With the health of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in mind, the P2 cars within its Prototype class need to start winning. The other way of stating this is after three consecutive wins by Daytona Prototypes, including the most recent event on the streets of Long Beach where P2s were expected to thrive, the series can ill afford to have DPs add another declarative win at the upcoming round in Monterey.
Before DP fans, owners and drivers start bitching about a perceived bias toward one type of car, understand that I’d be making the same statement if P2s had dominated the first three rounds of an 11-race season. The need for a balanced victory tally between the two prototypes has nothing to do with putting on a good show, and everything to do with maintaining the financial health of Prototype constructors and car values for their owners.
The cost to purchase and field race-ready P2s and DPs involve significant sums of money, which either camp cannot afford to lose if they end up with what’s seen as an uncompetitive chassis. The same is true for the makers of the TUDOR Championship’s top-tier cars. Margins are already slim for Coyote, Dallara and Riley, as they are for HPD, ORECA, Morgan and Multimatic, and losing Prototype business could have dire impacts on most of those listed above.
It all leads to IMSA’s urgent need to protect P2 chassis values and interest in future P2 purchases. As the series works under a Balance of Performance construct – one where any car in any class can have its competitiveness dialed up or down – there’s little stopping the necessary adjustments from being made to ensure DPs don’t become the only choice for earning Prototype victories.
Some would argue we came close to a P2 victory at Sebring, and without the crazy shuffling in the final hour of the event due to the prolonged caution period, it just might have happened. During long runs in the thick night air, Extreme Speed Motorsports appeared to be a match for the Corvette DPs and Riley-Ford EcoBoost DPs. If ESM had won, this discussion would not be taking place.
Some might point to the speed that P2s have demonstrated at times this season as an indicator that the gap to the DPs is all but nonexistent, but the difference between a quick lap in qualifying or a few quick laps during a stint isn’t a valid comparison. In reality, the new-for-2014 DP performance upgrades have been far more effective than anyone expected, and the advantage – no matter how slight – has been tipped in their favor.
I’d also add that when evaluating the top DP and P2 driver pairings, you’ll find faster combos in leading DPs than you will in leading P2s. This has also been a significant contributor to the lack of P2 wins so far.
The final point involves the single-spec Prototype tire from Continental. The tire manufacturer has received nothing but high marks from all involved this year, but within the Prototype class, the extra 300 pounds carried by DPs allows those teams to build heat faster and to set quicker lap times while the lighter P2 cars are forced to wait longer to reach optimal temperatures.
Combine these factors – seriously fast DPs, driver disparities and tire readiness issues – and some will take time to address, but nothing is stopping IMSA from making more BoP adjustments ASAP.
“I’m looking at it from a perspective of Ed Brown and myself helped bring this together between Grand-Am and the ALMS and it was all done to help the long-term health of sports cars,” said ESM co-owner Scott Sharp of the efforts he and his fellow ESM owner made to unify both series. “I think for the health of the new series, you have to have an image out there that P2 cars can be successful, and I don’t think we have that right now.
“We’re committed to the series, we’re patient, and we’re confident they’ll get to that point. What’s looming out there right now is that we need to show P2s can win here, and without that, I think it’s limiting some P2 teams from Europe from coming over. I think it’s limiting people that might want to join our series and want to do it in a P2 car, or committing to doing something in the future. Some people would want a car they can race here and take to Le Mans, and you can only do that in a P2. But right now, would a guy here go buy a P2 car? You have to ask yourself that and the answer probably isn’t hard to come up with.”
Speaking with IMSA technical boss Scot Elkins, he shares the same concerns with Sharp, and expects to further refine the BoP between P2s and DPs prior to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
“At least from an opinion standpoint, we’ve at least gotten them to the range we need to,” he said. “We typically take 20 percent of the fast laps, average them, and see where we are. At Sebring and Long Beach, we were right there in that window, but the problem we have right now is the cars aren’t racing very well together. Where I think the P2s can go out and knock out a fast lap time, if not sometimes faster than a DP, we still have this problem of a DP having a higher top speed than a P2 does, which hurts the racing.
“I think what we need now is to do more tweaks to get them racing better. Nothing we do will be big, but we need to make some adjustments. We knew this was going to be an ongoing process and have been looking at things and expect a few of those tweaks to help these cars race better in Monterey.”
Along with Elkins, Sharp is hoping IMSA’s next BoP changes will allow for race-long fights between P2s and DPs.
“Our engineers did a very thorough analysis after Sebring, and although our car turned some really quick laps late in the race, over the last 40 or 50 laps, our average was a few tenths down to the fastest DP,” Sharp added. “If we could run closer lap times or where the cars were closer at the end of straights, you’d see more passing and I think you’d have some real dicing going on with both cars.
“I’m not looking for an advantage with the BoP; if we can go out there and race for the win, that’s all anyone wants or expects. If you know you can have a legitimate shot, then it’s on you and your team to make it happen. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Conspiracy theorists will tell you IMSA’s BoP is skewed toward DPs in an effort to kill off the P2 cars. It’s a mindless viewpoint that conveniently forgets Daytona Beach had the power to write P2s out of the 2014 rulebook altogether, but instead chose the painfully hard path of bringing P2s and DP together while trying to balance the different ideologies together in a single class.
With three rounds down, and despite the various and valid reasons for the current sweep, the series can’t afford to have its P2s play among themselves behind the DPs, or to detune the DPs to the point of being uncompetitive.
“We’re adjusting the model constantly, and we’re trying not to make massive changes, but we expect some work will continue,” said Elkins. “I don’t know if any of us expected the DP to be as good as it is, but we’ve got the lap times about where we want them and we need to keep working until the P2 cars can race in the manner they need to against the DPs. We have some ideas on how to do that and would expect to see that take place when we unload at Monterey.”
It’s a challenging balancing act that, thankfully, IMSA is determined to level. Disadvantaging the DPs would have the same effect as the P2s have experienced through Long Beach, making this a complex problem to solve. Hopefully it happens by May 4 in Northern California.