Jackie Chan DC Racing team co-owner David Cheng has laid out ambitions of bringing a Chinese manufacturer into prototype racing, with the goal of eventually stepping up to LMP1 competition.
The Chinese team, which is coming off a historic 1-2 finish in the LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and double overall podium result, has set the target of aligning with a “major” Chinese brand, with discussions already underway with multiple manufacturers.
Cheng, who was part of the lineup in the Jota Sport-run squad’s No. 37 Oreca 07 Gibson, said their Le Mans triumph, as well as the rapidly evolving Chinese auto industry, has made it the right time to secure a manufacturer for the short or mid-term.
“Overnight, the Le Mans result, in some ways, opened the door to China,” Cheng told Sportscar365. “With that and the results, I think could really help push for some manufacturer support.
“A real goal is to get a Chinese manufacturer involvement with us in the near future. Now the results can justify it.
“We’ve been talking to a lot of manufacturers over there. Everyone has initial interest. How real and whether all of them want to do it is different as well.
“We’re trying to see who actually does want to commit to something like this.”
Cheng has made two trips back to China since Le Mans, including having been a keynote speaker in an auto industry event in Wuhan, in front of 3,000 people, to share the benefits of motorsports.
“It’s something new in China,” he said. “Until they realize the connection between racing and cars, it’s very hard for them to understand why and where to invest.
“Hopefully in the next year or two, maybe shorter or maybe longer, it [can happen]…
“From my own gut feeling, it’s very close. What will actually tip them over that edge is something I’m still trying to figure out.”
While Cheng said the ultimate goal would be an LMP1 program, a Chinese manufacturer wouldn’t likely “jump straight in,” hinting that a badging exercise, similar to Signatech Alpine’s LMP2 program, could be a realistic first step.
“We really want to promote the Chinese brand, that’s our biggest target,” Cheng said.
Jota Sport team boss Sam Hignett, meanwhile, has been evaluating the current landscape in LMP1 non-hybrid, which he believes is in a state of flux.
“We’re looking at that together and what can and cannot be done,” Hignett told Sportscar365.
“But we’re at this transition period with LMP1 and we need to better understand the LMP1 [non-hybrid] regulations and how they’re going to control the customer cars.
“For me, reading the regs, they’ll be done on fuel flow. I want to see other people do it first and understand how the BoP is going to work.
“And then what happens with the factories? We need them so we hope they’ll stay.”
Hignett said another major question is the performance of the non-hybrids when compared to the new-generation LMP2 cars, which showed quicker-than-expected speeds at Le Mans.
“You need to come up with a damn good LMP1 car to beat the Oreca LMP2 car. It’s got to be a serious bit of kit,” he said.
“That’s the other problem; you convince someone to spend a fortune developing an LMP1 car and what if it’s just [barely] quicker than [LMP2]. It needs to be a chunk quicker than these to justify.”
Despite questions still remaining on feasibility of a program, Cheng is confident the timing is right to make it happen.
“We have a Chinese idiom, and we have it here too, and it’s ‘Strike while the iron’s hot,'” he said.
“It’s the right timing in every single way. This year is a perfect year for it. I can’t be a fortune teller but I know when the right opportunity is. We’re working really hard on that side.”