Prototypes will return to the high banks of Daytona International Speedway next week, in what could prove to be a crucial test for teams, manufacturers and IMSA as they look to find solutions from the recent incident-filled TUDOR United SportsCar Championship pre-season test.
Testing for all Daytona Prototypes, P2 cars and Prototype Challenge entries was suspended at Daytona last month following a pair of airborne accidents for 2014-spec Coyote-chassied Corvette DPs, triggered by right-rear tire failures.
Both the Spirit of Daytona entry of Richard Westbrook and Joao Barbosa’s Action Express Racing DP spun around backwards and lifted into the air, with Westbrook’s car nearly clearing the catch fence before going into a series of rolls.
While both drivers escaped injury, the definitive cause of the failures, and subsequent flights for the DP cars, have yet to be publicly addressed by IMSA.
However, Sportscar365 has learned the sanctioning body is set to evaluate changes to both the tires and aerodynamics during a Riley test at the 3.56-mile oval/road course on Dec. 10-11, which has been opened up to all Daytona Prototype teams.
A Continental Tire spokesperson confirmed they will test a new, reinforced rear tire, to better accommodate the additional downforce generated by the updated DPs, while IMSA is believed to have made additional updates to the aero package, which made its on-track debut less than three weeks ago.
Chip Ganassi Racing, Michael Shank Racing and Starworks Motorsport are set to be joined by Action Express at the test, which is expected to see cars being run in both 2013 and updated 2014 aero configuration.
While IMSA has been tight-lipped on any potential changes, a number of team owners have admitted that nothing has been finalized in terms of what specification they will be running next year.
“Everything is open,” Wayne Taylor told Sportscar365. “Whether we run diffusers or not, [dual element] rear wings or not.
“We’re still waiting for [IMSA] to come out with a definitive outline of all the findings from the tire failure and the cars flying. It’s certainly something they need to come back with. Because of the rules and everything being so late, we can’t go testing until mid-month at the earliest.”
Taylor, whose Dallara-chassied Corvette DP will begin testing on Dec. 16, has been part of a technical working group that was assembled late last month in the wake of the accidents, in order to help come to the root of the issue.
“We’ve pulled a group of people together that includes Dallara, my team, General Motors, Pratt & Miller and IMSA,” Taylor said. “At the end of the day, IMSA has to make the final decision. It seems like we have a good working group together.
“It’s all a little difficult right now… We have to look at safety and speed. Certainly safety is more important than speed at the moment. I’ve seen what happened to those two cars.”
Spirit of Daytona, which has been forced to go to a brand-new chassis following Westbrook’s accident, plans to resume testing on Dec. 17-18 in a GM-sanctioned test at Daytona, which will also see WTR’s updated Corvette DP turn laps.
According to SDR owner Troy Flis, one of the keys could be to trim the cars out, in order to lessen the level of downforce and load on the tires.
“We were running more downforce than we would probably race with when we had our incident,” he told Sportscar365.
“I think we’ll be able to run [the 2014 aero] and get the load off. I think we were asking too much of the tires. But I’m a little bit concerned the sanctioning body is not going to want us to go faster. Then how are they going to slow us down?
“The only real way to do that is to put more load back in the car, so putting drag on the cars. They’re going to have some struggles with that.”
Flis also believes something will be done to help prevent the cars from getting airborne. There has been talk of the potential use of roof flaps or similar devices placed inside the diffuser to disrupt the airflow in the case of a backwards spin.
But with less than 60 days until the season-opening Rolex 24, time is running out to find a suitable solution.
“I think Continental is doing a good job and is working their butt off. But we waited too long to get all these pieces and parts on our cars to find out,” Flis said. “We should have tested this stuff earlier in the year.
“But I think [IMSA is] putting every effort in right now on getting the package that everybody can move forward with. It’s just time. There’s a lot of unknowns still.”