RACER’s Marshall Pruett sat down with ACO Sporting Director Vincent Beaumesnil (with Sebastien Bourdais, BELOW) shortly after the checkered flag fell on the 53rd Rolex 24 at Daytona, where the two discussed his first visit to the event, the ACO’s ongoing relationship with IMSA, the manufacturers’ meeting organized by the ACO in Florida that takes place today and, for the bulk of their 30-minute conversation, the direction for the common platform P2 car set to debut in 2017.
MARSHALL PRUETT: Great to see you, Vincent, especially after some delays getting here – is this your first time at the Rolex 24?
VINCENT BEAUMESNIL: Yes, I only got to see a little bit of the race. I spent quite a lot of time in the pits visiting the teams because I know all those guys. Also we have a good discussion with our friends at IMSA. I am a little disappointed; I had to arrive last night because I had very important meetings in France on Friday so I couldn’t fly before. It is a fantastic experience. It is another world, but it is a 24-hour race. Very interesting.
MP: Speaking of IMSA, how is the relationship going from your perspective under the new united organization?
VB: We are very happy that we continue the partnership we started with Don Panoz and now we continue this partnership with our friends of NASCAR with Jim France and those guys. We have a very constructive way to work. It’s a real partnership. I think it’s important. We can build something strong together. They are the reference in the U.S. They have a strong championship; we build something else around the world and Le Mans. And we have common interests in many areas. I think it is really the way we want to work together.
MP: You’re here to lead the second meeting regarding the 2017 global P2 regulations, which IMSA has confirmed it will adopt. I spoke with GM Racing director Mark Kent on Friday, and he expressed his desire to come away from Tuesday’s meeting with a clearer view of what those regulations will contain, and whether it would be something a GM or other manufacturers would want to follow. Is it possible to make that much progress on Tuesday?
VB: Definitely. I mean, it’s always something heavy to organize such a meeting, having people traveling from all over the world to come here. We did the first meeting in September in Paris. Now it was time to come here in the U.S. To be clear, the first meeting was not as productive as we expected. Also because it was the first meeting, I think that people come more to look what is happening and listen what’s happening than to say what they really want. But we had some indications.
Now the second meeting for us is clearly the time to put on the table what are the real options we have in front of us. Get the feedback from the manufacturers. Their reaction. And it is really the time for everybody to put on the table really what they have in their mind based on what kind of options we should suggest. From there, we, the ACO, FIA and IMSA are working together to build this car. For me it’s difficult to say where we will be Tuesday evening, but I’m really hoping that we will have a clear view, because then the time is short after.
MP: Everyone gets very busy with the new WEC season and IMSA’s calendar taking off, and Le Mans on the horizon, too, etc. From discussions so far, there’s an interesting difference in the future desires for the P2 class. In Europe, it’s a privateer class, by rule, yet in America, with DPs and P2s combined in a single class right now, the 2017 car would need to accommodate factories and privateers because we do not have a P1 class for manufacturers to compete. How do you address different – regional – needs with a global car?
VB: First, we all believe, IMSA, ACO, FIA and the manufacturers and the teams, we all believe that having a new global car is good for the future of the series. We have to make it properly, for sure. We don’t have exactly the same approach with this car in here, in Europe, because here there is also some ambition to attract some money for manufacturers with this prototype and we don’t have this ambition in Europe because the LMP1 category is dedicated to OEMs and LMP2 is dedicated to private teams. But we share so many, many other targets about the cost of the car, the close competition, and about the way the car has to achieve that. I am pretty sure that we will find common ground. Now we will spend some time with the manufacturers and see what goes on. Tuesday we definitely need to make progress.
MP: The most common desire I hear mentioned in America is the ability to make custom bodywork for the 2017 car, similar to what Ford and Chevy have done with their DPs. Is this reasonable from the ACO’s perspective, and if so, how would you balance these P2 bodies from IMSA to be used at Le Mans if an American team comes over to race in France? It seems like a BoP headache.
VB: I’m really not in the position to answer this question because you have so many ways to do that. For sure, Le Mans is the place where everybody will come to race for maybe the most important race of the year, I would say. Even if Daytona and Sebring, Petit Le Mans are also very, very important. All these races are very important. But Le Mans is maybe special.
