INSIGHT: Where does the ACO/FIA's new prototype concept leave DPi?

INSIGHT: Where does the ACO/FIA's new prototype concept leave DPi?


INSIGHT: Where does the ACO/FIA's new prototype concept leave DPi?


The 2020 global prototype concept revealed today by the ACO and FIA at Le Mans differs greatly from what IMSA’s Prototype entrants were expecting.

Lobbying was done for a continuance of the manufacturer-styled LMP2 machinery currently in use with IMSA’s Daytona Prototype internationals. As evidenced by the upcoming hypercar-based formula announced by the ACO/FIA, it would appear the French organizations are moving forward on a path of their own.

Despite multiple assurances the ACO/FIA were working in a joint capacity with IMSA on the future prototype regulations, the faster, higher tech, and vastly more expensive hypercar formula has nothing in common with IMSA’s DPis.

For fans of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, what’s in store for 2020 should be thrilling to watch as a return to road car-inspired prototypes will take a page from the beautiful cars that led the Le Mans charge late in the 1990s. On the domestic front, the yet-to-be-named 2020 class could be a non-starter in IMSA due to the wild discrepancies in the ACO/FIA’s vision for prototype racing.

With the mandatory use of hybrid systems that drive the front wheels, a lap time target that falls within the range of current LMP1 cars, and a budget forecast of $30 million per year from the ACO/FIA, the 2020 universal concept would require DPi manufacturers to spend anywhere between 200 and 300 percent more to upgrade and participate.

“The process that resulted in the announcement today, we’ve been a party to and involved with,” IMSA president Scott Atherton told RACER.

“Today’s announcement was an important step, and now the real work begins. It’s broad strokes. The next step is the technical working group. They’ll tackle each element one by one and wrestle them to the ground. Our perspective as IMSA is having a single, unified, global prototype is so valuable that it’s worth being at the table with the ACO, FIA, and manufacturers to see if this can be achieved.”

The phrase ‘if this can be achieved,’ highlights the significant chasm between where IMSA’s Prototype paddock thought the 2020 conversation was headed, and where it actually landed.

Atherton insists that the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship remains committed to its DPi formula.

“We will not abandon the core [DPi] tenets that have enabled our championship to attain the success and the sustainability we believe it has,” he said. “That could be an optimistic statement in terms of [continuing to pursue] the [universal rules], but it’s worth seeing if it can be achieved.”

DPi cars were originally set to share the track at Le Mans with FIA-spec LMP2s (above) before being written out of the rules. Image by Hartwell/LAT

IMSA went through a similar bait-and-switch routine with the ACO/FIA when new LMP2 rules were being crafted for 2017. The shared LMP2 planning, where the WEC would use spec LMP2s and IMSA’s DPi versions of the same LMP2 models would be welcome at Le Mans, eventually devolved to a place where DPis were banned from participating outside of IMSA and have remained so since 2017.

Rather than subject itself to the will of the ACO/FIA for 2020, Atherton says IMSA’s final decision to opt in or out of the costly hypercar formula will be driven by the wishes of its stakeholders.

“The [ACO/FIA] know exactly where we stand in what we believe is a sustainable budget,” he said. “And it really comes down to that. We could talk for hours about hybrid technology, the cockpit greenhouse dimensions, and all the technical details, but what it really boils down to is this: will the budget to develop these cars, and then to race these cars, fall within the range of sustainability we know applies to North America?

“The commitment to see this through to the end is what we’re confirming today. If, in the end, it is unfortunately demonstrated that we can’t get there, rest assured we won’t compromise, we won’t jeopardize, we won’t abandon what we have going in North America simply to have the satisfaction of saying we’re part of a global formula.

“That’s a mistake we will not make. And we’re not alone in our perspective. We’ve been in multiple manufacturer meetings this week, and similar concerns were expressed with the proposed budgets. And the fact that it’s a huge improvement to where LMP1 is today on costs, some have said it’s not enough [of a reduction] for them to participate. And our name is also on that list.”

If there’s one encouraging area to explore, it’s the potential for a reduced annual budget if IMSA teams stick to racing within North America. Heading across to Le Mans or other international WEC rounds would be costly – just as it is today for spec LMP2 and GT Le Mans entrants, – but if the LMP1-grade hypercar formula is ratified by IMSA, Atherton thinks the price tag could shrink for manufacturers intent on staying home.

“The short answer is yes,” he said of drawing the $30 million figure down by some degree. “If we didn’t think there was some process to get us there, we’d probably let this go now. The dialogue continues, and manufacturer input at this point will be critical. Everyone needs to decide if these regulations are viable or not.”

Outside of IMSA’s DPi manufacturers, Atherton is also concerned about where privateers would fit in the ACO/FIA’s hypercar formula.

“We also need to focus on a set of regulations for private teams, not [only] the factories, to remain in the Prototype class,” he said.

Even with the ACO/FIA breaking from IMSA on the direction for universal prototypes, a sustained push for what it has wanted all along – the adoption of a DPi formula – will continue. From Atherton’s perspective, time is on IMSA’s side as it attempts to steer the ACO/FIA towards a more affordable formula.

While the hypercar regulations are scheduled to hit the track in 2020, IMSA has implemented a longer lead time of 2022 for its next prototype formula change. It hopes the ACO/FIA will take another look at using DPis as the basis for a global future.

“I don’t want to sound repetitive, but the idea of having the same [prototypes] that compete at Daytona, compete at Le Mans, and compete in IMSA or the WEC, is compelling enough to be an active voice in the room,” he said. “[But] as a championship with a functioning, successful [DPi] model that could easily be applied to the rest of the world.”