IMSA eager to put early issues in past

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LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) - The future of sports car racing is two races old, and purists don’t like it all.

With long yellow flag periods, cautions that seem unwarranted, one race control call that was overturned and another that was simply incorrect, critics have cried that IMSA’s new version of North American road racing has been NASCARized and ruined forever.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the seasoned drivers in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series have complained the merger between Grand-AM and the American Le Mans Series has created a disproportionate on-track talent level that has created dangerous situations.

IMSA President Scott Atherton argues the varying talent levels are a staple of sports car racing. But, IMSA did suspend Matteo Malucelli and Gaston Kearby for one race each and placed them on probation for an additional race for egregious driving errors last month in the Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Add it all up and TUSC heads into Saturday’s race at Long Beach, the third event of the season, in strong need of a controversy-free afternoon. With only the top two classes of the four racing - there will be 21 cars on the track Saturday instead of the season-high 68 that raced in the opener at Daytona - there should be fewer eyebrow-raising on-track incidents.

But race control will be under a spotlight because of mistakes made in the first two races:

At the Rolex 24 of Daytona, the GT Daytona class victory initially went to Flying Lizard Motorsports when IMSA officials penalized Level 5 Motorsports for avoidable contact on the last lap. But hours after the race ended, IMSA reversed its decision and gave the victory to Level 5.

At Sebring, Alex Job Racing was issued a costly avoidable contact penalty while running second. After Job went to the scoring tower to object to the call, it became clear officials had penalized the wrong car. The car that should have been penalized when on to win its class.

“It was an egregious mistake. There’s nothing that can be said that makes it OK, nothing to be said that makes it acceptable. It was an inexcusable error that simply cannot happen again,” Atherton said of the call against Job.

IMSA in the last month has made modifications to its competition procedures and invested in new technology to assist race control. Now, the car number must be displayed on in-car cameras, the video review equipment has been upgraded to high definition and a third adviser will work alongside the race director to evaluate on-track incidents.

As for the overturned call at Daytona, Atherton insisted that’s how the new series wants drivers racing for wins.

“We did not want to have that type of competition frowned upon, or anything but embraced, not only for our fans, but also for our competitors. That is a very easy thing to say but a very difficult thing to officiate,” Atherton said. “This is not a free-for-all. We have not simply opened the gate and said ‘Do what you will.’

“These cars are incredibly expensive, lives are at risk, it’s dangerous. But good, hard, competitive racing that occasionally has two cars occupying the same space at the same time is acceptable.”

Jordan Taylor likened it to the 2010 season in NASCAR when series officials loosened the reins on what was acceptable on the track.

“It’s a little bit like ‘Boys have at it,’ in NASCAR, that took a few races to get worked out, to figure out what was acceptable, and that’s what is happening here,” he said.

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