Next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring could be set for capacity grids in the Prototype class, with nearly a dozen European-based LMP2 teams either already planning or targeting entries for the opening two rounds of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
IMSA’s new “Florida 36 Hours” initiative, aimed to attract international teams to both events, has sparked considerable interest in recent weeks, mostly from teams in the European Le Mans Series paddock.
Graff Racing, Algarve Pro Racing, Cetilar Villorba Corse, IDEC Sport Racing and Ultimate have been the latest outfits to be evaluating entries, joining Racing Team Nederland, Tockwith Motorsports and FIA World Endurance Championship points leaders Jackie Chan DC Racing, which are all in the planning stages.
So far, United Autosports, which is coming off its second victory of the ELMS season last weekend at the Red Bull Ring, is the only team to officially confirm its program, which will see Will Owen and 17-year-old British rising star Lando Norris in its Ligier JS P217 Gibson for Daytona.
ELMS front-runners Graff is the next most likely team to commit, with the French squad actively working to field at least one of its Oreca 07 Gibsons in the twice-around-the-clock Florida endurance classic.
“I am confident about seeing Graff at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2018,” team boss Pascal Rauturier told Endurance-Info.
“Going to Sebring is complicated due to the proximity of the European Le Mans Series [season]. We will go to Daytona with people who know the American rules. The idea is therefore to rely on an American team.”
A similar initiative is in the works at Algarve Pro Racing, with the Stewart Cox-led outfit potentially fielding LMP2 cars on three continents next year.
The Portuguese team, which will return to the Asian Le Mans Series with two previous-generation Ligier JS P2s, could take its 2017-spec Ligier to Daytona and Sebring as well, prior to a full-season ELMS program with the car.
American drivers Matt McMurry and Mark Patterson have been among the drivers in the team’s lineup this year.
“We have everything that it takes to run three cars on different places on the planet,” Cox said.
Italian team Cetilar Villorba Corse, meanwhile, could also make the trip Stateside, according to driver Giorgio Sernagiotto, with LMP3 squad Ultimate looking to rent an entire LMP2 car for Daytona and Sebring with its ELMS driver lineup of brothers Matthieu and Jean-Baptiste Lahaye and Francois Heriau.
“The idea would be to keep the same [drivers] and do things as well as possible,” Matthieu Lahaye said. “We’re in full reflection.”
Additionally, it’s understood that TDS Racing, through its operational partnership of the G-Drive Racing WEC team, could also make its WeatherTech Championship debut in January with at least one Oreca LMP2 car.
The increased level of interest is understood to at least been partially linked to IMSA’s newly announced incentive package, which sees reduced entry fees, fuel and tire credits for new teams, plus the chance to win the Trueman Pro-Am Team Endurance Award, given to the top-placed amateur driver in a LMP2 car.
This year’s Rolex 24, which served as the kickoff race for the FIA and ACO’s new LMP2 platform, saw only two European-based Prototype entries in Rebellion Racing and DragonSpeed, the latter which operates out of a base in France.