The Future of LMP2 is in IMSA’s Hands

While the future of IMSA is now tied to the successful implementation of the new FIA/ACO LMP2 rule, it is ironic that the future of the LMP2 formula itself is in IMSA’s hands. They are inseparably bound together due to many of the same forces which have F1 in the mess it currently stands.  The talks are ongoing, and we are all hoping to finish up the final rules soon.  It has been a chaotic rollout of information.

I was shocked by the the initial rules that rolled out in April of 2015.  Honestly, I thought it was some kind of late April Fool’s joke!  The choice of 4 chassis manufacturers surprised me, but it was the single engine manufacturer that threw me to the ground..

Later we found out that Jim France and Scott Atherton negotiated the IMSA variation, called DPi (for Daytona Prototype International), which allowed a level of manufacturer support not allowed in the FIA version.  “WhooHoo!!!” I said. Now that is in doubt, and a number of teams and manufacturers are in limbo, with decisions for 2017 needing to be made NOW.

The issue at hand is the cost to compete and who should compete where.  Regardless of which series a team is involved, anybody involved in sports car racing want to be able to race in one race, The 24hours of LeMans!  The goal of the LMP2 rules is to allow cars from the four international series the ability to race against each other, including at LeMans.

The ACO and FIA have very definite opinions as to who they feel should compete in which class.  The automobile manufacturers will be in LMP1, with its bespoke hybrid systems and totally custom cars. Rebellion and ByKolles LMP1 Privateer efforts are  notable exceptions.  Professional privateers will be in LMP2.  LMP3, the future of Prototype Challenge, is the spec prototype series with significantly lower cost.

The reality is something very different.  To compete with Audi, Porsche and Toyota, F1 levels of money are required to meet the formulas complex hybrid requirement, whose technology is at, or above, F1’s level of complexity.  Even the LMP1 Privateer formula are so restrictive that there are only 2 team participating for the LMP crumbs. For the long run, this is not beneficial for the sport.  Jim France, Scott Atherton and company see that, and understand the long term implications.  As we speak, IMSA searches to find the fine line where manufacturers and privateers alike could join IMSA’s ranks AND race at LeMans.  That seems to be proving difficult.

In my humble opinion, the FIA and ACO are sticking to an belief which continues to prove troublesome.  Nissan, the most recent entrant into LMP, quit after single season due to poor results.  There is more to their leaving the series than meets the eye.   It is in part due to an extremely aggressive (revolutionary?) vehicle design by Ben Bowlby, and Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s purchase of the Lotus F1 team for a true factory F1 presence.  In the end, it was not financially productive for Nissan to spend F1 money in LMP1 when that money could actually be spent in F1!

On this side of the pond, we have a different set of requirements.  At the 2016 Rolex24, we had 7 different motors in 6 different Prototype chassis’s. LMP2 is our top tier, and we have manufacturers interested in prototype racing in the US.     If the manufacturers wanted to spend F1 levels of money on racing, they would, and there is little we can do about it.  But Ford and GM, for example, are not going to spend millions of dollars in either top level series.  They are already spread thin in motorsports.  Honda, Mercedes and FIAT/Chrysler, through Ferrari, are already in F1.  As such, I don’t see any new manufacturers entering into LMP1.  Worse, Audi looks set to leave the sport in the near future, possibly for F1.  With only two manufacturers and two privateer teams, that might spell the end of the currently LMP1 formula, making the new LMP2  rules even more important.

Now think about this, has anyone wondered why Ford, with its history of success in all forms of motorsports (F1, LeMans, IndyCar and NASCAR) decided to build a new road car for GTE rather than a prototype for LMP1?  Why is Ford focusing on a LeMans class win rather than go for the overall win, as it did over 50 years ago?  Look at the Audi LMP1 and Mercedes F1 budgets.  Building a new road car from scratch, and racing it, is cost competitive to the cost of LMP1/F1, especially when you can sell the road car in the showroom!  Does anyone get the hint here?

Now back to IMSA here in the US.  As I understand it, the DPi rules allowed any manufacturer to put it’s homologated GT3 motor into any of the 4 approved chassis’s, along with model specific bodywork.  With that in mind, we could see a Cadillac prototype, using their V6TT from their ATS-V!

There seems to be more manufacturer interest in IMSA’s prototypes than anytime since the late 1990’s!  These rules have piqued the interest of several manufacturers not currently in US prototype racing, including Audi, Bentley, FIAT and Nissan!  The possibilities are spectacular!  Especially if they can go to LeMans!  It would be very fan friendly.

With that being said, this indecision between the FIA, ACO and IMSA has put worldwide  prototype racing in limbo. The current teams can not go forward with their plans to tie up with a manufacturer until the rules are settled upon.  And potentially new teams will have an even more difficulty getting up and running.  And this effects those other series, as they too are waiting on the rules to be finalized.  Many of those teams, such as SMP, are interested in doing the Daytona/Sebring/LeMans trifecta.  The rules must be flexible enough to allow this.

Time is running out, and it’s the fans who suffer for this.

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