A new era of sports car racing beckons with today’s 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona, with the competition debut of IMSA’s DPi platform, which along with new-for-2017 LMP2 machinery, make up the new-look Prototype class.
The extreme makeover in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s premier category comes three years after the unification of the ALMS and Grand-Am, which featured a makeshift grid of legacy Daytona Prototype and LMP2 cars.
With the P class now under a single global platform, and with a grid of all-new cars featuring manufacturer-specific engines and bodywork styling cues, competitors have witnessed IMSA’s bold vision turn into reality.
“I think the new era, the drivers, teams, manufacturers… we’ve all been waiting on it,” Tequila Patron ESM’s Ryan Dalziel told Sportscar365. “It’s been a frustrating couple of years for everybody involved. But you’ve seen all the players stay in prototype racing.
“Now the numbers have doubled overnight and I think it will just keep rising.
“It’s cool to see IMSA’s vision. I was definitely one of the skeptics coming into it. I think it’s turned out to be a good thing.”
Dalziel, along with brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor, were among the drivers who cut their teeth in DP machinery, which, after a 14-year-run was considered a workhorse of North American prototype racing.
For former DP champion Jordan Taylor, who trades in his Corvette DP for a Dallara-chassied Cadillac DPi-V.R, it marks a bitter-sweet new chapter.
“It’s a little sad for me personally to see DPs go,” he told Sportscar365. “That’s where I grew up racing and grew up watching my dad and Max [Angelelli] drive all those years. We got our championship in 2013 and a lot of good races.
“It was sad to see it go but at the same time it was impossible to balance a P2 and a DP car. The last few years were frustrating for both sides at different events.
“Now we’ve got this great, new DPi platform, all-new beautiful cars and manufacturers getting behind it.”
A total of 12 P class cars, including DPis from Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan, are set for the kickoff race, with at least one additional manufacturer potentially entering the fold by the end of the year.
According to Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan, the unique styling freedoms embraced in the DPi regulations has provided for a closer link from the track to the street.
“What IMSA gave us the chance to do here is monumental in the sport,” Doonan told Sportscar365.
“I think back to growing up in the iMSA GTP days, there were a few cars that stuck out in my mind and you could really see a correlation between the road car.
“The Corvette GTP car was one of those and another one for me was the Mazda 792-P. That was really an opportunity to clean-sheet, to design something that looked just like the RX-7.
“What they’ve done now has given us a clean palette.”
While Mazda’s RT24-P utilizes the Japanese manufacturer’s “KODO” design language, both the Cadillac and Nissan Onroak DPi feature more subtle design cues, at least to start with.
“I know for sure on the Nissan side, we wanted to do a lot more but it was a combination of timing and what we’re allowed to do,” Dalziel said.
“But I know for 2018 we have big plans and make it [look more] like a street car, which I think everybody wants to see back to the GTP era.”
The move to LMP2-based machinery has proven to be an adjustment for drivers and teams, particularly DP veterans such as defending champions Action Express Racing, as well as Wayne Taylor Racing.
“It’s a lot different,” Jordan Taylor said. “We had the DP for years so they were really used to it. “But we’ve got a lot of guys on the team from IndyCar and all over the place.
“They’ve got experience with it; we’ve got a lot of people from Cadillac, Dallara and ECR all supporting each other.
“We’re learning it together but have experienced guys. For the drivers, it’s quite a bit different to just experience the driving style of it.”
The trio of Cadillac entries head into the twice-around-the-clock endurance classic with the most experience under its belts, with 3,000 miles logged by WTR alone since the car’s first rollout in September, including a 24-hour endurance test at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Despite this, Taylor feels the race could be decided in a battle of attrition.
“The past ten years it’s just been a race of speed, basically,” he said. “Everyone was so reliable you built a car that goes as fast as possible. Now everything’s new.
“We’ve done as much testing as we can to see what the reliability issues are. But there’s still a ton of unknowns and that’s what makes it tough to start with the 24-hour because you’re going into the toughest event.
“If something happens, it will happen in this race.”