoz held a new event to close out the 1998 PSCR season. Styled after the French event, Panoz called it the Petit Le Mans. Encouraged by Panoz and the success of that event, the lead PSCR series became the American Le Man Series, using rules similar to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The move paid immediate dividends. The BMW factory team won the 1999 season-opening Twelve Hours, with J.J. Lehto, Tom Kristensen and Jorg Muller scoring a BMW V12 LMR.

A fork in the road had been reached.

2000s

Remember the old beer commercials where retired athletes argued the merits of "less filling" vs. "tastes great"?

Sports car fans were caught up in a similar argument at the dawn of the new millennium, and the two Florida endurance classics at Daytona and Sebring found themselves in opposite sides of the argument. Should they opt for great cars – particularly the ones that compete annually in the 24 Hours of Le Mans – or concentrate on great competition?

The split originally began in 1998, when Daytona International Speedway opted to go with a new sanctioning body for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the USRRC. Sebring remained with Professional Sports Car Racing for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours.

For a year, it was a case of different sanctioning bodies using similar cars – in fact, the same Ferrari 333SP of Gianpiero Moretti, Didier Theys and Mauro Baldi (along with Arie Luyendyk at Daytona) won both classics in 1998. At the end of the year, though, new Road Atlanta owner Dr. Don Panoz held an event themed on capturing the flavor of the French endurance classic, a 1,000-mile race titled "Petit Le Mans."

Pleased with the success of that event, Panoz shared his vision with the new owners of Professional Sports Car Racing, who opted to rename its full season the American Le Mans Series, using rules based on those of the Auto Club de l'Oeust (ACO), used for the French event. Within a few years, Panoz purchased the organization and brought back IMSA to sanction the series.

The move paid immediate dividends for Sebring. In 1999, a BMW V12 LMR driven by J.J. Lehto, Tom Kristensen and Jorg Muller won at Sebring – and a similar prototype won that year's Le Mans classic. This marked the first time since 1967 (when Mario Andretti and Bruce McLaren won in a Ford GT40 Mk IV) that the Sebring-winning model did not compete in the Rolex 24. It also began a streak that would finally come to a close with the 2014 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

In 2000 – and continuing for the next six years – an Audi R8 prototype drove to victory at Sebring, finishing 1-2 each time. The Audi R8 gave way to the Audi R10 TDI in 2006, with Kristensen chalking up Sebring victory number five. That Audi repeated in 2007, with four-time winner Frank Biela joined by Marco Werner (three-time winner) and Emanuele Pirro (two victories).

Audi's streak was snapped by Penske Racing in 2008, won by the Porsche RS Spyder of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Emmanuel Collard. Dyson Racing made it a 1-2 finish for RS Spyders with Butch Leitzinger, Marino Franchitti and Andy Lally.

Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello returned Audi to victory lane in 2009 in an Audi R15 TDI, before Peugeot put together a two-year streak with the 908 HDI FAP in 2010-11. Kristensen and McNish returned Audi to the top of the podium in 2012 in an R18 TDI, while Oliver Jarvis was joined by Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer in winning the 2013 race in an R18 e-tron Quattro.

Daytona ran the Rolex 24 under USRRC sanction in 1998 and 1999, with that series folding only three races into the 1999 campaign. Putting together the pieces of the failed USRRC, Jim France (son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.) assembled a team of 25 investors to realize his vision of a new American sports car series. With goals of capping costs, maintaining close competition and returning racing to the fans, GRAND-AM Road Racing was formed.

The GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series debuted with the 2000 Rolex 24 At Daytona. While cars in the lead SRP class failed, a battle resulted between the GTS class factory-backed Dodge Viper and Corvette. The Viper prevailed by only 30 seconds – the closest finish in the history of the event at the time.

The following year, Corvette won when the SRPs again failed. Ron Fellows. Johnny O'Connell, Chris Kneifel and Franck Freon drove the winning car and were joined in victory lane by the team's sister car – the third-place GTS-class Corvette of Dale Earnhardt and his son Dale Jr., along with Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins.

