After spending the last three years in the GT ranks, DragonSpeed will expand its operations into prototype racing next year, having confirmed the purchase of an Oreca 05-Nissan as part of a multi-continent program.
The Florida-based squad’s new P2 program will be focused on the five-round European Le Mans Series, although its debut race will come at the Twelve Hours of Sebring next March.
Two of DragonSpeed’s customers from the Blancpain Endurance Series and Pirelli World Challenge, Henrik Hedman and Frankie Montecalvo, will team up for the effort alongside a to-be-confirmed third driver, which could be team owner Elton Julian.
“It’s more than exciting,” Julian told Sportscar365. “I’ve considered myself lucky to have stayed on the trajectory I laid out for myself.”In a way, you have to pinch yourself that it’s actually happening.”
While having campaigned GT3 machinery from Audi, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz with success over the years, Julian’s tight-knit team will return to the prototype ranks, having previous experience with the Oreca FLM09 in the American Le Mans Series.
“When I came back with the team and retired, the first thing we ran were the FLM cars,” he said. “We have really, really good GT guys but the reality is that we’re more of an open-wheel or prototype group led by me that has that background.
“It was the right timing with the perfect customer that trusts our vision for him. This is really about us explaining to him that this is the right step for him.”
Former Ferrari Challenge ace Hedman is at the center of DragonSpeed’s new prototype venture, which has seen the Florida-based Swede purchase the closed-top LMP2 car that will essentially be eligible for competition with minimal adjustments through 2021.
“After driving a lot of GT cars in PWC and now Blancpain, I sat down and looked at the ultimate goal for me and that’s to do the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” Hedman told Sportscar365.
“Looking at the cars and speaking to a lot of guys who have done Le Mans both in GT and P2, they all recommended to go to P2 if you want to do Le Mans.
“Being here in Blancpain, I really like to be in Europe racing. ELMS seems to be a really good series and since Elton has been involved with P2, he’s guided me since we made the decision and guided me towards the right product.”
PWC GT-A title contender Montecalvo, meanwhile, will make his return to ELMS competition, with the 24-year-old having taken part in the championship in 2013 at the wheel of a Ram Racing Ferrari 458 Italia in GTE.
“I’ve been so impressed with Frankie this year in PWC,” Hedman said. “From the first practice at St. Pete, and knowing that he’s driven so many things.
“He also has a really good relationship with [engineer] Mark Schomann. We’ve really had a blast together in PWC this year. I’m glad to be part of that process.”
In addition to its full-season ELMS program and planned single-race effort in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Julian said he plans to submit an entry request to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The team expects to take delivery of the car in late October, with a roll-out planned at Paul Ricard prior it to being shipped stateside for winter testing at Sebring and Palm Beach International Raceway.
Julian said they’re exploring the possibility of a new European base in the South of France, to be close to ORECA’s headquarters in Le Castellet.
“The ELMS is appealing for its schedule, race length, governance and tracks,” Julian added. “It’s a setup for Le Mans. It’s a no-brainer for us. Henrik is a European. I grew up racing in Europe and TUDOR [full-season] is not viable. It just isn’t.”
Further news on the team’s GT programs for 2016 are expected to be revealed in the coming weeks.