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United Autosports Eyeing IMSA LMP3 Program; 24H Le Mans in 2017
- Updated: August 6, 2016
United Autosports could expand its race operations into North America in 2017, with the Anglo-American team evaluating an entry into IMSA competition in the newly restructured Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series.
The UK-based squad, meanwhile, has not ruled out a LMP2 effort for next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, should it gain the automatic invite for winning this year’s European Le Mans Series LMP3 championship.
Team co-owner and managing director Richard Dean, who is on-site this weekend at Road America, admits that the introduction of LMP3 to North America has come as an opportune time for the team’s potential foray into IMSA racing.
“Now that P3 has come here in some format or another, it’s of interest,” Dean told Sportscar365.
“We’ve got a base here in Indianapolis, that we have used very little, just as a storage and transit place for when we’ve got historics.
“It would be nice to utilize it, and we’ve been waiting for the right sort of program to come up.”
Dean and Zak Brown’s United Autosports team has been the dominant force in the ELMS P3 ranks this year, having scored class wins in the opening three races with its pair of Ligier JS P3s.
It’s come in an ultra-competitive field of more than 20 cars, which has been capped by the series due to the excessive level of interest in the new entry level prototype platform.
“We’re the UK agent for Ligier, and that’s going rather well, and the series has exploded in Europe; it’s really taken off,” Dean said.
“We’re in love with the cars. It’s the right price, it’s the right performance. Everyone who drives it, loves it. They run and run and run, it’s a reliable car. What more do you want from a racing car?
“These cars are filling half the grid for ELMS and they’re turning people away for full-series entries.
“If it follows the same trend [in North America], it’s going to be a very popular series.”
Dean feels a LMP3 effort in Prototype Challenge next year could help lay the foundation for larger involvement in the future, potentially with the new-look Prototype class.
While having ruled out a LMP2/DPi effort for next year, Dean admits LMP2 remains a target for the team in the long-term, both in Europe and America.
“Every team has an ambition to go to Le Mans,” he said. “You can only really do that, realistically, with P2, so we have our eye on that.
“Obviously those regulations are changing as everybody knows, so I don’t think 2017 is really the time for us to go into it.
“We’ve only just gone into the new LMP3, so to do a new series with new cars and a new investment in LMP2 cars is a bit too much.”
However, should the team end up winning the ELMS title, Dean admitted they likely wouldn’t turn down the LMP2 auto-invite for Le Mans, although a plan is not yet in place.
“It’s safe to say that anybody who wins that is going to make every effort to be there,” he said.
“I’m sure everybody has got a plan in place, if they win that championship.
“We won the first three [races], but there’s no reason why somebody else can’t win the remaining three, so we would be wrong to make too many detailed plans. I can’t help but dream about it.”
With the team set to continue as a two-car Ligier P3 effort in the ELMS next year, Dean is upbeat about the platform’s future on a global scale.
“I think it’s massively sensible of what IMSA have done, to take P3 in the same spec as it races in Europe,” he said.
“You’ve now got LMP3 in Asia, Europe and America; they’ll start national series with the British next year. There’s a few national series that will start because ELMS is full.
“Now IMSA has taken it, it’s truly a global series, and it makes perfect sense to take it in the same spec.
“Guys here can test and drive, and race all year, over here, and go to Le Mans and race exactly the same car there [in Road to Le Mans support race]. Or they can do the European Le Mans Series rounds in exactly the same car.
“I’m hoping that in the future if it’s popular, and if these cars get the opportunity to race in places like Daytona, I do believe you will get European teams coming and doing those long-distance races like they used to do through the 1970s.
“The only reason it doesn’t happen now is because there is no uniformity of eligible cars. IMSA has just made that possible again.”