Tequila Patron ESM’s Scott Sharp believes LMP2 cars will hold the upper hand in this weekend’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix, admitting he “wouldn’t be surprised” to see one of the Gibson-powered prototypes claim a breakthrough victory on Sunday.
Recent Balance of Performance adjustments, which have slowed Sharp’s Nissan Onroak DPis for the penultimate round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, coupled with the characteristics of the twisty 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit could see the first LMP2 winner in the new-look Prototype class.
ESM’s No. 22 Nissan DPi of Pipo Derani enjoyed a late-race battle with the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson of Stephen Simpson at Road America, with the Minnesota-based team having been knocking on the door in recent races.
The Prototype class has also seen improved runs from both the Ligier JS P217 Gibson from PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and Visit Florida Racing’s new Ligier as well.
LMP2-based cars have claimed overall victories at Laguna Seca in two of the last three years, including Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown’s first WeatherTech Championship win in 2014, in a HPD ARX-03b.
“I’m expecting the LMP2-spec cars to be very fast,” Sharp told Sportscar365. “With the lack of the long straightaway, it’s really going to appeal to a car that’s 100 pounds lighter than everybody.
“They’ve been fast on tracks that maybe weren’t ideally suited for them, like Elkhart. Look how fast both LMP2-spec cars were there.
“This is clearly a track that’s better for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them wins.”
Despite its early season dominance, having claimed wins in the first seven races, Sharp feels IMSA has done a good job with reeling in the Cadillac DPi-V.R’s performance advantage and offering up a more evenly matched battle for top class honors.
“I think the Cadillacs came into the series like a lot of us thought, with a humungous advantage,” he said. “The motor is huge. IMSA has done a good job in slowly reeling that in.
“Overall [IMSA] is in a very unenviable position; you’re never going to make everybody happy. Overall, I think they’ve done a really good job.
“Look, the DPi formula has become the place to be right now and what everyone’s talking about. You’ve got to take your hat off to them.”
ESM Making Strides
It was Sharp’s team that broke Cadillac’s undefeated run in Prototype competition last time out at Road America, in what has come as a turning point for the Florida-based team, less than a year after committing to the DPi platform with Onroak and Nissan.
While both Cadillac and Mazda were out testing, ESM’s Nissan DPi wasn’t even delivered until late December, with the team having been in catch-up mode since.
“It comes back to the fact that when we got the first car a few days before Christmas last year, we knew were three to four months behind,” Sharp said. “It’s been carrying through, unfortunately, as it’s hard to catch up.
“Everybody’s worked hard, Onroak, Nissan and ourselves to improve a lot of the small reliability issues. It’s just part of getting a brand-new package up to speed and consistently reliable.”
Recent updates, including a switch from Cosworth to Motec electronics, has come as significant step forward, particularly on the reliability side.
“We’re really pleased with our package,” Sharp said. “From a drivers’ perspective, it’s a real solid, strong car to drive. I think Nissan has proven to be a great partner for us.
“We’re running the only production-based engine out there. It’s built on the same production line as the GT-R. We’ve had to work some of the teething issues there, but a lot of that is hopefully behind us now.”