The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship could see an additional Daytona Prototype on the grid next year, as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is closing in on an expansion to the Prototype class.
As revealed by Sportscar365 in August, the championship-winning open-wheel and sports car racing operation had been exploring P class options but has recently set its sights on a potential BMW Dinan-powered Riley DP effort, according to team co-owner Bobby Rahal.
“There’s been some progress, enough to think there’s a potential to do the endurance races [next year], if not all of them,” Rahal told Sportscar365. “I think the funding is in place for [the Patron Endurance Cup], at least. It’s not been signed or sealed but it’s there. The sponsorship will drive the schedule.”
The proposed expansion is part of Rahal’s goal of eventually taking the team to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the prospects of a prototype program offering the best long-term stability.
“We want to have a full-time effort in Prototype and full-time effort in GT,” Rahal said. “Ultimately, I do want to go to Le Mans. That’s been a goal of mine, and at this point, it’s never been a goal of BMW North America’s. The only way I’m going to get there is somewhere else.”
Rahal is aiming to use next year as a toe-in-the-water experience in the P class, prior to the introduction of the new-for-2017 global prototype regulations, which will result in new and refreshed machinery for teams competing in the top class of the TUDOR Championship.
It’s a similar strategy used by the team in 2007 when RLL entered a privateer Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in the ALMS as a precursor to its factory BMW GT program, to help gain a better understanding of the class and its nuances.
“As the rules are changing so much for 2017, you’d hate to make too much of a commitment right now and buy something that’s going to be obsolete in a year,” Rahal said. “But I think given the relationship we have with BMW, if we would put something together, it would be DP.”
While RLL is awaiting word on whether it will continue to run BMW’s factory Z4 GTE program in the TUDOR Championship, as its contract is up for renewal, Rahal is working to finalize specifics for the team’s proposed P class effort.
He’s aiming to have son Graham be one of the drivers, depending on potential clashes with the yet-to-be-released IndyCar schedule, while the Dinan’s 4.5-liter BMW V8 would be the powerplant of choice, given the team’s existing ties to the German manufacturer.
The engine, which claimed victory in its debut at Indianapolis last year, has not yet seen action in the TUDOR Championship, following Chip Ganassi Racing’s switch to Ford power for 2014 and BMW subsequently withdrawing support.
“Steve Dinan is a good friend of mine and we talked about coming together,” Rahal said. “I think he’d like to see his engine out there running around. By all accounts, we have a lot of confidence in Steve and his group. It would only make sense to have Graham and some other good guys in the car.”
Rahal said a decision on the program will be made within the next 30 days, although he said there’s currently a 60 percent chance of it getting the green light for the four-round Patron Endurance Cup, at a minimum.