Current and prospective IMSA DPi manufacturers have voiced support for hybrid technology in the next-wave of prototype regulations, although stressing that it must be a semi-or fully spec system in order to prevent a “pandora’s box” of development that has severely impacted LMP1.
Manufacturers met with officials from the FIA, ACO and IMSA at Sebring last month for the latest LMP1/DPi technical working group, as discussions continue towards a potential common global prototype platform for 2021/22.
One of the key divides, however, has been with hybrids, which is not currently embraced in IMSA’s DPi formula.
While Sportscar365 understands that the FIA and ACO’s most recent proposal involves the retention of high-powered electric motors, for a combined power output near 1,000 horsepower, the majority of IMSA manufacturers are in favor of a smaller, “over the counter” system that’s seen in other championships.
“I think if it was a very cost-contained spec hybrid system, then that could be interesting,” Honda Performance Development VP and COO Steve Eriksen told Sportscar365.
“If you look at the Acura product direction, with super-handling all-wheel drive sport hybrid in the RLX, MDX and NSX… That is truly what the production car side is doing. So I think there is some interest there.”
Eriksen believes a fully spec unit, such as the Zytek-built system used in Super GT300, which generates 50kW of power, would be the best approach for IMSA.
“We have to protect ourselves against ourselves,” he said. “It’s the same thing we do in IndyCar, where we have a homologation table that controls what parts of the engine you can work on at one time. That never used to be the case.
“This is a way to still have an innovative challenge but also keep costs restricted. It has worked out. You look at the seven years we’ve been running that spec [engine], it’s worked out great.
“It’s still neck-and-neck, there’s no BoP and that’s managed to provide good engineering competition between the competition. It’s exciting and fun.”
Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan shares similar thoughts, noting that costs have to remain the driving force.
“If they do hybrid, it would need to be a standardized off-the-shelf system,” Doonan said. “As soon as we get into the pandora’s box of developing a system of your own, the costs graph goes straight to the moon.
“I think we need to be smart here, keep the regulations as consistent as we can, for as long as we can, and focus on the marketing… and to try and grow the audience [that way].”
The same opinion, however, is not fully shared by Ford, which has continued to explore a possible LMP1 and/or DPi program following the conclusion of its factory Ford GT effort.
Newly appointed Ford Performance Motorsports Global Director Mark Rushbrook says he’d like to see a mix of spec and bespoke components, in order to control costs yet also help drive development to its lineup of production vehicles.
Ford recently announced plans to offer 40 all-electric or hybrid vehicles by 2022.
“That’s part of that discussion in finding that balance,” he said. “If you make it totally wide open you’ll have the LMP1 budgets of today and there’s no progress made there.
“If you go everything fully spec then it’s obviously gone too much.
“It’s finding that balance of where can you still have the innovation but still have the costs at a reasonable level.”
IMSA Open to Hybrid Powertrains
With a shift towards electrification on the road, IMSA President Scott Atherton has acknowledged the importance of relevant technology for its premier class, particularly given the timeline.
IMSA’s current DPi platform, which was recently extended by one year, is now locked in until the end of the 2021 season.
“The difficulty for some is trying to transpose themselves forward four or five years and what will market conditions, what will the priorities be, what will global technology enable,” Atherton told Sportscar365.
“As we sit here trying to craft rules and regulations that will get us to that point, if you come out of Detroit auto show or the LA auto show or the Geneva auto show, there’s a lot of electrification in just about every presentation. We’re conscious of that as well.”
Atherton said trying to forecast the automotive landscape makes an already complicated situation “even more complex” in attempting to find common ground with all parties.
“I think at the end of the day it has to be relevant to a manufacturer, to a product that they’re delivering to consumers,” he said.
“It doesn’t have to be a direct link but there has to be a connection.”
“It’s already omnipresent in the LMP1 category. It doesn’t exist at all at the DPi level. When we think forward and talk to the manufacturers that are already involved in DPi, it’s not unanimous, but everyone thinks for a next generation evolution it probably needs to be there. “