Scott Sharp says Tequila Patron ESM’s move back to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship full-time for 2017 has been largely influenced by the ability to win races overall with the new DPi formula, as well as being able to display its primary sponsor for the entire season.
The Florida-based team announced Tuesday a two-car Ligier Nissan DPi program, which will debut in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, bringing an end to its two-year venture in the FIA World Endurance Championship, as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“The biggest race in the world, you can’t run Patron on because of the French alcohol rules,” Sharp told Sportscar365. “If you can’t do that, it defeats a lot of the purpose of being over there.
“Bahrain is the same issue, and even Mexico had some limits to it. So when two to three races, you have the issue of carrying your sponsor’s logos, and it’s enormously expensive, that tends to put things under re-evaluation.
“That was the biggest driving force. We all loved being at some amazing race tracks and having some great experiences over the last couple of years, but at the end of the day, we’re a U.S.-based team and we want to be winning races and championships in front of our fans over here.”
ESM’s factory-backed program will feature Nissan’s 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 engine from the GT-R NISMO GT3 car, combined with the new Ligier JS P217 and Nissan-inspired bodywork developed in conjunction by the Japanese manufacturer and Onroak Automotive.
Sharp said they have a multi-year exclusive deal with Nissan for the DPi package, which will make its testing debut in January’s Roar Before the Rolex 24, ahead of a full-season program in the WeatherTech Championship.
Terms of the deal with the Nissan have not been disclosed but Sharp said all elements, including the engine supply, bodywork and IMSA licensing agreement, have been wrapped into their partnership.
“They’re certainly bringing a lot to the party and we are as well,” he said.
The effort also marks a continuation of its partnership with Onroak and OAK, which will continue to supply key personnel to the team.
“We’ve been so impressed with Philippe [Dumas] and Jacques [Nicolet] and the whole team,” Sharp said. “They’ve done an amazing job and did a great job in the North American championship with us, which this program will sort of model itself off of.
“With the ORECA being a ’17 car design initially and Ligier being a year ahead of them in debuting their impressive car, I think they have a lot of fire and ideas to make the new P2 car outstanding.”
Despite the rather late start to testing, Sharp feels confident they’ll be able to hit the ground running come January.
“As of today, the WEC-spec [Ligier JS P217] car is hitting the track in Magny-Cours,” he said. “As far as the base of the car, it’s going to have a lot of miles under its belt before we get to the Roar.
“The Nissan engine is a proven commodity so it’s just a matter of us dotting the Is and crossing our Ts and making sure we have the time to do proper 24-hour preparation in-shop, which I think if it goes to plan, it will.”
Sharp said the team’s driver lineup will be announced in early December but said it will comprise of a similar group of drivers seen this year. Patron Spirits President and CEO Ed Brown will continue as a full-season driver.
Sharp, Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek will drive ESM’s Ligier JS P2 Honda in next weekend’s Petit Le Mans, Sharp confirmed.
While not returning to Le Mans next year, Sharp hasn’t completely discounted a future effort in the French endurance classic, but not until he receives clarity on the Pro-Am-enforced regulations.
“Certainly we do, depending on the rules,” he said. “I think the whole driver classification system really needs to get sorted out better.
“There’s a very broad interpretation of the rules of what a Silver driver is. We were probably the only team running around with two legitimate Silver drivers.
“You’ve got guys where some of their Silvers are faster than their Platinums. Something’s wrong with the rules when that’s the case.”