IMSA: Ford and Corvette altering programs in GTLM

ELKHART LAKE, WI - AUGUST 05: The #67 Ford GT of Richard Westbrook, of Great Britain, and Ryan Briscoe, of Australia leads another car onto pit road during the IMSA Continental Road Race Showcase at Road America on August 5, 2018 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
ELKHART LAKE, WI - AUGUST 05: The #67 Ford GT of Richard Westbrook, of Great Britain, and Ryan Briscoe, of Australia leads another car onto pit road during the IMSA Continental Road Race Showcase at Road America on August 5, 2018 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images) /

The year 2019 will mark the end for two cars in the IMSA GTLM field with Corvette Racing and Ford Performance modifying their levels of involvement.

After the final race of the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia, the Corvette C7.R and Ford GT will be leaving the series in one way or another. While both cars will be ending equally impressive tenures in IMSA, one program will continue with a confirmed direction while another still stands with doubt.

General Motors (GM) has announced that the next step in the historic line of Corvette history will come in the way of the C8 and C8.R, which is set to be announced later this year on Thursday, July 18 of this year.

There are still rumors as to what engine package exactly the C8.R will utilize, as the options could be open to continue with a traditional V8 or to move on to the possibility of a twin turbo, overhead-cam, flat-plane crank V8, which would be a significant yet exciting shift from the tradition of naturally aspirated Corvettes.

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Whatever powerplant is chosen, the C8.R will have some big shoes to fill, as the current C7.R has been a fan-favorite for its distinct ability to turn heads through good looks, thundering engine noise and a team dedicated to winning.

The Corvette C7.R was brought into this world in 2014 by designer Tadge Juechter and went on to carry forth the GM legacy in motor racing by way of a 5.5-liter naturally aspirated V8, which produced 491 BHP at 6,000 rotations per minute.

The soon-to-be introduced Corvette C8.R also aligns with the dedication to IMSA that GM and the Corvette Racing organization have preached since the days of ALMS.

Longtime Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan has stood strong on the team’s commitment to the American racing series and the idea that automotive concepts are mastered at the track and transferred to the road-going performance products. The only question left to be answered is when the announcement will be made in anticipation for the 2020 24 Hours of Daytona.

The Ford GT program rests in a different level of limbo with Ford announcing that they no longer wish to support a full-fledged factory effort but are still open to working with privateer teams that might be interested in continuing to run the still relatively new Ford GT platforms.

Director of Ford Performance Mark Rushbrook maintains the idea that the Ford GT is fit for IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship racing as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship and has hinted at operations continuing on with Chip Ganassi Racing, which currently operate the cars in IMSA.

It has even been reported that the current Ford GT drivers should count on the Fords being around, as whatever team takes on the GT program will undoubtedly benefit from experienced drivers currently piloting the GTs.

The Ford GT came into service in 2016 and boasts a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 EcoBoost engine, which had seen years of development with the Ganassi Daytona Prototype program and was easily adapted to fit the new body of the Ford GT.

The goal of the Ford GT program from the outset was to win the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans in honor of their 50th Anniversary of winning it in 1966 with the original Gulf-sponsored Ford GT40. Ford was able to achieve this win, though not without a controversy-free result, as they received favorable BOP ratings before the race began.

Regardless, Ford achieved a momentous milestone that very few have been able to come close to by winning one of the most prestigious endurance races in the world 50 years after winning it when few believed they could.

The Ford GT program has proven to be incredibly competitive in each of its seasons of competition, winning the manufacturer championship in 2018 and being in contention in each season prior. This show of pace in an incredibly tight GTLM class bodes well for the idea of the GTs being carried forward under a semi-factory effort.

Chip Ganassi Racing team owner Chip Ganassi has stated that he very much wants to continue his partnership with Ford if the GTs are still available to be run, as the Chip Ganassi Racing/Ford partnership has performed well when partnered with Multimatic, which prepares and maintains the cars.

There are still many questions to be answered about when General Motors will confirm the C8 and C8.R, what powerplant it will utilize and all of the specifications of the car compared to current competitors in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. What is guaranteed is that the next phase of GM performance is on the way and Corvette Racing stands ready to take whatever product it is given into competition and fight for wins.

In parallel, the Ford GT program is still up in the air in regard to what level Ford is willing to stay involved as a factory support service, which might serve as a variable when it comes to what teams, if any, choose to carry the GT program forward. Fans of the GT have reasons to be optimistic with the car still being a very new platform that has continued to prove itself as a competitive one each season.

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Regardless of what happens next season, there is still a majority of an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to complete right now. The next round of competition is set to be the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, which is scheduled to begin on Sunday, May 5th at 1:25 p.m. ET. It is set to be broadcast live on on and NBC Sports Network.