Through its Acura and Honda brands, HPD has participated in LMP1 and LMP2 since 2007. In some cases, those programs have been fully funded by the auto manufacturer, which gives Eriksen unique insights on the proposed 2020 budgets.
“I don’t think that the budget target is in the right zone, but that potentially could be addressed if there were constructors that made the base car, much like DPi, which would allow manufacturers to purchase a base chassis and then add their styling onto it. That could significantly address the budget concerns. I don’t know that that’s not possible. The proposal doesn’t say whether it is or it isn’t,” he said.
“I think the real challenge, when I go back and look at our actual spend for designing and constructing our own LMP2 car and then later designing and constructing our own LMP1 car, those budgets are not a realistic target in the current environment. If the ACO’s thought is to have a combination of people that can make their own car and others that can purchase a constructor’s car and style it from there like DPi, maybe that number can drop significantly. But if you’re factoring in the FIA crash testing and all of the costs of the development of a suspension and monocoque and crash boxes and all that stuff, that’s a big bill.”
Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan is a firm advocate for sticking with the formula that allowed the creation of its RT24-P DPis.
“From Mazda’s standpoint, there’s four manufacturers that have invested in the DPi formula and who all believe that the DPi formula is one of greatest things that’s happened in sports car racing,” he said. “Mazda is fully invested in DPi and what it stands for, which is giving us all the opportunity to brand and tell our brand’s story around a prototype racing vehicle.”
Rather than force IMSA’s DPi manufacturers to build new cars in order to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Doonan would like to see the ACO/FIA reverse its ban on the cars and open the door for existing DPi models to race at the legendary endurance event.
“We are fully dedicated to North America. We would hope that the investment as a global brand would allow us to compete on a global platform, but so far that hasn’t happened, and I think the collective sports car racing world is holding their breath in hopes that someday that comes to be,” he added.
“Something I said openly to the ACO when they were at Sebring was IMSA’s DPi is the right move for the right time, as well as the right move for auto manufacturers who can’t spend the amount to show up and race in LMP1. The amount to be there in competition now is astronomical, and even if they bring the number down to that $30 million figure, it’s far too high for where we’re at in IMSA.
“Most [DPi] manufacturers, I firmly believe, would rather spend any additional dollars to market and activate their brand and their program, and not on placing more expensive cars on the track. The audience of sports car racing is still relatively small, and we need to do everything that we can as a collective group to grow it. We’re in the day-to-day business of brand-building and vehicle sales. You’ll go farther to achieve those goals through marketing than putting tens of millions of dollars into new prototypes, in my opinion.”
Doonan hopes whatever might be in the works for a hybrid system will be a cost-effective solution.
“While hybrid technologies are part of our road car and R&D studies, it’s not something that we have been yearning for in our motorsport program,” he said. “If IMSA were to do a hybrid program, it’d need to be an off-the-shelf system, which was mentioned. The last thing we need is [DPi] manufacturers trying to out-spend each other on hybrid systems.”
Tequila Patron ESM co-owner/driver Scott Sharp, whose team hired NISMO to supply Nissan GT-R GT3 engines and contracted Ligier to develop the custom Nissan Onroak DPi model, offered a similar response on the overarching subject of costs.
“It sounds great to be able to take so much cost out of it, but is that reality?” he asked. “Are they really going to police how much manufacturers spend to go win, because it seems like that’s been really hard to do for anybody in the past. From our perspective, I think IMSA with DPi has something really good going, and from a [auto] manufacturer’s perspective, they get high level sports car participation, a lot of brand awareness, technology on the track, at a very minimal cost.
“In our economic climate right now, I think manufacturers are careful how they spend their money. Obviously, everyone recognizes that and therefore the ACO’s trying to reduce those costs at the LMP1 level. But even then, I think $30 million for one team? That’s a substantial jump from where a DPi car would be right now. I don’t see how there’s any equation there.”
Sharp also urged IMSA to hold firm with DPi in the future.
“I think IMSA’s really onto something with the DPi for the long term, and while there’s only four manufacturers involved right now, I think there’s a lot that are showing interest, so I wouldn’t change that at all,” he continued.
“Frankly, I applaud the ACO that they’re able to do what they want to do over there, still maintain that high level of technology, and if indeed they can get that kind of cost out of LMP1, that’s great. But I don’t see where they went to the DPi manufacturers or to IMSA for that reason and either party said, ‘OK, we want you to join us, let’s make a new global platform.’ That doesn’t sound like it’s what happened at all.
“Bottom line, I don’t think there’s anybody in DPi signing up to go spend four or five times what we’re spending now.”
Whether IMSA elects to use the 2020 hypercar formula for the WeatherTech Championship once the current DPi regulations come to an end after the 2021 season, or it extends the DPi formula further into the decade, Atherton believes the aforementioned front-axle hybrid systems will be implemented.
“We’re open to evolution,” he said. “We’re of the impression that by the time we get to 2022, which is when our next set of regulations will compete, hybridization will be omnipresent in almost every vehicle — road car, race car, you name it. We expect it will be close to standard equipment.”
Atherton has also seen the topic of hybrids in DPi receive a warmer reception compared to when it was originally floated in a meeting with manufacturers at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“There were varying degrees of enthusiasm by our DPi partners and those who are investigating, but in the time we’ve been discussing this possibility, I’ve seen a big change in two of the four DPi manufacturers who weren’t interested,” he added.
“And I’ve recently had a call from a senior auto executive who said, ‘I came from a board meeting and was asked when we’ll adopt hybrids because it’s an important part of our future strategy.’ You don’t want the technology embodied in these cars to be seen as not relevant.”