Thursday, 27 July 2017

Could DPi solve the LMP1 manufacturer crisis?

Prototype racing is in a funny place right now. You've got the likes of the new LMP3 category thriving, while LMP2 has more than doubled its numbers in the last four seasons, albeit with everyone using the same Oreca chassis.

But then there's the elephant in the room: LMP1. Since the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup season, the precursor to the FIA World Endurance Championship, no fewer than eight full-time teams have departed the category - including manufacturer-backed teams Peugeot, Aston Martin, and

Porsche are set to quit WEC
Toyota and Porsche have stepped up in the meantime, but it's starting to look as if the latter may be on their way out too in the wake of the Volkswagen Group's 'dieselgate' fiasco and sister brand Audi's departure less than 12 months ago.

Where does that leave sports car racing's top category then? Sure, an influx of privateer P1s are set to enter the WEC next season, but with potentially only one well-backed works team on the grid, we may as well hand over all of the trophies right now.

Ex-Audi parter Joest is now working with Mazda
Hopping across the pond, there's no fewer than four manufacturers represented in IMSA's Daytona Prototype International category including Penske's recently-announced tie-up with Acura), and while full-on manufacturer involvement isn't exactly forbidden, car makers have been encouraged to team up with privateer efforts instead. It's nothing new. Privateer team Joest worked closely with Audi for many years on their ultra-successful Le Mans programme. They've since gone Stateside to work with Mazda.

So why is DPi becoming as popular as it is? Well, every car has to start life as a standard ACO/FIA homologated 2017 LM P2 Prototype chassis from one of the four approved constructors (Dallara, Onroak Automotive, ORECA or Riley/Multimatic), unlike in P1 where teams have to develop entire cars from the ground up.

DPi has brought Cadillac back to prototype racing
Unlike P2 in Europe, manufacturers are free to develop their own engines and body kits for the car, giving these relatively low cost prototype racers brand identity, without breaking the bank.

And there lies what, to me, seems to be a logical solution. Unlike Formula 1, sports car racing has always been somewhat dependent on manufacturers.

Look at the records for most wins at Le Mans, the top five is dominated by manufacturer entries, whereas the same record in F1 has just Mercedes as the only true car manufacturer, and they've only crept into the top five by virtue of their recent success. There's only one more road car manufacturer in the top 10 of all time F1 wins, that's Renault.

Porsche are regularly linked with F1
Manufacturers have been avoiding F1 for years, primarily on cost grounds, but now LMP1 budgets and increasing rapidly, and while they're not at F1 levels, they're not exactly easy on the eye either.

As I've already touched upon, P2 in the WEC has already enjoyed a rather swift renaissance since the lowly four full-time entries in suffered back in 2014, so why not expand on that concept for the top class?

Could DPi be the solution?
Four readily available third party-produced chassis, an affordable engine formula, and artistic license with the bodywork. Throw in the possibility of a simplified (and that point can't be stressed enough) energy recovery or hybrid system, and the FIA and ACO could be onto a real winner.

LMP1 is dying a sad death, but the solution could be in the classes below. After all, it worked for GT racing when GT1 disappeared last decade.

Images: Dominik Wilde (1,2, 5), IMSA (3, 4, 6)

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