Watching IMSA Is as Fun as Formula 1 without the Insane Ticket Price
We recently joined Acura for the 26th running of the Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, and it filled us with the sort of kid-like wonder we won't forget any time soon.
All race fans have been there. It's Sunday morning, and you've got the Formula 1 race on. Unsurprisingly, Max Verstappen has already pulled a six-second lead by lap 15. So, you do what the rest of us do and you turn the volume up and go about your morning chores, popping in and out of the living room periodically to check on the race.
What if we told you there was another high-level racing series with fewer retirements and more elbows-out racing? What if we told you it was an American series with manufacturers and cars that you'd recognize from the road? Yes, we're talking about IMSA and before you click away, hear us out. We recently joined Acura for the 26th running of the Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, and it filled us with the sort of kid-like wonder we won't forget any time soon.
"Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport," we hear you saying. Sure, we won't argue on that point. But F1 also restricts access to the sport to an almost criminal degree. Start with ticket prices. As of one week out from the Las Vegas Grand Prix, the cheapest race day ticket option we could find on the official F1 ticketing website came out to $1300 per ticket. The cheapest possible way to get through the gates is a $200 Thursday ticket that gives access to two hours of practice laps. There are certainly people who can afford those prices—and more power to them if they go—but we don't know all that many families looking to spend over $5000 on ticket prices alone to watch an F1 race.
How about $75 a Ticket Instead?
Over in the world of IMSA, ticket prices are much more family-friendly, and while the season is over for 2023, you have just enough time to start planning your race vacations for 2024. The Rolex 24 at Daytona in Daytona, Florida, kicks off the 2024 IMSA racing season in January. General admission two-day tickets that give access to the full 24 hours of racing are currently listed for $75 each. You can bring a family of four to Daytona for roughly the price it would take to get one person into an F1 Thursday practice while also buying one meal's worth of food trackside. Or you could bring your entire extended family (up to 17 people) for the price of one race-day ticket to Las Vegas.
Then there's the access once you've made it through security. IMSA allows fans in to the paddock throughout the weekend, giving everyone the chance to peer into team garages and see them doing car prep or repairs. While you do have to watch out for fast-moving tire carts, most teams are happy to meet and chat with fans. We even managed to get up close and personal with an entire set of spare body parts from the famous AO Racing Rexy dinosaur-themed 911 GT3 R.
Before the race start at Petit Le Mans, the track is opened for a grid walk, giving fans even closer access to the cars. Fans young and old can get close enough to touch the race cars they'll be cheering on for the next 10 hours. Here's an example of the crowd surrounding the No. 44 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 car, and one aspiring young automotive photographer capturing the details.
Five Races in One
Things get even more exciting once the race starts. If you're worried about spending hundreds of dollars to bring your family to a race that turns out to be boring, don't be. The 2023 IMSA regulations mean that at any given moment there are actually five different races happening at once, with the fastest GTP (Grand Touring Prototype) cars and LMP2 and LMP3 (Le Mans Prototype) cars working their way through the slower GTD (GT Daytona) traffic.
From a fan perspective, the multi-class format is like using a fun-factor cheat code. Pick a spot on the track, and watch overtake after overtake to your heart's content. Perhaps the GTD class has a runaway team; what about GTD Pro? Or LMP2? Odds are that at least one class will feature close racing.
As the sun began to set and headlights were switched on in last month's Petit Le Mans, the No. 31 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-Series.R and the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-06 were locked in a tight battle for not only the race but for the season championship. With just over one hour to go, Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Acura attempted a pass on the outside of Pipo Derani's No. 31 Cadillac in the outside of turn one.
Albuquerque was forced wide and found himself stuffed into the barriers. Ultimately the sporting body decided not to penalize Derani for the move, but the incident managed to shake up the entire race. The mood within the Acura suite on pit lane was a rollercoaster. Ecstasy was immediately replaced with shock, which slowly gave way to nervous excitement as news spread that Acura's sister car, the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 fielded by Meyer Shank Racing, could still pull off a victory.
Before the incident, the No. 60 was sitting in eight—the final class spot among those still running. However, a timely pit stop and driver driver change amid a flurry of yellows saw Blomqvist hand the car to Braun, who left pit lane equipped with fresh tires and a full supply of adrenaline in his arsenal.
Braun managed to stay clear of the incident that ended the sister Acura's race, somehow catapulting up to second in the chaos. After multiple yellows, Braun was able to pull off a magnificent move on the leading No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-Series.R of Renger van der Zande entering Turn 1. Braun was ultimately able to keep a firm grasp on the lead until a late caution in the final minutes sealed the victory for the Meyer Shank Acura.
While excitement of that level isn't guaranteed at every event, IMSA almost always has a good story happening on track. IMSA isn't as glitzy or glamorous as Formula 1. Instead, the sport looks to welcome new and young fans, giving families an opportunity to bring loved ones to the track—and to give them incredible access to cars and drivers while they're at it. We still love F1, but when it comes to spending our ticket money, we'd choose an IMSA race every day of the week. Or weekend.
Associate News Editor
Jack Fitzgerald’s love for cars stems from his as yet unshakable addiction to Formula 1.
After a brief stint as a detailer for a local dealership group in college, he knew he needed a more permanent way to drive all the new cars he couldn’t afford and decided to pursue a career in auto writing. By hounding his college professors at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he was able to travel Wisconsin seeking out stories in the auto world before landing his dream job at Car and Driver. His new goal is to delay the inevitable demise of his 2010 Volkswagen Golf.