Concerned with the lack of success of the lead class, France met with Brumos owner Bob Snodgrass and his associate, five-time Rolex 24 winner Hurley Haywood. Over dinner, they sketched a proposed race car, based on the Ford GT40 of the 1960s, that would be fast, safe and affordable. Fabcar's Dave Klym brought the idea to life, and the new Daytona Prototype (DP) was announced on the eve of the 2002 Rolex 24 as GRAND-AM's lead class beginning in 2003.

Six DPs were on the grid for the 2003 Rolex 24 – including a Porsche-Fabcar for Haywood and JC France in the traditional Brumos colors. While the new cars had teething problems – a GT-class Porsche fielded and co-driven by TRG's Kevin Bucker won overall – the DPs quickly gained traction. Only one year later, 17 DPs were on the grid.

NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart held a three-lap lead with only 43 minutes remaining when he pitted with rear suspension problems. After his team made repairs to his Chevrolet-powered Crawford, Stewart returned with a one-lap lead. For a half-hour, it seemed that Stewart might be able to nurse the car home. But suddenly, with 17:45 remaining, the car suddenly veered right before the chicane, and his race was over. Defending DP champ Terry Borcheller was joined by Pilgrim, Christian Fittipaldi and car owner Forest Barber in the winning Bell Motorsports Pontiac Doran.

That set the tone of the racing at Daytona for the following nine races. Large DP fields with as many as 29 cars, with the series regulars joined by familiar names from NASCAR, IndyCar and international sports car racing – even Formula One. Chip Ganassi Racing won five of the events – four with sports car veteran Scott Pruett at the wheel.

Brumos Racing scored a popular victory in 2009, when David Donohue held off Juan Pablo Montoya by .167 seconds in the closest contested finish of a major international 24-hour race. Haywood finished third in the team's sister car. Another milestone was the 50th Rolex 24, won by Michael Shank Racing with Ozz Negri, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger, and Justin Wilson.

It was great racing – but missing some of the great cars and glamour of international competition. France and Panoz got together to discuss unifying North American sports car racing and shook hands on a merger in September 2012.

2010s

On September 5, 2012, leaders of GRAND-AM Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series shocked the racing world.

In a news conference at Daytona International Speedway, GRAND-AM Founder Jim France and President and CEO Ed Bennett joined American Le Mans Series Founder Don Panoz and ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton announced plans to merge the ALMS and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series to form a new series to begin competition in the 2014 season.

Just prior to the start of the 2013 season, series officials announced there would be four classes in the new series.

Prototype (P) – The headline class for the series would feature a mix of Daytona Prototypes from GRAND-AM and LM P2 prototypes from the ALMS. These cars would remain eligible to compete in the class through the end of the 2016 WeatherTech Championship.

GT Le Mans (GTLM) – The manufacturer-backed GT class was carried over in its entirety from the ALMS, utilizing the same technical specifications as the main GTE class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the FIA World Endurance Championship. This class provided the backbone for a relationship between IMSA, the FIA and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), which organizes the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The GTLM class continues to use ACO technical rules to this day.

GT Daytona (GTD) – This class also featured a mix of cars with roots in either the Rolex Series GT class or the ALMS GT Challenge (GTC) class. These cars remained eligible to compete in the WeatherTech Championship through the end of the 2015 season.

Prototype Challenge (PC) – The Pro-Am prototype class came over in total from the ALMS, complete with its open-cockpit ORECA FLM09 chassis powered by spec-V8 engines. PC completed its final WeatherTech Championship race in the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in 2017.

The P, GTD and PC classes all rode on Continental Tires, which became the Official Tire of IMSA after its previous status as the Official Tire of GRAND-AM. GTLM was open to multiple tire manufacturers.

In 2013, Chip Ganassi Racing – the most successful Daytona Prototype team in GRAND-AM history – appropriately kicked off the final season of Rolex Series competition with a victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 26-27. The foursome of sports car legend Scott Pruett, multi-time Rolex Series Champion Memo Rojas, budding IndyCar star Charlie Kimball and Juan Pablo Montoya – an Indy 500, Formula 1 and NASCAR Cup Series race winner – combined to take the overall victory in Ganassi’s No. 01 BMW-powered Riley DP.

The No. 24 Audi R8 fielded by Alex Job Racing and co-driven by Filipe Albuquerque, Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Mortara and Dion von Moltke won the GT class, while the GX class – in its only Rolex Series season – was won by Nelson Canache, David Donohue, Shane Lewis and Dr. Jim Norman with the No. 16 Napleton Racing Porsche Cayman.

