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New Horizons For IMSA’c PC Class?

Just as it started to look like LMP3 was the natural successor to IMSA’s ageing fleet of LMPC cars, the Tudor United SportsCar Championship’s Pro-Am prototype class could be headed in a new and interesting direction.

Serious talks regarding the future of the PC class began in 2014 as team owners sought clarity from IMSA on the intended lifespan for their ORECA FLM09-Chevrolets. Introduced late in 2009 by the American Le Mans Series as a stop-gap solution to boost its depleted prototype grids, PC gained popularity as an option for Pro-Am drivers and a cost-effective class for team owners.

As the most affordable class in the Tudor Championship, PC drivers and owners have been reluctant to step away from the FLM09 without a detailed and affordable plan from the series. Some PC owners collaborated on a pitch to IMSA around this time last year that centered on keeping the FLM09, albeit with redesigned bodywork, a power increase, and a few other changes.

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The goal was to freshen the car’s somewhat dated looks, create more separation in lap times between PCs and GT cars, to make the driving experience more attractive to Pro-Am drivers, and to push the expense of purchasing all-new equipment a few years down the road.

The series responded by incorporating some of the ideas into the 2015 PC package, but the major decision that came from IMSA was a plan to phase out the FLM09 at the end of 2016 with an unspecified solution.

With that news, the push for wider PC updates was tabled as the series started its search for a new car to introduce in 2017. The ACO/FIA’s new LMP3 category made its debut in April at Silverstone, and initially, the closed-top, Nissan V8-powered cars were seen as a possible successor for the FLM09s.

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Thanks to an open P3 test in June at Watkins Glen that could be favorably described as massively underwhelming, PC team owners have almost uniformly rejected the notion of buying P3s. With the P3 cars designed for shorter endurance races, IMSA’s 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, and 10-hour Petit Le Mans events have also been cited as a significant concern where the cars would be expected to run far longer than intended. It’s believed P3s could have a place in IMSA’s future, but with the wallet-based vote against the cars from the PC paddock, it’s unclear where P3 would fall under IMSA’s umbrella.

With P3 shot down, that takes us back to the owners’ 2014 FLM09 update proposal as the top contender in the what-should-we-do-with-PC? sweepstakes.

The update concept has evolved to encompass a brand-new body that has been described as far more attractive than what’s being used today. Other measures, including taking a decent chunk of weight out of the drivetrain and the introduction of Pro-Am-friendly traction control have been floated. It would be a surprise if the FLM09 updates didn’t go forward, and if teams commit to paying for the makeover, they would expect IMSA to extend the FLM09’s lifespan through at least 2017.

Spending money on a one-year update wouldn’t fly, and with PC car counts continuing to fluctuate, a solid two-year plan to revitalize the class with faster and more visually appealing FLM09s would make sense. It would also fit the direction IMSA is taking with updates to GT Daytona in 2016 and Prototype in 2017.

Provided the FLM09 updates are approved, ORECA would be busy handling a decent portion of the order fulfillment. If, by chance, IMSA insisted on P3s, the French company would also be involved in the solution.

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“The situation is easy for us,” ORECA founder Hugues de Chaunac told Marshall Pruett. “If IMSA chooses P3, this is good for us because ORECA will support all of the cars because we are providing all the engines and powertrains. We have told IMSA we are open to any choice they consider with PC if they decide to stay with the ORECA chassis, and we are waiting for a decision or a discussion when they have finalized their talks with PC team owners.

“We have told IMSA we can reply to different options; the LMPC was a success, and we have to make the team owners and customers happy with whatever they are offered. We want them to be excited about whatever they have.”

De Chaunac’s reference to “different options” is rather intriguing. Asked if it was a general reference to PC or P3, he suggested ORECA would be open to helping IMSA with any direction that’s taken, and did not limit his company to the two aforementioned classes.

The situation leaves IMSA in what I assume is an unexpected position. In light of P3’s quick rise and fall as the PC of the future, it appears the series is still looking for a new car to carry the class forward. And that’s where de Chaunac’s “different options” comes into play.

With PC owners loving the low-cost drivetrain and running costs associated with the FLM09, they’ve pitched a new idea that blends PC and P2 2017: A budget P2 car using less exotic materials and a spec engine.

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Think of it as a P2 monocoque draped in economical bodywork, a strong but low-maintenance engine similar to the Chevy LS3 in the FLM09s, and other spec items that would, in essence, trade the open-top ORECA and replace it with a custom P2 coupe built exclusively for IMSA’s PC entrants.

All of the same PC constructs would apply. A new chassis tender would go out for bid, and like the FLM09, which is based off a P2 design, all of the traditionally expensive P2 bits would be substituted for less costly items. It would be 100 percent new, but conceptually, it would be like taking everything that bolts to the FLM09 monocoque and attaching it to a carbon fiber P2 coupe.

A similar process to identify a new production-based engine would also take place. A target cost of approximately $350,000 has been mentioned for the complete “P2 Light” Pro-Am solution.

Asked where the series stood on the topic of PC’s evolution, an IMSA spokesperson said: “We’ve engaged in discussions with all of our current Prototype Challenge stakeholders, as well as a number of entities who have expressed an interest in future participation. However, we have no news to report at this time and no timeline has been established.”

IMSA has yet to decide on where its PC class is headed, or when the direction will be set, but if the $350,000 mark can be achieved, the “P2 Light” concept would be hard to ignore.

Marshall Pruett