While the ACO has yet to finalize where, or even if IMSA’s DPi-based prototypes will be eligible to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, several U.S.-based teams and a manufacturer are hopeful their 2017-spec prototypes will still have a place to race in the French endurance classic.
Differences in electronics and data logger systems between the global Gibson-engined LMP2 cars and DPis has been among the stumbling blocks between the two sanctioning bodies as of late.
It’s resulted in the ACO taking a step back from its initial commitment of allowing DPis, equipped with standard constructor bodywork and ACO-mandated spec electronics, of being eligible in the LMP2 class.
ACO President Pierre Fillon hinted last month that DPis could perhaps find a home in the currently undersubscribed LMP1 Privateer sub-class at Le Mans, while talk of even a IMSA-only DPi category made the rounds during last weekend’s IMSA round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
For longtime U.S. sports car racing entrant Michael Shank, who makes his Le Mans debut this year with a LMP2-spec Ligier JS P2 Honda, the answer would be quite simple.
“To me, the smartest move for us would be to run in LMP1 Privateer, with our horsepower and our bodies, period. Let it run,” Shank told Sportscar365.
“Let us run against the Rebellion team. Then we won’t have to do anything except load our stuff up and take it to Le Mans.
“To ask a team here to have a stylized body for here and switch over to another set of spares… it’s just not going to happen.”
Fellow IMSA team owner Troy Flis, whose Visit Florida Racing team is targeting a Le Mans program next year, said he doesn’t really care which class a DPi or DPi-based car would race.
The important factor, he said, would be that IMSA prototype teams would still be eligible one way or another.
“If they make this new plan they’re talking about, and the rumors that are kicking around that they’ll have an IMSA class, that’s fine for us too,” he told Sportscar365.
“It’s going to be the journey and not the competitiveness. We know we’re not going to run against a P1 [hybrid] car and we know we’re probably not going to run with a P2 car.
“I think it would be pretty interesting if they did make an IMSA class so we can bring some cars over there and run.”
Mazda, which is one of at least two manufacturers that are planning to be on the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship grid next year with DPi machinery, is also keeping a close eye on developments.
According to Mazda Motorsports Director John Doonan, a chance for its Mazda-engined prototype to compete at Le Mans, no matter the category, would be compelling enough.
“Clearly, the focus has been since the beginning that these are LMP2-spec and we have all tried to come up with a common [platform],” Doonan told Sportscar365.
“But in the end, if there was an IMSA category, like there used to be when I was a kid, or LMP1 Privateer, I think it gives any of us the opportunity to want to carry on our program as global platform to go over there and compete.
“From our standpoint on the Mazda side, the opportunity to go would be an amazing opportunity no matter what category it is.”
One of the potential holdups under the initial agreement that would have placed DPis — with standard bodywork — in LMP2 was electronics, as teams would have to adopt the LMP2-spec Cosworth ECU and associated electronics.
Doonan admitted that would be a challenge for its engine program, which will utilize electronics from Life Racing, a partner of Mazda’s dating back to 2006.
“It’s a difficult change and a huge investment to change something at this point, as we’ve known the rules package and headed that way in ’16, knowing what’s coming in ’17,” Doonan said.
“Now, if it comes down to a BoP situation… IMSA’s found a way to do a terrific job with BoP in what’s been a very transparent process with the manufacturers.
“From my standpoint, if we need to do something with an additional [system], let’s do that, let’s go out and test and let’s do a proper BoP.
“We should all be able to go racing with proper data to back up where each of the cars go in.”
ACO Sporting Director Vincent Beaumesnil told Sportscar365 last month in Silverstone they’re still in ongoing discussions over the potential DPi eligibility at Le Mans.
He said any cars competing in LMP1 Privateer would have to adhere to the technical regulations of that class, which includes adopting fuel flow meters and other electronics, a costly and time-consuming switch.
IMSA President and COO Scott Atherton, meanwhile, said they’ve not yet had dialogue with the ACO on the potential placement of DPis in the LMP1 Privateer class but admits it could have some traction.
“It’s an interesting idea and it’s one that has our attention. But there’s been no closure there,” Atherton told Sportscar365.
“Candidly, we haven’t had dialogue with our prospective OEM partners and the teams we expect to be involved to know if that’s a priority for them or not.”
While having IMSA prototypes eligible at Le Mans is an “important option,” Atherton said he believes the driving force behind most prospective DPi manufacturers is to race exclusively in North America and not at Le Mans, with the platform.
IMSA CEO Ed Bennett added: “We have the strategic alliance, but at the end of the day, we can suggest, we can discuss, but ultimately, it’s their decision.
“Just like things that happen at Daytona has to be IMSA’s decision. That’s up to the ACO.”
For Doonan, the dream of taking Mazda back to Le Mans — in whatever class it may be — still looms large, but given the current situation and dynamics, it’s far from being a reality.
“I think Le Mans is always on the radar screen for Mazda,” he said. “I’d love to see it happen in ’17 but a lot of pieces have to fall in place for that to happen.”