While a LMP2 car claimed a historic overall victory in the 54th Rolex 24 at Daytona, the future of the planned global 2017 prototype platform could be in jeopardy, judging by the reaction from the latest round of meetings involving the ACO, IMSA and constructors last weekend in Florida.
Sportscar365 understands that plans for the FIA, ACO and IMSA to share a common set of base regulations for its new-generation prototypes have hit rocky waters, particularly from the ACO’s side, with concerns over the latest evolution of IMSA’s Daytona Prototype international (DPi) formula.
Announced last April, in a joint agreement between all three organizations, IMSA outlined plans to offer custom bodywork and engine options to the new-gen LMP2 platform, which will be comprised of four constructors, plus a single-engine supplier for the WEC and ELMS only.
While focused on the U.S. market, IMSA DPis would also be eligible to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but only with the standard bodywork supplied by each constructor. Additionally, the WEC/ELMS-spec LMP2 cars would be legal for IMSA competition as well.
However, industry sources have indicated that IMSA’s DPi formula may be drifting further away from the ACO’s initial vision, with discussions ongoing about possible different electronics suppliers, mechanical differences and even different car dimensions, on top of the bodywork and engine differences.
IMSA, or the FIA/ACO for that matter, has yet to finalize their 2017 DPi and LMP2 regulations, although all four constructors have been moving forward with designs, with some even having started wind tunnel testing with scale models.
The latest developments have caused concerns over whether the IMSA and FIA/ACO will indeed be sharing a common base platform next year — as previously announced — or whether IMSA’s DPi formula may end up being too much of a difference from the global LMP2 specification to be eligible at Le Mans, even with the standard bodywork.
It’s understood Bentley, as well as GM and HPD, have yet to officially green-light DPi programs as they await the final regulations from IMSA. The British manufacturer will begin feasibility testing of its GT3 engine fitted to a Ginetta LMP3 car later this month.
One manufacturer has predicted that the only commonality between the DPi and LMP2 platforms could end up being the chassis itself, which would mark a significant departure from the initial plans.
Why has the mood changed so suddenly, and what implications could this mean in the ACO and IMSA’s long-term relationship?
The key issues lies with the two organizations having distinctly different philosophies over the shape of the platform, with the ACO looking to cater to the privateer and gentlemen driver market in a second-tier category and IMSA utilizing it for its manufacturer-based, top class with largely all-pro driver lineups.
With projected manufacturer budgets estimated to be in the $10 million range for DPi, the ACO could in turn, also see IMSA’s model as a potential threat to its LMP1 class, particularly for those manufacturers that value overall wins in the key North American endurance races.
IMSA relies heavily on manufacturer involvement for its top class and is now faced with the difficult prospect on whether it remains faithful to the ACO in embracing the global LMP2 platform or goes the way of the OEMs, which could result in a significantly different looking product.
The latest developments doesn’t strengthen relations between the two sanctioning bodies but there’s hope that a middle ground can still be reached and the years of hard work between the rules-makers to create a truly global platform doesn’t go to waste.
Time, however, doesn’t appear to be on anyone’s side, with IMSA’s DPi platform set to debut one year from now at Daytona, and on-track testing with the new-look prototypes slated to begin in October.
It’s understood the ACO is hoping to finalize the LMP2 regulations by the end of this month, but it’s not clear if that would be with or without IMSA.
While it’s unfortunate to see the difference in opinions emerge this late into regulations-making process, perhaps the biggest loser in all of this could be the fans, who were poised to see an increased crossover of European and American teams.
The Daytona Prototype era saw hard-fought, competitive racing, but a distinctly U.S.-only formula with very little international involvement. And with the current DP era drawing to a close, there was hope that the new platform would revive the global aspect of the sport.
However, it appears to all hang in the balance for now, in what it likely to be a pivotal next few weeks in shaping the future of prototype racing, not only in North America, but around the world.
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