The WeatherTech-sponsored Alex Job Racing effort is moving one of its cars from the IMSA WeatherTech series to the rival Pirelli World Challenge.PHOTO BY LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC
BALANCE OF PERFORMANCE FORMULAS ARE AT THE CENTER OF THIS IMSA SOAP OPERA
At its August 2015 RoadAmericarace, IMSA announced that come Nov. 1, 2015, the series title sponsor would change from Tudor, the watch company, to WeatherTech, maker of floor mats and other automotive accessories. David MacNeil, WeatherTech’s owner, made the announcement along with his son Cooper, who races a GT Daytona-class Porsche 911 from the legendary Alex Job stable.
“I am proud to announce thatWeatherTech will become the entitlement partnerin 2016 for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship,” said David MacNeil then. “We want this to be the new golden era of sports-car racing inAmerica, and I want WeatherTech to be a big part of it.”
Why? Because the MacNeils and Job say IMSA has not done enough with the available “Balance of Performance” rules adjustments to properly level the playing field for the GT3 R, and without a rules change, the Porsche simply isn’t competitive with the other cars in the class—the Dodge Viper GT3-R, the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and the similar Audi R8 LMS GT3, theFerrari 488 GT3and the BMW M6 GT3.
“We have decided to withdraw the No. 22 WeatherTech Racing Porsche for the remainder of the IMSA season,” team owner Job said in a statement. “The decision to stop racing was rooted purely on performance and the future prospects for the Porsche at the remaining tracks on the 2016 schedule.”
WeatherTech owner David MacNeil sponsors the team that left the IMSA WeatherTech series.
This apparently does not mean WeatherTech is no longer sponsoring the series, as there’s a multi-year contract in place. “This is a competition decision as it relates to the No. 22 WeatherTech Racing Porsche team in IMSA,” David MacNeil said. “We make marketing decisions based upon what is best for our business. We are still the presenting sponsor of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and we are committed to growing the sport now and into the future.”
That was the first shoe to drop. The other shoe hit the floor with an even louder thud: On Sept. 1, the MacNeils and Job announced not only would the Job-fielded WeatherTech Porsche not run IMSA’s final three races, they were moving to the Pirelli World Challenge, as close to an archrival the WeatherTech series has. Job is taking not one but two cars to the PWC, one for Cooper MacNeil and one for longtime racer Gunnar Jeannette.
Still another Alex Job Racing Porsche, the No. 23 Team Seattle car Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas drive, is apparently continuing in the WeatherTech series. It ran VIR and is expected at the final two events: Circuit of theAmericasand Road Atlanta’s Petit Le Mans season finale.
Not confused yet? Another GTD Porsche, the No. 73 Park Place entry of Jörg Bergmeister and team principal Patrick Lindsey, sat out VIR, citing the same concerns about the Porsche’s lack of competitiveness under IMSA’s rules. The car is running COTA and Petit Le Mans, though, due to sponsor and driver commitments.
Through a spokesman, the MacNeils declined to comment, as did Alex Job, who only said this: “I’m not happy about the situation. But I really can’t say anything else.”
No one wants to go on the record, but here’s the most widely accepted scenario: This year for the GT Daytona class, IMSA mandated essentially the same FIA-sanctioned GT3 cars running more than 40 series globally. Porsche needed a brand-new car—in fact, Job announced when last season ended he would field two GT Daytona-class cars this year. His was the first team to commit, getting the ball rolling for other teams on the fence.
“I’m not happy about the situation. But I really can’t say anything else.”
Here’s the problem: The new Porsche GT3 car is hard to drive. To compete with the other cars in the class, you must drive it on a knife edge every lap. Professional drivers like “Super” Mario Farnbacher can handle it, but for gentleman drivers like Cooper MacNeil and Lindsey, it’s very difficult. Consequently, the drivers who are essentially paying the bills feel they have no chance to win. Apparently in the Pirelli World Challenge series, the MacNeils figure their chances are better.
Still, Porsche came into VIR second in the manufacturer standings, seven points behind Audi and a point ahead of third-place Ferrari. Porsche finished third last year with the old car it raced then. This year the Alex Job No. 23 Porsche won at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
As for IMSA: “You’d have to be a fool to not be somewhat concerned,” said Scott Atherton, IMSA president and chief operating officer. “It’s not a healthy situation when you have your title sponsor’s race team electing not to be active in the series. It’s an unfortunate situation that, in our opinion, has no winners. This is a lose-lose-lose across the board.”
It’s also awkward for IMSA, but if the sanctioning body adjusted the rules Porsche’s way independent of any sponsor pressure, it could be perceived as giving in.
Atherton is convinced, however, IMSA is doing the right thing—at this point, data does not show the Porsches far enough off the pace to merit a rules adjustment. “We continue to work diligently on all aspects of our relationship, and I will say, without hesitation, that the action taken by the 22 car has not affected our Balance of Performance process.
“And if such actions do ever affect the BoP decision-making, then we’ve failed.”