(featured image credit: John Loftis)
In a sport where money controls everything and the rides and grid spots tend to go the highest bidder, there are still a few drivers and teams taking advantage of the “ladder system”. In sportscar racing, and racing in gernal, there are two series that are on tops for getting their ladder systems to work and they both reside here in North America – Pirelli World Challenge and IMSA’s Weathertech SportsCar Championship. For both drivers and teams these two ladder systems are helping get those competitors to the highest level of motorsport.
Kenton Koch is one of IMSA’s best examples of showing the ladder system at work. Making his way up through the Mazda Road to 24 program, Koch spent 2015 dominating the IMSA Prototype Lites field and was rewarded with a Daytona 24 ride in the PC class with JDC/ Miller Motorsports – a race he won on debut. To show the ladder system’s worth even more, his teammate in the #85 was Mikhail Goikhberg, the 2014 Prototype Lites champion. There’s many other driver’s taking advantage – and excelling – in the ladder system to grow their careers: Christina Nielsen moving from Porsche GT3 Cup to now racing in GTD, Marc Miller from CTSCC to racing in GTD and GTE-AM at Le Mans, the list goes on and on, too many to mention.
The ladder system is also extremely impactful for teams. Compass360 has had entries from ST to GTD, Steveson Motorsports moved up from CTSCC to GTD, and Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America teams – Change Racing and O’Gara Motorsports – have also moved up from a support series to the feature series within IMSA.
At Pirelli World Challenge, while still working and building up their ladder system, the series is also showing teams and drivers alike can progress through and make it to the highest levels of motorsport.
Driver Colin Thompson won the GT Cup class championship in 2015 and is now a McLaren GT Academy driver racing for K-PAX/Flying Lizard in GT. 2013 TC and 2015 GTS Champion, Michael Cooper, got the call up from Cadillac to race along side Johnny O’Connell in GT. Corey Fergus jumps from TC to GT Cup and Nate Stacy has quickly moved from the TC classes into GTS. Shea Holbrook has moved from TCA to TC with an extremely bright future ahead of her.
On the team side, you see Calvert Dynamics running 2015 in GTS and GT Cup and now throwing a GT program in the mix with a Porsche 991 GT3R for Andrew Davis. GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, who is no stranger to top-class racing, added a GT McLaren program to go along with their GTS development Hyundai, and you see programs like Breathless Racing able to build a large customer base and spread their program throughout the TC classes and beyond.
A ladder system is a simple, but extremely difficult concept to get right. It comes down to the series having a great and attractive feature product, but then including the proper, cost effective and equally attractive rungs to help teams, drivers and sponsors grow. It’s a challenging balance, but one that IMSA and PWC have figured out.