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When Old Becomes New: IMSA Approaching Spate of New Track Surfaces

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the New Downtown Detroit Street Course All Loom in the Next Month

By Tony DiZinno


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The next three IMSA race weekends all are in familiar places, but not necessarily at the identical track or surfaces.


Upcoming trips to Monterey, Detroit and Mid-Ohio add some intrigue as each track follows a pattern of recent investments made at the historic venues that have long served the sanctioning body’s schedule stability.


What’s New Ahead


The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next two race weekends come at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the iconic permanent road course in Monterey, California, which was resurfaced immediately after the 2023 IMSA weekend, and on the streets of downtown Detroit – a new venue compared to the Belle Isle Park street circuit where IMSA raced from 2007-2022.


Then, the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge headlines four IMSA-sanctioned series upon the return to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course after a year’s absence from the track an hour northeast of Columbus. That, too, will come with some newness as the venerable road course also has new asphalt.


In late July 2022, the County of Monterey Board of Supervisors voted to approve a $14.9 million project budget that included the full resurfacing of the 2.238-mile WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca track for the first time since 2006 and also included a new front straight pedestrian bridge. Resurfacing began in May 2023 and was done by July, ahead of motorcycle racing at the track.


The Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N weekend, May 10-12, will see Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) and the two GT classes (GT Daytona Pro, GT Daytona) make their first official laps on the new surface. Private testing took place shortly following April’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.


In addition to the WeatherTech Championship, other IMSA series getting their first taste of the new WeatherTech Raceway asphalt will be the Michelin Pilot Challenge, Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America and Whelen Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by Michelin.


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May 2023 also marked another interesting date: It was the first time IMSA cars took to the streets of the new downtown course in Detroit. A bumpy, 1.654-mile, nine-turn temporary street course dominated by 90-degree left-hand corners greeted Michelin Pilot Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class cars then for a two-hour race filled with bumper-to-bumper action.

The WeatherTech Championship GTP and GTD PRO cars will race there this year, with fastest lap times in GTP likely expected to be just over one minute during the Chevrolet Detroit Sports Car Classic weekend, May 31-June 1. Following the path set by the annual street-course battle in Long Beach, California, the Detroit race will also be a 100-minute ultimate sprint.


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Then while the WeatherTech Championship pauses until the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, the four IMSA series competing June 7-9 for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Four Hours of Mid-Ohio weekend will race on a new 2.258-mile surface. In October, officials completed the first repave of that track since 2006, with the project encompassing 11,550 feet of surface paving, 3,500 feet of various turn reinforcement, 500 feet of full depth repair in the Keyhole and Turn 12 areas and 300 feet of transverse joint repair.


Joining the Michelin Pilot Challenge at Mid-Ohio will be the IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge, Mazda MX-5 Cup and the debut of the new single-make Mustang Challenge.


Who’s Done Well at Recent New (Old) Venues


These freshly updated tracks aren’t the only ones that have made an impact on IMSA schedules. If anything, it follows a trend at other tracks that have had recent updates.


Canadian Tire Motorsport Park underwent a repave early in 2020 but was absent from the IMSA schedule in both 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Speeds increased on this track upon its return in 2022, most notably with Tom Blomqvist delivering a spellbinding top prototype pole lap more than a second faster than the previous best set in 2019 (1 minute, 4.394 seconds to 1:05.452).


Road America’s late 2022 repave, the track’s first since 1995, was a hot topic heading into its 2023 IMSA weekend. Pipo Derani’s lap of 1:47.730 at the 4.048-mile road course was nearly a full second faster than the previous record, and one of four track records set in five WeatherTech Championship classes that qualifying session.


Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen International and VIRginia International Raceway have also had partial or full repaves within the last decade, which means the majority of the schedule is running on fresher, newer asphalt.


The upcoming run of new surface races comes after a trio of races on older surfaces at Daytona, Sebring and Long Beach to start the year. Frequent bumps present at the latter two concrete-dominant tracks are as much a part of those races’ character as the events themselves and remain a rallying cry, especially at Sebring, to not repave a thing.


The stretch of racing on new/refreshed surfaces begins this week at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The Michelin Pilot Challenge race, the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120, streams live on Peacock at 4:55 p.m. ET Saturday. The WeatherTech Championship headliner, the Motul Course de Monterey, airs live on NBC and Peacock at 3 p.m. Sunday.


(Photos: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca from Alec Gamino; Detroit street course from IMSA Photo; Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course)