IMSA confirms switch to FIA driver ratings; alters PC, GTD driver requirements

IMSA's driver rating system became the subject of intense scrutiny through the 2014 TUDOR Championship season. 

IMSA, the sanctioning body for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, confirmed a move that had been expected and will now replace its domestic driver rating system with the global system unveiled Friday by the FIA. The new FIA ratings will only apply to IMSA’s TUDOR Championship in 2015.

The FIA’s list is comprised of 1729 drivers whose ratings of Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum have been assigned, and will be used by the professional sports car series that either operate under full FIA sanctioning or, like IMSA, have opted in to use the unified rating procedure. Bronze- and Silver-rated drivers will continue to be regarded as non-professionals (Ams), while Gold and Platinum drivers are considered professionals (Pros).

IMSA’s rating system, and the determinations made for many drivers, became the subject of intense scrutiny through the 2014 TUDOR Championship season. 

With the PC and GT Daytona classes required to carry Pro-Am lineups, it allowed–or encouraged–team owners and funded AMs to seek drivers with the Pro talent that carried Silver ratings. It also led Pro-Am teams, especially in GTD, to plunder Europe and lesser-known championships for hidden gems. The prize they sought were Silver-rated stars who, due to their relative anonymity in America, would not raise red flags with IMSA, and it paid off in many cases.

Audi and Porsche GTD teams were often the beneficiary of factory-supplied Silvers at the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Championship events at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta, which complicated matters for some entrants.

The system also saw steady lobbying from some Gold-rated Pros to be reclassified as Silver-rated Ams in the interest of creating more employment opportunities. The market for Silver-rated Pros will probably never reach the heights that were seen in 2014.

Moving to the FIA’s rating system will not prevent the Gold-to-Silver lobbying from happening, but it will transfer the process from IMSA’s care to an appeal process governed by the FIA.

Clarification on the quantity of drivers allowed in any class was listed by IMSA with maximum of: two drivers for races less than four hours, four drivers for races between four and 12 hours, and up to five drivers for a 24-hour race.

A minimum of one Am driver is required in each PC and GTD entry at every event, and if a PC or GTD team opts for five drivers at a 24-hour race, two Ams are required.

For 2014, the rules stated PC and GTD teams could have up to three drivers for races under six hours, no more than four drivers for races between six and 12 hours, and five drivers for a 24-hour race.

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The biggest change for PC and GTD in 2015 involves the balance of Pros and Ams allowed at the NAEC rounds.

On the surface, this change should solve the problem of teams "gaming" the system with mis-rated Pros. On the other hand, it could also create a situation where affluent Pro-Am teams are able to hire more genuine Gold/Platinum drivers than teams who rely on funding from multiple, genuine Bronze/Silver drivers.In 2014, IMSA limited teams to two Pros in a four-driver rotation (or two in five at Daytona). By the numbers, it created a 50/50 Pro-Am split. For 2015, only one Am is required in four-driver lineups—a 25/75 split.

Silver-rated driver Patrick Lindsey, who co-owns the Park Place Motorsports GTD team, says he’s a fan of the rule change, and points to having a less contrived structure in place as the main improvement.

"I look at this as IMSA’s confirmation that there was a loophole this season where if you were smart enough, and you could find the right guys, you could essentially have an all-pro lineup if you paid for it," Lindsey told RACER. "All they’ve done now is legitimize what people were doing through a loophole, and I think it’s the right direction to go.

"Now guys that were being paid as Silvers need to step up and play with the Pros, and people who were going to pay drivers to drive, they may as well make it kosher and make it clear they’re paying for Pros."

Starworks Motorsport PC team owner Peter Baron sees the merits of updating the Pro-Am driver mix to reflect what was actually taking place, but questions the allowance of another Pro and the timing of the announcement.

"They let the rating system go out the window, and you had the system working out in the way of having a car stacked with Pros if you had the budget to do it, but even with people skirting around that system, the Pro-Am classes were designed to make sure the Pros didn’t push the gentleman drivers out of the way. There are Pro classes where you can have as many Pros as you want. That being said, it at least makes sense to clean things up—to plug the leaks—and legitimize what was taking place with Silvers who were really Golds," said Baron.

"But what I’m not a fan of is telling us this on Nov. 7, two months before the Roar [Before the 24]. Tell us in June or July; I’ve been working on deals based on how things were, and I’m sure a lot of other PC (and GTD) owners have had deals locked in place for a while. Now, if you want to have the best shot at winning, you have to look at changing lineups and not everybody can do that with deals already in place."

Allowing a shift in the Pro-Am balance from 50/50 to 25/75 at the enduros should increase the quality of driving talent, and based on some of the questionable displays by some Ams from Daytona to Petit Le Mans, the TUDOR Championship could benefit from the move. One question that won’t be answered until the season opener is whether the shift to 25/75 will make it harder for some Pro-Am teams to find a single Am capable of funding so many pros. For the teams that used two genuine Ams in 2014, the funding at the NAEC races was usually shouldered by both of the AMs.

The new FIA listings also include a number of status changes, meaning some drivers with Am ratings have been elevated to Pro status for 2015, and in some cases, adjustments within either classification (Bronze to Silver, Platinum to Gold, etc.) took place.