With all three opening TUDOR United SportsCar Championship races having been won by DP-based machinery, along with one high-profile P2 squad announcing its withdrawal from the series last week, the debate of Balance of Performance has reached a critical mass among some Prototype teams.
Following Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s exit, three P2 teams remain heading into next month’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with unconfirmed reports of an additional squad that has considered pulling the plug on its program should the situation not improve in Monterey.
As a result, it has left questions over the future of the ACO’s P2 platform in North America and whether it can be successfully balanced with the DPs under the current regulations.
“I think it’s critical right now,” Extreme Speed Motorsports owner/driver Scott Sharp told Sportscar365. “I’ve been one of the guys who feels that combining the series, down the road, is going to [make for the] best possible road racing series the U.S. can have.
“If that’s what you’re going to believe, then for the health of the Prototype class, they’ve got to prove to people that a P2 car can be competitive and will remain competitive.”
Sharp’s ESM squad, which remains fully committed to the TUDOR Championship for this year, has been the P2 pace-setters so far. Ryan Dalziel turned the fastest race lap at Sebring, en route to a second place finish after leading portions of the race.
However, the ESM HPD ARX-03b’s and OAK Racing’s Morgan-Nissan struggled at Long Beach, a circuit that many thought would better suit the light and nimble P2 cars, but instead resulted in a DP sweep of the podium.
“When everything’s right and the tires finally get warm for the P2 cars, and if we don’t have a lot of traffic, we can run a competitive lap time,” Sharp said. “But I think for us, there’s no real way for us to race them.
“Our engineers did analysis on the last 40 or 50 laps at Sebring, when all of the fast laps were turned. Our car, compared to the 01 [Ganassi DP] car, had a few tenths of a faster ultimate race lap but over those span of laps, they were on average three-tenths a lap faster than us.”
Long Beach saw a fourth place finish for the Olivier Pla and Gustavo Yacaman-driven OAK entry. The French squad, based in the Le Mans Technoparc, has denied reports that they have considered withdrawing from the series due to the BoP situation.
“We cannot say that we are satisfied but OAK Racing is not the type to give up,” team principal Philippe Dumas told Endurance-Info. “This is a good time to start a real discussion with IMSA… OAK Racing is the European messenger. If IMSA wants Europeans to run in the U.S., they must make a change.”
Speaking to Sportscar365, team owner Jacques Nicolet added: “We want to race in America for a long time, if [IMSA] accepts us… Of course it’s difficult to race in this condition with the BoP. We hope things will be better for us for the next race. But we’re staying, there’s no question.”
8Star Motorsports, which revealed intentions of joining the Prototype class with a brand-new Ligier JS P2 car for the final three races of the season, could reconsider its options for the Onroak Automotive-developed car depending on how things shake out.
“If they want to keep P2s on the grid, they’re going to have to do something. If not, everybody’s just going to go somewhere else,” 8Star team owner Enzo Potolicchio told Sportscar365.
“I think anybody that’s doing the TUDOR Championship now in a P2, or me coming with a P2, if [they] don’t get the Balance of Performance right, we always have another option. There’s many options for people with P2 cars.
“I just hope they realize that they’re pushing for five DPs and I think there could be a lot more P2s on the grid next year if they do a good job on the BoP during the season. I know it’s hard to do but they need to work on it quickly so everybody doesn’t get scared away.”
While it’s no doubt been a monumental task for IMSA to balance the two different types of cars, Sharp feels it’s becoming apparent that the horsepower advantage of the DPs is making it difficult for the P2s to have any chance of winning.
“If we’re between 6 to 8 mph down [on top speed from the DPs], that means they’re going to pull you down the straightaway and the only spot to pass is under braking,” he said. “But how will you do that when there’s not an opportunity?
“Right now, I think we’d take the extra 300 pounds if it came with the extra 150 horsepower. Maybe one of these days it’s just going to have to get to the point where you’re going to have equals of everything.
“Maybe the way it sits now, we’ll always have the whining and complaining until we get the cars matched.”
While there still remains questions over the short and long-term future of the P2 platform in the TUDOR Championship, Sharp has remained committed to the series, but realizing an ultimate solution won’t come overnight.
“We weren’t under any illusions that [they] would just automatically nail the rules package the first time,” Sharp said. “We’re all racers and all want to win today. This is going to be a number of steps to get it right. It’s a little frustrating right now but we’re patient.”