RE: IMAC 1st preference ?
Ok, I'll throw in one experience the other way. I never flew Basic, I jumped right into Sportsman. Sure, I placed last at the first few contests I flew in, I expected that, and it didn't bother me. But I didn't fly so badly that it was a mistake. I'm still not in any danger of winning a contest, but that's fine.
But before I did that, I did fly the Basic and Sportsman sequences a bit and talked and flew with some guys with IMAC experience, so I had a pretty realistic idea of where I was and what I was getting into. Would I have won or come close had I flown Basic? I doubt it, but I didn't care about that either.
Personally, I wanted to try the unknowns. If Basic had unknowns, I might have started there, it just sounded like a fun challenge. Also, Basic has no snaprolls and very little inverted flight or negative G. Sportsman adds those in. In my sport flying, those were things I did, but not often, so Sportsman was a challenge, a "push" of my skills enough to be interesting.
Anyway, my flying keeps getting better, and I have more fun in sportsman than I would in Basic.
The key thing, I think, is WHY you want to fly IMAC. I do it for fun, I do it to be challenged and to fly better. I don't care if I fly better than or worse than anyone else, I don't care if I win. Basic was boring to me, so I skipped it, and it was the right decision for me. I don't fly many contests either, and I don't take IMAC "seriously". For me, it's about having fun doing something that isn't easy.
Sure, the safe advice is to start with Basic, but there may be reasons why starting with Sportsman makes sense for some people.