Just prior to the 2013 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, a new name for the series and the sanctioning body were unveiled. The series would be known as “United SportsCar” – later renamed TUDOR United SportsCar Championship when TUDOR signed on as entitlement partner later in 2014. And the name for the sanctioning body? The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), with historic roots dating back to 1969 when it was formed by John and Peggy Bishop and NASCAR founder Bill France.

The 2013 Twelve Hours of Sebring included the final Sebring appearance of the breathtaking Audi R18 e-tron Quattro race car. There were a pair of Audis in the P1 class, which ran away from the rest of the field, with Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer and Jarvis – on the heels of a GT win in the Rolex 24 – taking the overall victory.

Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook took the GT class in the No. 4 Corvette, with Scott Tucker, Marino Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe winning P2 in the No. 551 Honda prototype. David Cheng, Mike Guasch and David Ostella won the PC class with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, and Alex Job Racing picked up a Sebring win to go with its 2013 Rolex 24 win, this time with a Porsche being co-driven by Cooper MacNeil, Jeroen Bleekemolen and von Moltke.

For the only time in history, both the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón competed on the same weekend at the same venue in 2013. It happened at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin on the weekend of Aug. 9-10.

The Rolex Series headlined Saturday’s festivities with a two-hour, 45-minute race won overall and in the Daytona Prototype class by Brendon Hartley and Scott Mayer with Starworks Motorsport, with Bill Auberlen and Paul Dalla Lana taking the GT class win in the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW and Joel Miller and Tristan Nunez winning GX in the SpeedSource Mazda.

Sunday’s two-hour, 45-minute ALMS race went to Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and co-drivers Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf (overall and P1), with Scott Tucker and Simon Pagenaud winning P2, Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende winning the PC class, Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Goossens co-driving the No. 91 Viper to its first win in GT and Spencer Pumpelly and Nelson Canache Jr. winning GTC.

The opening round of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014 – the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona – featured a whopping, 68-car field across the four competing classes. The overall and Prototype class victory went to Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP.

Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz and Patrick Pilet combined to win the GTLM class in the No. 911 Porsche, while Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, James Gue and Mark Wilkins won the PC class in the No. 54 CORE autosport entry. In GTD, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Jeff Segal and Scott Tucker took the win in the No. 555 Ferrari.

After Daytona Prototypes swept the first three races of the 2014 season, Tequila Patrón ESM teammates Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek scored the first TUDOR Championship victory for an LM P2 race car in a two-hour race alongside the GTLM class at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Brown started the race from the pole position in the No. 2 Honda prototype before giving way to co-driver van Overbeek – from nearby Oakland, California – who brought home a popular victory for the team. The GTLM race was won by Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette.

In a separate race earlier that day for the PC and GTD classes, Mirco Schultis and Renger van der Zande won in PC, with Dane Cameron and Markus Palttala winning in the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW as Spencer Pumpelly ran out of fuel while leading on the final lap in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi.

While GRAND-AM raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012 and 2013, the only WeatherTech Championship race to be held to date at IMS happened in 2014 as part of the annual NASCAR Brickyard 400 weekend. Barbosa and Fittipaldi – on their way to a championship-winning season – claimed the victory for Action Express Racing in the No. 5 Corvette DP.

Canadian racer Chris Cumming combined with then-IndyCar racer Jack Hawksworth to win the PC class for RSR Racing, while Kuno Wittmer – also on his way to a championship – shared the GTLM victory with his No. 93 Dodge Viper co-driver, Jonathan Bomarito. Alessandro Balzan and Jeff Westphal won GTD in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari.

In what now has become an annual tradition, the first GT-only race for IMSA was held at VIRginia International Raceway in 2014. And somewhat appropriately, the racetrack with its signature barns dotting the landscape produced a barnburner of a finish.

The race came down to a last-lap battle between ex-F1 racer Giancarlo Fisichella in the No, 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari and Wolf Henzler in the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR. Henzler had led the previous 12 laps, but coming to the checkered flag, Fisichella got a great run coming down the backstretch and zoomed past to take the victory for himself and co-driver Pierre Kaffer. Dane Cameron and Markus Palttala won in GTD in the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW, the third and final victory of a championship-winning season for Cameron.

Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi claimed their first of two consecutive Prototype season-long championships in 2014 in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, as well as their first of three straight Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup titles.

Kuno Wittmer took the GTLM championship in the final season of competition for the No. 93 Dodge Viper GTS-R team, while Colin Braun and Jon Bennett won the PC title in their No. 54 CORE autosport entry and Cameron won the GTD championship with Turner Motorsport.

Kicking off the 2015 season, Chip Ganassi Racing’s “Star Car” claimed the 53rd Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victory as NASCAR racers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson combined with IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champions Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan in the No. 02 Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley Daytona Prototype.

In the GTLM class, Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ryan Briscoe gave Corvette Racing its first Rolex 24 win since an overall victory in 2001, with Mike Guasch, Andrew Novich, Andrew Palmer and Tom Kimber-Smith winning in PC and the No. 93 Riley Motorsports Viper GT3 fivesome of Ben Keating, Dominik Farnbacher, Kuno Wittmer, Cameron Lawrence and Al Carter winning in GTD.

One year after teaming up to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais joined forces to win another of sports car racing crown jewels, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in 2015. It was the first of two victories on the season for the trio – they also won the season-ending Petit Le Mans – which gave them the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup and the season championship for the second straight year.

Magnussen, Garcia and Briscoe backed up their Rolex 24 win with a Sebring victory in GTLM, while Guasch, Palmer and Kimber-Smith followed suit in the PC class. In GTD, Ian James, Alex Riberas and Mario Farnbacher gave team owner Alex Job his 10th victory at Sebring aboard the No. 23 Porsche.

Five full-time IMSA racers claimed victories in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, headlined by overall winners Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy – who joined forces with F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg – to take the overall and LM P1 class victory in the No. 19 Porsche 919 Hybrid. Both Bamber and Tandy also competed full-time in the TUDOR Championship GTLM class; Bamber sharing the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR with Joerg Bergmeister and Tandy in the No. 911 alongside eventual series champion Patrick Pilet.

The GTE Pro class victory at Le Mans went to the trio of Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Jordan Taylor in the No. 64 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. Milner and Gavin, shared the same car (which carried No. 4 in IMSA) for the full season, while Taylor’s regular ride was the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP alongside his brother, Ricky Taylor, for their father’s Wayne Taylor Racing team.

One of the better-kept secrets in motorsports history was pulled off at the now-annual “State of the Sport” presentation at Road America in 2015. WeatherTech, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of automotive aftermarket products was introduced as the new entitlement partner of what would become the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the beginning of the 2016 season.

Torrential rains throughout the 2015 season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta brought about a lengthy red-flag stoppage and an early checkered flag, as well as a surprise overall winner. Tandy, Pilet and Lietz – from the GTLM class – took both class and overall honors in the No. 911 Porsche.

Barbosa, Fittipaldi and Bourdais wound up third overall but won the Prototype class, which also enabled them to win both the season-long and Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup titles. Guasch, Kimber-Smith and Palmer earned yet another crown jewel victory in PC, while Patrick Lindsey, Pumpelly and Madison Snow took GTD class honors in the race as Sweedler and Bell claimed the season title.

The 2016 WeatherTech Championship ushered in a new era of GT competition with the introduction of new technical specifications for both classes. The new specs for the GTLM class came online just as the new Ford GT, BMW M6 GTLM and Ferrari 488 made their debut.

The GTD class saw explosive growth with the adaptation of full international GT3 technical regulations. Seven different manufacturers:  Audi, Ferrari, Porsche, Dodge, BMW, Lamborghini and Aston Martin competed in 2016 with all six full-time class competitors winning at least once. Aston Martin competed in three races.

Competition on the racetrack was fiece, beginning at Daytona, where just 0.034 seconds separated the GTLM-race winning No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R shared by Gavin, Milner and Marcel Fassler from the second-place finishing the No. 3 Corvette of Garcia, Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller.

Tequila Patrón ESM won the Prototype class with Brown, van Overbeek, Scott Sharp and Pipo Derani in the No. 2 Honda prototype, while John Potter, Andy Lally, Marco Seefried and Rene Rast combined to win GTD in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3.

