A new junior prototype formula was born last weekend with the official launch of the LMP3 category, which will run in the European and Asian Le Mans Series beginning next year.
While replacing the now-defunct LMPC class in both series — which has not seen a single entry in either championships this year — the ACO’s new cost-capped, closed-top car platform is being aimed to help introduce new drivers and teams to prototype racing.
Despite many of the proposed manufacturers also currently building FIA CN2-spec machinery, all LMP3 cars will be specifically built from the ground up, according to the ACO’s LMP3 project coordinator, Lucien Monte, who was on hand at Inje last weekend.
“We’re starting from a [clean sheet] of paper with LMP3,” Monte told Sportscar365. “We forget [CN] totally because the ACO creates a new category.
“The CN has been around for a lot of years, and to be honest, the safety rules of the car is totally obsolete.
“We don’t want to compare CN and LMP3. We want both categories to compete in the Asian Le Mans Series for the next three seasons, but at the end, we want more and more LMP3s.”
The level of interest in the new formula has has been promising.
Monte said the ACO received 29 initial inquiries from manufacturers in January, although the current constructor list has been narrowed down to roughly a half-dozen.
While Onroak Automotive (Ligier), Ginetta (Juno), Wolf, Tatuus and Riley Technologies have all expressed intentions of building cars, a new joint effort between SORA Composites, ADESS AG and Sebastien Loeb Racing appears to be one of the current front-runners in the race to the 2015 debut.
“Right now SORA is in pole position to have a car ready,” Monte said. “The other constructors are a little bit late. Tatuus has a lot of work with its new FIA Formula 4 category in Italy and Formula Toyota in New Zealand. So they are busy but are still interested in LMP3.”
All cars will run with spec gearboxes, ECUs and engines, supplied and maintained by ORECA, although a final decision on the engine manufacturer for the newly proposed V8 powerplant will be made by the end of this month.
“There has been some delay in finalizing the engine,” Monte said. “It will be ORECA for sure that will do the service, everywhere in the world.
“In the beginning it was a Nissan V6 but there was not enough power to make the gap to be [between] LMP2 and GT. It could be a V8 Nissan [or a GM LS3 engine]. Why not?”
Whatever engine manufacturer they decide on, Monte said it would likely come with the full support of that OEM, unlike the Oreca FLM09, which didn’t see GM promote its LS3 block which was used in the car.
Monte, meanwhile, is confident the category will take off in both Europe and Asia. He hopes for between four to five LMP3 cars in the ELMS next year, with a smaller initial grid in the Asian LMS, which adopted the similar priced CN cars this year for the first of a planned three-year commitment.
“Don’t forget that BPR started with only three cars in 1995 and you can see this weekend, the same promoter, Stephane Ratel, will have 60 cars, at the 24 Hours of Spa,” Monte said. “So the main target for next year is to start the category. It doesn’t matter if we have 1 or 2 cars; this category must start. The ACO will do everything to start this category.”
The question in Asia, however, is whether LMP3 and CN can successfully coexist, with both platforms set to be a part of the championship over the next two years.
While the launch of the CN class last weekend at Inje drew only two cars, Asian LMS managing director Mark Thomas said he expects to have between 5-6 of those cars on the grid by the end of the year.
However, the launch of the LMP3 class last weekend in Inje appears to have put a few prospective CN teams on the sidelines to see how ACO’s new class pans out.
Monte expects LMP3 cars to begin on-track testing late this year.