The future of the Prototype Challenge class has taken another twist, with a number of teams now in support of continuing with the Oreca FLM09 platform, but in an upgraded specification for 2016.
It comes following IMSA’s exploratory test with a Ginetta-Nissan LMP3 car, which received mixed reviews from competitors and has left the paddock in further debate over the best step forward.
“LMP3 is certainly an interesting concept but I think for it to fit into our race series between P and GTLM, there’s more than a little bit development that needs to be done,” CORE autosport team owner/driver Jon Bennett told Sportscar365.
“On the other hand, the PC car has proven to be a financially viable subcategory to Prototype for a number of years. It has a lot of things going for it that’s successful.
“It has a carbon chassis, carbon brakes, sequential gearshift and it has significant downforce and it fits into the current class structure fairly well.
“Given the uncertainties of the other three classes of our series, it might make sense to simply update PC.”
Bennett, who sampled the LMP3 car last month at Watkins Glen, has been one of the handful of team owners to have seen renderings of a proposed upgrade kit from ORECA that could potentially extend the existing car’s lifespan.
The kit would feature all-new bodywork, including a revised nose, sidepods, rear deck and the addition of a shark fin, that bolts onto the existing Oreca FLM09 chassis, creating a radical new design for a fraction of the cost of an all-new car.
According to Renaud Chevalier, ORECA’s North America project manager, the upgrade kit for the open-top car is an option the French manufacturer can produce, should the series decide to go that route.
“If IMSA wants to go that way, we have the capacity to do it,” Chevalier told Sportscar365. “In the addition of the opening of our office in the U.S., we have the capacity to make the parts here. But it’s a matter of a decision coming from IMSA.”
Chevalier said there are currently more than 20 Oreca FLM09 cars in existence worldwide, with the constructor still having the capability of producing additional chassis and parts, based on the level of demand.
“For a company like ours, I’d say it’s a continuous process,” he said. “We’re always trying to find some new ways.
“We’re working on some design changes to see the feedback of IMSA, firstly, and also of the teams, if this is a way they’d like to go or not. Now we’ll see what they’ll decide.”
RSR Racing team owner Paul Gentilozzi is also in favor of keeping the existing machinery, having proposed a two-year plan that would also include a modifications to the powertrain for an increase in power.
“We can change the car so it looks like a brand-new car, with a complete [new] bodywork set,” Gentilozzi told Sportscar365.
“It will lower the drag, increase the downforce and really make the car, based on the suggestion ORECA has, a very exciting car.
“If we said to our competitors in our class that we’re going to give you a new performance window and a completely new look to sell, and it’s going to cost you $75,000 all-in, would you rather do that or buy a P3 car and spend a lot of money fixing it?
“Suddenly the $200,000 [LMP3] car is a $500,000 or $600,000 car. Where does that capital base come from? And what have you gained?”
Both Gentilozzi and Bennett believe the aero updates would spark new interest in the class, which has seen car counts dwindle from 12 to seven full-season entries this year.
“I definitely think it’s a serious option for us to consider,” Bennett said. “There’s so much that’s known about the class. The economics of running the cars is known.
“I think that if a longer-term future of the class, through 2019 or 2020, you’d find a lot of people coming back to it from other series that have left the PC ranks over the last 24 months.”
Bennett said he’d like to see the upgrade kit rolled out over the course of the 2016 season and start the year with the existing FLM09 package, which is already proven in the endurance races.
“I think the other thing that’s interesting about the PC car is that it’s quite flexible in that if we need to speed the car up, there will be a way to do that,” he said.
“And if we need to slow down the car a little bit to make it fit properly between Prototype and GT Le Mans, I think that’s completely in the cards as well.
“It makes financial sense but more importantly, it’s a just a good car. I think it would be great to put some stability into the class for the next couple of years.”
While IMSA has yet to make a decision on the category’s future, Gentilozzi feels that action should be taken now, before there are potentially further losses.
“We have to look at our business, take a practical, non-emotional view of what works to get customers back here. We’re a customer-driven series,” he said.
“We ought to be going on a path that fixes our business model so we can afford to have a future.”