Less than two months later, the No. 2 Tequila Patrón ESM team of Derani, Brown, van Overbeek and Sharp became the first team since Doran/Moretti Racing in 1998 to sweep overall race victories in both the Rolex 24 and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

For good measure, the No. 4 Corvette team of Milner, Gavin and Fassler also went back-to-back, taking the GTLM win one year after their No. 3 teammates did the same. Jeff Segal, Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen gave the new Ferrari 488 GT3 its first victory in the No. 63 entry from Scuderia Corsa, with Colin Braun, Jon Bennett and Mark Wilkins winning PC in the No. 54 CORE autosport entry.

One of the most awe-inspiring race cars in recent memory, the Ford GT, made its debut in the 2016 WeatherTech Championship season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, but it wasn’t until Round 4 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca when the car’s full potential was realized. Westbrook and Briscoe gave Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and the new program its first victory in the final tune up prior to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Prototype class victory at that event went to John Pew and Ozz Negri in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Honda LM P2 prototype. In a separate PC/GTD split race, Robert Alon and Tom Kimber-Smith won in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports entry, with Mario Farnbacher and Riberas winning in GTD.

For the second consecutive year, a full-time WeatherTech Championship team claimed the GTE Pro class victory in the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, as Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Bourdais teamed up to take the victory in the No. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, coming on the 50th anniversary of the Ford GT40’s 1966 victory at Le Mans.

In fact, the entire GTE Pro podium were WeatherTech Championship regulars, as Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Matteo Malucelli finished second in the Risi Competizione Ferrari ahead of Briscoe, Westbrook and Scott Dixon in the No. 69 Ford GT.

The GTE Am winners at Le Mans also represented IMSA, as Sweedler, Bell and Segal took the class win in the No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia.

At season’s end, Action Express Racing picked up its third consecutive WeatherTech Championship Prototype title – this time with co-drivers Eric Curran and Dane Cameron in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Corvette DP. Milner and Gavin capped their fantastic year with the GTLM crown, and van der Zande and Alex Popow took the penultimate WeatherTech Championship PC title.

In GTD, Nielsen became the first woman to win a major professional North American sports car championship alongside co-driver Balzan in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari.

If the 2016 WeatherTech Championship ushered in a bold new era for GT machines, the 2017 season was downright revolutionary for Prototype racing with the introduction of new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and LM P2 race cars.

In the DPi ranks, Cadillac, Nissan and Mazda stepped to the plate in the first year of the format, which enabled major automotive manufacturers to compete in the top class with their own engines and specific bodywork alongside LM P2 race cars using spec Gibson V8 engines and chassis from one of four approved chassis constructors.

The 2017 season opened, as always, with the Rolex 24 At Daytona, where recently retired four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon added another highly sought-after accomplishment to his racing résumé, teaming up with Jordan and Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Hand, Mueller and Bourdais followed their 2016 Le Mans victory with a 2017 Rolex 24 win, while the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche team of Michael Christensen, Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare, Michael de Quesada and Carlos de Quesada won the GTD class and the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports team of James French, Patricio O’Ward, Kyle Masson and Nicholas Boulle claimed PC class honors.

Continuing the momentum from the first year of GT3 specifications in 2016, three additional manufacturers:  Acura, Lexus and Mercedes-AMG entered the GTD fray in 2017. Of the three, Mercedes-AMG was the first to break through with a victory, which came courtesy of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mario Farnbacher in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

That victory touched off a run of three straight wins for Mercedes before Katherine Legge and Lally gave Acura its first win in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park before a second straight win in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. Lexus, meanwhile, got its first WeatherTech Championship pole position with Sage Karam at the wheel of the No. 14 RCF GT3 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

In early July 2017, Acura Motorsports and Team Penske made official what had been rumored for quite some time, that they would be teaming up for a new, two-car DPi effort in the WeatherTech Championship beginning in 2018.

If the Penske and Acura link-up was heavily rumored, the announcement that another legendary racing organization, Joest Racing, was joining forces with Mazda, which came the week after the Penske-Acura news, was a complete surprise to most.

The Joest team is one of the most successful in prototype racing history and was looking for an opportunity to re-enter the sport after a 16-year run at the helm of Audi’s LM P1 program came to a close at the end of 2016. Joest found a willing partner in Mazda, which launched its own new DPi program in 2017, but was struggling for strong results.

