Race Starts and Qualifying Procedures
Learn more about the start of the race and also about the 15-minute qualifying sessions that can make or break a race.
Prior to every event, competitors are reminded that it’s impossible to win a race in the first turn of the first lap – but very easy to lose one there. Time and time again, that advice is suddenly forgotten when the green flag waves for the start. With the anxiety building on the grid, the adrenaline surging with the command to start the engines, and the heart pounding throughout the formation lap(s), many drivers throw caution to the wind and sprint to get to the first turn as quickly as possible.
It’s just as exciting for the fans. The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship gives spectators the opportunity to tour the grid prior to each race during an Open Grid/Fan Walk where they can see the cars and meet the drivers. Then comes the green flag as the field fans out three and four wide before narrowing into the first turn. You’ll have another minute or so to catch your breath before the cars race back to complete the next lap.
WeatherTech Championship grids are based on qualifying results. The fastest overall car starts from the pole position, with the second fastest qualifier second, and continuing until the grid is complete.
In between several practice sessions usually lasting an hour or longer, and a race lasting anywhere from two to 24 hours in duration comes a brief qualifying session. Qualifying is critical. It determines how close to the front each car will start the race. The advantage of having better starting position can pay huge dividends as the ensuing race unfolds.
It’s a time for strategy and split-second decisions and is divided into 15-minute sessions for each class. Only one driver per car is allowed to qualify. The clock starts ticking with the green flag, timing is critical throughout the session. Competitors not only factor in how many laps it takes to get their tires up to optimal temperature for the best grip, but how traffic will affect each lap.
Drivers have to decide if it’s better to go out as quickly as possible to get in at least one fast lap, or to hold back and wait, hoping for a traffic-free lap. The driver with the fastest lap in the session earns the Motul Pole Award, with the lap times setting the grid positions for the race. It is not mandatory for drivers and teams to use the entire 15-minute qualifying session. Drivers may come in and out of the pits in order to make minimal adjustments with the permission of IMSA officials. If a driver causes a red flag during qualifying, that driver will lose their fastest lap from the qualifying session.
If qualifying is canceled, starting grids are set by team points.