Ryan Dalziel heads into this weekend’s Six Hours of Circuit of The Americas in familiar territory, as the Scot makes his return to the FIA World Endurance Championship with the same car and engineer that took him to the LMP2 world title.
This time around, though, Dalziel is helping lead Extreme Speed Motorsports’ foray into the globe-trotting championship, with the Scott Sharp-owned team set for its FIA WEC debut, in a first step towards its goal of competing in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“It actually goes back to when I was signing my deal with them and we started talking about Le Mans and the potential of going there in 2014,” Dalziel told Sportscar365. “The plan was to always get there.
“The biggest focus for us will always be Le Mans so that’s why we kept with the HPD P2 car. COTA is one of those opportunities where we’re on home soil. It’s not a big expense.”
Dalziel, who scored class wins at the Twelve Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans en route to the FIA WEC title with Starworks Motorsport in 2012, will be joined behind the wheel by Sharp and Ed Brown in the No. 30 Tequila Patron-sponsored HPD ARX-03b.
COTA marks a split approach for the Florida-based squad, as it moved its TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season-long entry over to the FIA WEC race, while still entering the No. 2 car for Brown and Johannes van Overbeek in Saturday’s IMSA round.
“The No. 1 car is really nowhere in the TUDOR Championship, so for us we’re testing the waters in another series and we also want to try the car on Dunlops and in WEC-spec to see where we’re at,” Dalziel said.
“Although we’ve had a couple of good races in TUDOR, and we feel like we’ve made big steps as a team in the past couple of races, we feel like the opportunity to win after Road America is just not there for us. We want to go somewhere to try something different and see what we can do.”
It’s been a challenging season for ESM, or any P2 team for that matter, in the TUDOR Championship, with the Balance of Performance often times seeing the ACO-spec prototype struggle against the more powerful DP entries.
While Brown and van Overbeek broke through for a maiden overall win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the team has yet to revisit victory lane since, which has seen only one further win by a P2 car.
“The way we look at TUDOR is that our main competition is the sister car with Johannes and Ed and the OAK car. So we kind of looked at [TUDOR] as a three-car championship, which is disappointing,” Dalziel said.
“There’s five cars, including us, for [WEC] at COTA. It’s not where it was but you always see a little bit of a drop-off in WEC when you get post-Le Mans but I think by 2015, the grid is going to be back to where it was a few years ago.”
Dalziel and the team have set modest expectations for this weekend, targeting a podium finish, but most importantly, using the race as a learning experience.
“For us, we’re not really here with any expectations other than to have a good, reliable race,” he said. “We haven’t done a six-hour race since Watkins Glen, so we’re looking to see if a lot of the changes we made mid-season in crew and personnel can pay off and we can go compete.
“The HPD is a great car. It’s generally reliable and good on tires. I think for us, we’re looking forward to competing against equal equipment and equal cars. It’s a great venue and we love going to COTA. A win would be great.”
As for the team’s potential future in the FIA WEC, Dalziel said they are taking one race at a time, although admitted title sponsor Tequila Patron’s interest in the global market.
“Looking at it from a global brand perspective, Patron has such a huge reach globally, much does WEC,” he said.
“Not that TUDOR doesn’t, but it’s the World Endurance Championship and it’s a good opportunity for Patron and the marketing people to see if it’s something to look at in the future.
“For now, we’re looking at it as one race and see where we go in the future.”