Those midseason announcements briefly took attention off the racetrack and put it onto the future. However, it was a memorable first season of DPi competition, especially for brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor, who won the first five consecutive races – including the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, where they followed in their father’s footsteps 21 years later as winners of both Daytona and Sebring in the same year.

The Taylor brothers finished the season as runaway Prototype class champions before Ricky moved on to join Acura Team Penske and new co-driver Helio Castroneves as part of the two-car Acura DPi team that included Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron as co-drivers of the other car.

A year after their Corvette Racing teammates won the GTLM title, No. 3 C7.R co-drivers Magnussen and Garcia picked up the 2017 GTLM championship – their first of two consecutive titles – while James French and Pato O’Ward became the final WeatherTech Championship PC titlists, and Nielsen and Balzan became back-to-back GTD champions.

The headlines generated in mid-2017 by Acura Team Penske and Mazda Team Joest were overshadowed in the 2018 WeatherTech Championship season by Action Express Racing. The team’s No. 5 Cadillac DPi shared by Barbosa, Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque opened the year with the Rolex 24 At Daytona victory, with Barbosa and Albuquerque winning on the streets of Long Beach also.

Curran and team newcomer Felipe Nasr won at Detroit in the No. 31 Cadillac and their consistent season from start to finish netted them the 2018 WeatherTech Championship Prototype class title. Derani teamed with van Overbeek and Nicolas Lapierre in the No. 22 Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi to win Sebring, then went on to share the team’s final victory with van Overbeek at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Acura Team Penske’s big moment in the 2018 sun came at Mid-Ohio, where Taylor and Castroneves led a 1-2 sweep ahead of Cameron and Montoya. The Prototype season saw a midyear flourish of victories by ORECA LMP2 machines, including a popular Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen win for JDC-Miller Motorsports and co-drivers Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller and back-to-back wins by Colin Braun and Jon Bennett, who nearly took the Prototype title themselves for CORE autosport.

Magnussen and Garcia won their second straight GTLM title on the strength of eight podium results – but no victories – becoming the first to win an IMSA title without winning a race since Craig Stanton won the GRAND-AM GT championship that way in 2005. In GTD, Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow capped a dream year for Lamborghini – which won its first Rolex 24 with the GRT Grasser Racing Team – by winning at Sebring and taking home the 2018 WeatherTech Championship GTD title.

Beginning with the 2019 season, Michelin became the new exclusive tire supplier for the WeatherTech Championship, the newly named IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and the IMSA Prototype Challenge for the next 10 years, as well as the entitlement of the four-race IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.

The 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona also launched a six-year broadcast partnership with NBC Sports that includes coverage of five different IMSA-sanctioned series this year. The rain-shortened race was won for the second time in three years by the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi squad and Jordan Taylor, who was joined by full-season co-driver van der Zande, FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) racer Kamui Kobayashi and two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso.

BMW Team RLL won the GTLM class at Daytona with its No. 25 entry shared by Connor De Phillippi, rising IndyCar star Colton Herta and BMW factory aces Augusto Farfus and Philipp Eng, but it was the team’s No. 24 entry that dominated the prerace headlines with driver Alex Zanardi, a two-time Champ Car champion who competed in his first race in North America since losing his legs in a crash at Germany’s EuroSpeedway Lausitz in 2001.

At Sebring, Derani co-drove to the DPi class victory in the No. 31 Cadillac with Nasr and Curran, becoming the first driver since Phil Hill in 1958, 1959 and 1961 to win three Twelve Hours in four years. The Porsche GT Team of Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki won the GTLM class at Sebring for the second consecutive year, while GRT Grasser backed up its second straight Rolex 24 GTD class victory with its first win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

In 2019, IMSA has 19 official automotive partnerships and sanctions seven different series, the WeatherTech Championship, Michelin Pilot Challenge, IMSA Prototype Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA  by Yokohama, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama, Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America and Ferrari Challenge.

Its 12-race WeatherTech Championship schedule includes the most historic and revered road racing facilities in the U.S. and Canada, and the entry list continues to feature legendary race teams and many of the world’s best sports car racing drivers.

After 50 years, it looks like the best might yet be to come for IMSA.

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