If IMSA’s new-for-2017 Daytona Prototype international P2s are ever going to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, they won’t be placed in the same class as WEC’s new 2017 P2s.
With the ACO, organizers of the Le Mans event, showing no interest in creating a set of Balance of Performance rules that would establish parity between IMSA DPi P2s and WEC P2s at the legendary 24-hour race, talks have shifted on to one final alternative: funneling the custom, manufacturer-supported American prototypes into the undersubscribed WEC LMP1 privateer class.
The concept of using the second-tier LMP1 category as a temporary Le Mans home for DPis isn’t new, but it was previously floated as an alternative. In light of Thursday’s news, where the ACO informed IMSA its DPis would not be welcome in P2, the LMP1-P alternative has quickly become the one and only solution.
There is, of course, no promise DPis will ever appear at Le Mans, but if the ACO and IMSA commit to making LMP1-P the destination for IMSA’s manufacturer-branded P2s, the two could have a solid workaround to develop. That is, provided the ACO stops moving the goal posts on its American counterparts.
“IMSA remains confident that there’s a path that’s not exceptionally onerous as we’ve defined it, to compete at Le Mans,” IMSA President and COO Scott Atherton told Marshall Pruett during an interview as we sat overlooking pit lane at Le Mans. “That assumes that a DPI will be eligible under the ACO’s LMP1 privateer configuration.”
IMSA and the ACO met Thursday afternoon for a lengthy discussion on DPi where, according to Atherton, “We had what I would describe as a productive meeting, when the question was asked, very bluntly, if [LMP1-P is] not an option in the eyes of the ACO, then let’s acknowledge that.”
With the meeting comprised mostly of senior leadership from both sanctioning bodies, rather than the full technical staff that would map out the exact pathway to make DPis work in LMP1-P, the group agreed they would need to reconvene at a later date where “the right technical people from all facets of who is involved: ACO, IMSA, FIA, four [2017 P2 chassis] constructors, and potentially the [DPi] manufacturers [could] define exactly what this all means [for LMP1-P].”
For those wondering if there still might be a way for WEC P2s and DPi P2s to fight in the same class at Le Mans, Atherton revisited the timeline that led to the ACO shifting to an all-or-nothing approach to IMSA and LMP1-P.
“The ACO said early on that the IMSA DPI would be eligible at Le Mans, but only using [spec] bodywork and having [spec] electronics consistent with [WEC] LMP2s,” he said. “If you go through progressions of that process, the defining moment occurred when we made it known to the ACO that IMSA would not be requiring DPi manufacturers to use the Cosworth ACO-spec LMP2 electronics. That became a bigger component of the discussion than any of us originally recognised.
“For reasons more difficult than we would want to get to in this conversation, it became clear to us that in order for manufacturers to embrace DPi opportunity with their own powertrain and therefore design bodywork, the whole package, that their ability to utilize their own electronics was important, not an option [to remove].”
In a separate 30-minute interview on Friday, ACO sporting director Vincent Beaumesnil mirrored Atherton’s account of how the disagreement over DPi electronics pushed IMSA’s 2017 cars out of P2 and toward LMP1-P.
“Clearly, the point is that to race at Le Mans we agreed that we need common electronics, which is not [possible] because some manufacturers in DPi want to run their own electronics,” Beaumesnil told RACER. “At the moment we have no possibility to have engines run in a fair competition if we don’t control the electronics. This is where we are at.”
Despite the ACO’s ability to create painfully complex BoP models in LMP2 and GTE, and its mind-bending EoT (Equivalence of Technology) formulas in LMP1-Hybrid that make it possible for diverse concepts like turbodiesel Audis and V4 turbo Porsches to play on relatively equal terms, the ACO just seems disinterested in trying to make next year’s P2s work together in the same class. Knowing that they have done so in the other classes where the BoP challenge is much greater, it’s hard to find a real reason why it wouldn’t work in the new P2, but the answer doesn’t really matter if a desire to do the work is lacking.
“We want American teams; [ACO president] Pierre Fillon and [IMSA founder/owner] Jim France have the same vision that there must be a strong partnership together,” Beaumesnil continued. “We have some different approaches on the prototypes, because their prototypes have to be a manufacturer prototype and ours are privateer in P2. It’s not easy to put everything together. At this stage we can’t reach the architecture we expected, so this is where we are now. But there is still the desire and ambition that we do something together to get American prototypes in Le Mans.
“To be clear, you know that balancing cars is something we don’t like in motorsport, so if we have to do so we really have to consider that inside the LMP2 regulations it has to be with common electronics or we don’t have control.”
Having heard the ACO’s explanation for taking P2 off the board for DPis, Atherton is confident going the LMP1-P route, where his teams would not, in theory, be required to significantly alter their cars to race at Le Mans, could be more beneficial than anything they would have gotten by racing in P2.
“The fact now that we’re talking about the potential of a DPi in its full form, a manufacturer using its own engine, electronics and bespoke design bodywork, being able to come to Le Mans is as if not more attractive than what was the original vision.
“Now as is always the case, the devil is in the details, and rather than coming away from yesterday’s meeting, to use the headline that the ‘rug has been pulled out,’ we’re of the opinion that it makes it that much more important to get that assembly of all involved to define how a DPi conforms to the LMP1 privateer rules and regulations. We believe that there’s a good level of cooperation and mutual desire by the ACO to want to achieve that.
“I don’t believe that’s a facade, to make it appear like there’s a welcome mat when in reality there isn’t. I think there is some genuine desire from the ACO and IMSA to enable those teams racing DPis if they choose to come to Le Mans.”