If we have something different here in the USA, then the concept of balancing is entering the discussion, and our mission is not to balance the car. It’s a question that needs to be asked and discussed. I’m not in a position to say if it is OK or not. It depends on what everyone wants to do. It is not easy to answer this now.
When people say they want to have the ability to customize the bodywork, what does this mean? Is it just a flat area to put manufacturer stickers or is it a complete engine cover? It’s not the same thing. We need to know more on this.
MP: Another major question for 2017 involves the eligibility of the new P2 coupes like the Ligier and HPD. Manufacturers have spent a considerable amount to make the cars; teams have spent a lot to buy them, and I know there’s a concern those coupes might be obsolete two years from now. Can you tell me if you expect the new coupes to be part of the 2017 solution – possibly grandfathered in?
VB: First thing is we want something global, we want to reduce the cost of the car, and we want to make it a little bit faster. We think it is possible. So now we must decide one day there must be a change to achieve that. So we can say it is never time to do it, but at some stage you must say, OK, it will be ’17. We announced that quite a long time ago. So the manufacturers have decided anyway to make new cars. It is their decision, we never pushed anybody to make new cars, and we said there will be a new car in ’17. We don’t want to be enforced by manufacturers who say, ‘Oh, we have a new car so now you need to take our cars.’ You knew that we were making a new car in ’17. You decided to make it today, OK, but you already knew we would change in ’17.
But clearly, yes, one strong option is to have continuity in the chassis rules with LMP2, LMP1, common rules we have today, which I think are very good rules, especially in terms of safety. For sure, we will consider that. But for the rest, we will see in the rest of the discussion what we decide on many aspects. The engine rules will have a big impact on this. We have also in mind that some additional devices, in terms of safety, could be implemented in the car. At this stage, yes, if we can help them with keeping their new cars to compete, this we will do. But this must not stop the work in progress to have the best compromise.
MP: You’ve also had a separate P2 engine committee meeting on the best direction to go in 2017. I’ve heard the requirement for production-based engines could become an option, rather than a requirement, too.
VB: In the engines, we have many options in front of us. Something we know today is that it is the same cost to develop a full race engine and a production-based engine, or to start from zero to make a proper race engine. It’s not cheaper to use a production-based engine. This is something we know.
We can continue with the engines we have now, production-based, like the Nissan, the Honda, the others. We can open to other kinds of race engines, proper race engines. From there you can have options. You can decide to make a standard single definition of engine. It is also here, I expect Tuesday to have more feedback on this. Also because our American partners have some targets and the engine approach has to be discussed more for the moment. It’s more today a question of targets than telling what kind of engine. And the targets are to reduce the cost, to make it last longer, and to produce more power because we want to increase the performance. So this is clearly the targets we have.
Then, for sure in the U.S., probably they would prefer to have more different engines to attract manufacturers. In Europe, with privateers, maybe this approach is not so relevant.
MP: If the ACO is open to purebred racing engines and production-based units in P2 – a nice change, I must admit – are there any limits being placed on the 2017 specification, or is it wide open?
VB: We already told them there is no future for diesel in P2. Balancing this is just a nightmare. We cannot go in that direction. If you start in a category like that in which we try to control the cost, close competition, everything, someone comes with the diesel with the support of the manufacturer, and it changes too much for everybody. They win the race and everybody will say it’s because the diesel has an advantage. The diesel is for P1. In P2, we make the same rule for everyone. Makes life more simple.
MP: Timeline for announcing the 2017 rules is the last major question that needs to be solved. Depending on the size of the manufacturer – engine or chassis – some will need as much time as possible to ready new products. I’d think Le Mans in June would be a natural place to unveil the 2017 P2 regs, but can’t say if all of the feedback and research will be done in time to present the findings.
VB: Announcing something at Le Mans is maybe a bit ambitious considering that we are in January and, OK, we will see what comes out from Tuesday’s meeting. In any case, at the end of this year, we must have a set of rules which are quite advanced. Yes, we would like to have the guidelines defined by June and have to work on the details of the rules in the summer, September, October… But it is really important that, in any case, by June we have the guidelines and, I would say, the main information the manufacturer, constructor, needs to have to start the study of his car, because it also makes part of the stability of FIA rules.
When you make new rules it must be 18 months before the season. Technical rules must be adopted six months in June the year before if you make just update rules, but if you make new rules it is 18 months. It is what we are targeting.