IMSA President Scott Atherton said they would welcome the opportunity for DPis to compete in the LMP1 non-hybrid class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and be eligible for the FIA World Endurance Championship, although admitting that it’s not currently a “priority of discussion” between IMSA and the ACO.
Speculation has continued that IMSA’s new-generation prototype platform, which embraces manufacturer-specific bodywork and engines, could soon be adopted by the ACO for use in the revitalized privateer subclass alongside a number of new LMP1 projects for 2018 and beyond.
However Atherton has downplayed those prospects for the short term, unless a DPi manufacturer steps up to the plate showing significant interest.
“We have been and continue to be open to that option and opportunity. I believe the ACO is equally open to the conversation as well,” Atherton told Sportscar365.
“But until an example of that steps forward and says they are keenly interested in going, it remains on the shelf. I think the ACO is of the opinion, ‘Let’s not go through the exercise unless there’s a reason to go through the exercise.’
“It could be described as the chicken and egg, make the opportunity available and publish the regulations under which it would be possible and then see who salutes it.
“Or [do we] stand by and wait for someone to approach one or both parties saying, ‘I really want to go to Le Mans. What do I need to do?’
“With what’s evolved in LMP1 in recent times, perhaps it’s become more of an attractive opportunity for some.
“But we just came away from Le Mans with very productive meetings and very friendly and mutually supportive with the ACO. This topic wasn’t a priority of discussion.”
Atherton said they have not been approached by any of its current DPi manufacturer asking to “formally pursue” a Le Mans effort.
“If that was to materialize, we would pursue it and I would say with some degree of caution, the ACO would be as well,” he said.
It’s believed both Mazda and Cadillac, which have expressed desires of returning to Le Mans, would only seriously consider such a program if a DPi would have a realistic chance of overall victory.
Another holdup is the category’s current limitation to privateer teams only, which would not allow a full factory effort, such as Mazda, to compete in the LMP1 non-hybrid subclass.
Atherton said that its initial agreement with the FIA and ACO, which was to permit DPis, without the manufacturer-specific bodywork, into the LMP2 class at Le Mans, would have seen the cars identified by the LMP2 constructor name first, then the engine manufacturer.
He believes that direct OEM involvement is crucial for the platform’s success and said it’s the reason why they went the DPi route for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“To have any motorsports championship be sustainable, we’re of the opinion that there has to be active manufacturer involvement,” Atherton said. “That’s the missing piece of the puzzle in that next generation [of LMP1 non-hybrid].
“It still ignores the OEM engagement and activation that any motorsports platform is required for it to be sustainable.”
When asked if IMSA would ever support a full adoption of the DPi platform, complete with full manufacturer involvement, as the top class in the WEC and at Le Mans, Atherton said the “purely hypothetical scenario” would be a discussion that would have to take place at the “highest level” of the company.
“That’s a Jim France, Ed Bennett and others-like-them discussion,” he said.
“On the surface, it would be easy to say, ‘Yeah, why not?’ Because that just takes what we’re very proud of, in terms of the overall DPi formula, which we believe is absolutely sustainable and has proven to be attractive to manufacturers.”
While the FIA and ACO have outlined plans for an evolution of its current hybrid-based LMP1 regulations for 2020, rumors of Porsche’s potential exit from LMP1 competition, and Peugeot unlikely to commit for the short-term, has left questions over the future of the WEC’s top class.
Atherton has offered words of support, stressing that sanctioning bodies shouldn’t necessarily always look for a “quick fix.”
“We have nothing but respect for what the ACO has accomplished with LMP1,” he said. “But any sanctioning body or organizing entity needs to be careful not to make decisions based on short-term circumstances.
“[WEC CEO] Gerard Neveu is quoted as saying, ‘What’s happened with Audi’s decision is simply part of this business.’ It is. We’ve all been in that position and walked in those shoes.
“It is tempting to look for the quick fix. You can’t abandon your core principles if you truly believe in the sustainability and viability in what those core principles represent.”