Nearly a dozen drivers got their first experience in a Ginetta-Nissan LMP3 car Monday at Watkins Glen, in what’s been deemed a successful exploratory test, despite having been cut short due to an accident.
IMSA hosted the planned two-day test following Sunday’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen to evaluate the LMP3 platform as a potential replacement option for Prototype Challenge.
PHOTOS: Watkins Glen Ginetta LMP3 Test
The test marked the U.S. debut of the Ginetta-Nissan, the first of the new low-cost LMP3 cars currently competing in the European Le Mans Series.
“I think the test went really well,” Ginetta’s Jamie Robinson told Sportscar365. “Certainly, the reception from the drivers who weren’t currently active in PC was very, very good and very candid.
“Obviously once you spend a weekend driving in the PC category and jump straight into a hot car on the same track, it’s very easy to identify changes and differences.”
Ginetta factory driver Mike Simpson was first in the car before handing over to Tom Kimber-Smith, who was fresh off a runner-up finish in Sunday’s rain-soaked race.
“I think the car is very good for its price point,” Kimber-Smith told Sportscar365. “But coming from racing on the weekend and jumping into that, the first thing I noticed was the lack of power.
“It’s considerably less power and torque than the current PC car. But driving wise, the car was fine.”
Equipped with the spec 5.0-liter Nissan V8 engine, the car ran at 425 horsepower, as limited in ELMS competition for durability purposes, although Robinson said the engine could be bumped up to as much as 530 horsepower, if desired.
“I think if it was to [be used] in the series, they would really have to speed it up,” Kimber-Smith said. “There’s no reason why they can’t make it quicker.
“When they do, it might be a different animal.”
CORE autosport’s Colin Braun, who sampled the car alongside team owner/driver Jon Bennett, shared similar thoughts on the speed deficit.
“I think we all knew that going into the test that we were going to have a car that had a lot different power level than the PC car,” Braun told Sportscar365.
“I tried to factor that out in my feel of the car. It was very interesting to drive and I enjoyed getting a chance to drive it.
“But it’s definitely a very different seating position and view out the front. It takes some getting used to.”
Conor Daly set the quickest time of the day, having lapped in the 1:49 range. His best lap was more than eight seconds slower than the pace-setting PC car from practice and on par with times recorded by GT Daytona cars last weekend.
Other drivers to sample the Ginetta-Nissan, fitted with Continental tires for the first time, included SpeedSource team principal Sylvain Tremblay, Matt McMurry, James French and Ethan Low.
Nissan GT Academy driver Nick McMillen crashed the car heavily in Turn 1 in the early afternoon, sustaining considerable damage and bringing the test to an early end.
Robinson said they were, however, able to cycle through all of the drivers, except for Jerome Mee, prior to the accident. Mee was due to drive on Tuesday with modifications made to the cockpit due to his height.
Despite the short-term setback, Ginetta is confident of being able to deliver a competitive and reliable package to teams, should IMSA decide to go the P3 route.
“We feel very confident that we could get onto the PC pace with very little fundamental changes to the car, just small item that can release its potential in a lot of areas,” Robinson said.
“The guys at IMSA have some decisions to make but I think we could comfortably have a Balance of Performance that’s very familiar to us in Europe for the next season with the current PC car and look to throw our car into TUDOR.”
While the possible introduction of P3 machinery into the PC class for 2016 is an option, Simon Hodgson, IMSA’s Managing Director of Racing Operations, reiterated that no decisions have been made.
“I think it’s too early to talk about that,” he said. “We’ve got our hands full planning for 2017.
“Obviously we want to try to get ahead of the curve by introducing this class of car to our stakeholders and I think what we’ll try and do is have a follow-up meeting at [Canadian Tire Motorsport Park] and see what they think.”
Competitors, meanwhile, are left to think about what the future may hold for the Pro-Am prototype class.
“IMSA seem very focused on trying to do something to make an even better platform, which is good,” Kimber-Smith said.
“A PC car will be a very hard car to replace because it’s a brilliant car. It will be interesting to see where the next couple of months takes us.”