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Onwards For Norma Auto Concept, DSC Talks To Norbert Santos

New prototype at Pikes Peak in 2018, LMP2 still being considered

Created in 1985, Norma Auto Concept has manufactured 400 prototypes over the past 14 years and earned countless titles. The French constructor was repeatedly successful on various continents and in various series this season. Romain Dumas drove the Norma MXX to victory at Pikes Peak, the LMP3 Norma M30 won in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Series and the Michelin Le Mans Cup, and the CN Norma M20FC remained a reference on European racetracks and in Hill Climb racing.

DSC’s Mat Fernandez met with Norbert Santos, founder and current CEO of Norma Auto Concept, on the day the Norma M30 scored its maiden ELMS pole position in the LMP3 category. “We are obviously delighted by our pole position this weekend,” said Santos. “The ELMS offers really tight competition and poses the incredible technical challenge of having to manufacture and sell a very advanced competitive car for less than 206,000 Euros.”

Norma Auto Concept was the sixth approved LMP3 constructor to be announced by the ACO fifteen months ago. Many people in the paddock considered the car’s recent victories the result of it being the most recent release in the category. “I can’t deny that we had more time than our competitors to prepare our car. It was an advantage, there’s no doubt about it. Our car would never be as successful as it is today if we had been granted as little time as Ligier to build theirs. But let’s not forget that while others were acquiring substantial market shares, we didn’t have any orders to finance our project. It was a very risky business strategy for us. It might look easy from the outside, but I can tell you, we had a tough time. Our 25 employees had to work hard,” said Santos.

The Norma M30 is clearly in the spotlight this season, and more sales are expected for the French manufacturer. “Our target,” said Santos, “is not how many cars we can have on a grid, but how well we can serve our current and future customers. Above all, we want our cars to be reliable and well manufactured. Then we want to provide top-quality customer service and meet the standards we achieved with our CN customers. If we do well in these areas, sales should follow. We want to do this in Europe and the US and also expand to the Asian market, where we aren’t currently present. I have some contacts there. We will probably adopt the same sales structure as the one we have in the US.”

With Riley MK30 being short of a clear program, the LMP2 category is to some extent following a similar path as LMP3 at the end of its first season in 2015, with too few constructors capable of selling competitive cars. Santos sees this as a source of opportunity for his company, although the ACO continues to limit LMP2  to four manufacturers: Oreca, Ligier, Dallara and Riley. “An LMP2 Norma prototype is something we will look into once my team of designers has a little less work on its plate,” said Santos. “Still, we know this is a very tough category with very competitive teams. It would be a significant challenge.”

Regardless of what could happen in LMP2 and what is achieved in LMP3, Norma Auto Concept will keep on producing its CN cars this season while staying out of LMP4 for now. “CNs have the speed of LMP3s but are way cheaper to run. It’s the best driving experience you can get for your buck. Of course, I heard about the LMP4 announcements, but to tell you the truth, I don’t get it,” said Santos. “To this day, I have not seen any international regulations for LMP4. I honestly don’t see a future for it in Europe. But maybe it is a product that could work in the US.”

One thing for sure is that a new prototype will be produced by Norma Auto Concept next season. It won’t be an LMP1. “We did look into it. It seems too difficult for us right now,” admitted Santos. It will be another car supporting Romain Dumas in his quest of setting a new record at Pikes Peak. “Although we won, and although it was a beautiful human adventure, we felt terribly frustrated. We wanted to set this new record so bad, but we had engine problems 500 m into the climb. We could have done it, had we not encountered this. So we’ll be back next year with a new car, one I started thinking about as soon as our MXX covered 20 km. I know, the car we had this year was new too. But that’s how it goes… trying to find solutions and figuring out why we didn’t think about it one, two or three years earlier. That’s just what I do… and the day I stop doing that it will perhaps be time for me to stop competing.”