Working from Atherton’s belief on the ACO’s intent to make LMP1-P work, the timing for DPis to turn up and race at Le Mans, from what he’s been told by the DPi manufacturers (who’ve yet to publically announce their programs), the earliest trips to France would come for the 2018 race.
“At no point have we been made aware that our DPi competitors have Le Mans as a priority for 2017,” he said. “The reason being that it’s a brand-new concept, car, everything. To be able to start competing [at IMSA’s Rolex 24 At Daytona] in January ’17, much earlier than the rest of the world’s season begins, that, in itself, is going to be a very tall order, and to add a Le Mans plan on top that’s very significant as an undertaking.
“For 2017 I don’t think anyone would be disappointed to say: ‘not an option’ or ‘it’s an option, but it’s unattainable.’ In the not too distant future we will make sure that the assembly of all involved occurs so we can put pen to paper and define what changes would have to be made to a DPI car to be compliant with the LMP1 privateer regs.”
With a year of DPi-to-P2 work down the drain, and assuming the ACO doesn’t back away from the DPi-to-LMP1-P solution, a whole new round of rules and BoP changes need to be identified once both technical teams sit down and hash out a conceptual template. Should WEC LMP1-Ps be reduced to match the pace of DPis at Le Mans, or should the DPis be modified to increase their speed? It’s one of a dozen basic questions in need of answers before pithy items like weight, restrictor sizes, and fuel capacities can be considered.
From Thursday’s meeting with the ACO, it sounds like one point has been established: LMP1-Ps won’t be the models undergoing changes if and when DPis arrive.
“Taking it in steps, first of all you have to define what would have to change, if anything, but let’s assume that there’s changes to a DPI to make it comply, that’s been acknowledged,” Atherton said. “They’re welcome if they comply with LMP1 private rules and regs. What does that make them? What is it about those rules and regs that’s not consistent? You’d have to assume that the horsepower that’s currently spec’d [for DPi] would have to increase. For the manufacturers involved, I don’t know if that becomes a major issue or if it’s a software change for the current power plants.”
And then there’s the flipside of the equation. IMSA is more than willing to work with the ACO to find a class home for its DPis at Le Mans, but what if the ACO’s requirements to fit LMP1-P require too many costly upgrades to match that performance level? The sticking point with DPis in P2 involved all the items IMSA teams would need to strip away from their cars; what if the ACO comes back with an overabundance of additions to DPis to meet the target lap times it establishes?
Just like the fight over spec/non-spec P2 electronics, if the ACO’s technical demands are too extreme for DPis to reach the pace of LMP1-Ps, IMSA could find itself in yet another situation where it should consider pushing away from the table.
Among the other points of interest to emerge from the conversation with Atherton, the ACO’s firm stance on restricting manufacturers to LMP1 Hybrid has been broached with IMSA. If manufacturer-funded DPis were to race in LMP1-P at Le Mans, branding and naming changes would be required. For example, a Mazda DPi raced in IMSA as a “Mazda Prototype,” would need to change to something less formal in France.
“To clarify, if a DPi was to compete at Le Mans in the LMP1 privateer category, it would not come as a full factory-referenced package… the LMP1 category remains the sole class for full manufacturer involvement,” he said. “The constructor manufactures the chassis, and a mainstream OEM supplies the engine, [and] for that car to compete at Le Mans, there would have to be the combination thereof. A Dallara-X, an ORECA-Y. A Riley/Multimatic-Z.
“I think there would have to be a mutual respect, a ‘powered by Mazda’ would be acceptable, but if it was ‘Mazda’ in a five foot tall neon lights, it wouldn’t be. Common sense and practical application would have to rule the day.”
Asked if he also felt 2018 was a more realistic timeline for a DPi/Le Mans resolution,” Beaumesnil stopped short at saying yes.
“Time is short, but ultimately it’s something I can’t answer for the moment,” he said. “I have clear vision of what we do; I don’t have a clear vision of what we can do on this side. We are partners and we want to succeed together but the progress needs more time.”
He also reconfirmed the idea of creating an IMSA-specific prototype class, which the ACO had for three decades, isn’t happening.
“I think for the fans it’s not good to have too many classes,” he said. “Four is final, we don’t want more, so then if you have a DPI and you have the possibility to comply with the LMP1 privateer rules, nothing prevents you making an LMP1 privateer car. It just depends on the amount of work that has to be done on the car to make it [comply].”
As Atherton and the rest of IMSA’s leadership team knows, presenting a united front is never a bad thing while working through a rough patch behind closed doors.
“The relationship between IMSA and the ACO remains healthy,” he added. “It hasn’t always been that we agree on everything, but we methodically work through to arrive at viable solutions to what we do in respect where we are today. Le Mans is a unique and unmatched event by every description, our link to the ACO and Le Mans is something we respect and value at a high level. It works best with our needs in North America.
“Going back to the early days of the American Le Mans Series, the challenges that surrounded [creating rules in partnership with the ACO is] nothing new. We find ourselves in a similar situation again. But I remain confident that in the end we will have a set of rules, regulations that will enable us to achieve what we want with the link to Le Mans and the ACO.”
On the eve of the 84th 24 Hours of Le Mans, a new clock has started on the process of landing DPis in France for the 85th or more likely, the 86th event. In light of the year of effort that just went down the drain, here’s hoping IMSA will find its shiny new DPis on firmer ground with the ACO when we get to June 2017.