John Church would like to compete with IMSA’s Daytona Prototype international manufacturers on equal footing next season.
As one of the leading WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype entrant using FIA World Endurance Championship-spec LMP2 models, Church’s JDC-Miller Motorsports outfit has shown speed and potential with its Nos. 85 and 99 ORECA 07-Gibsons. But as the 2018 season has demonstrated, vying for overall wins has been unrealistic for all of the WEC P2s in the field.
Through five WeatherTech Championship rounds this season, a WEC P2 has visited the podium just once, and that came at Daytona back in January where CORE autosport’s ORECA 07-Gibson placed third. Since the Rolex 24, DPis have locked out every Prototype podium, and in the championship standings, the most successful WEC P2 entries belong to CORE and JDC with its GAINSCO-branded car in seventh and eighth, respectively.
Although there’s more to the separation between DPis and WEC P2s than chassis and engine performance, the ongoing struggles to balance the two styles of prototypes could be the driver behind JDC’s DPi exploration.
“We’re definitely looking and seeing if opportunities exist,” Church told RACER. “That’s about as far as we are right now: what are our options, and what aren’t?”
As an owner of two ORECA 07s, the most convenient DPi solution would be to align with Acura and update JDC’s cars to the same ORECA-based ARX-05 models entered by Acura Team Penske. Switching to a Dallara-based Cadillac DPi-V.R, Ligier-based Nissan Onroak DPi, or Riley/Multimatic-based Mazda RT24-P would involve purchasing new cars.
Depending on the DPi model, and with an engine lease factored in, Church would need to spend more than $1 million per car to field something other than an ORECA-based DPi.
“Honestly, converting the cars we already have would be the easiest thing,” he said. “Is it realistic? I don’t have that answer at that point. We’re trying to get the options, if there are any, out on the table.”
As an independent team run out of Savage, Minnesota, JDC-Miller operates as a small business that relies on a mix of funded drivers and sponsorship to keep its IMSA program in motion. The same can be said for most of IMSA’s WEC P2 entrants, and in order to retain existing drivers and sponsors, gaining access to DPis could be a crucial step for privateers who want to stay in the Prototype class.
Success, however, in opening the DPi pipeline to a JDC-Miller, Performance Tech Motorsports, AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, or even a part-timer like United Autosports, has been elusive. So far, DPi manufacturers have carefully chosen the teams they want to work with and have not sold cars directly to those outside their preferred factory teams.
One workaround that has been floated involves bringing privateers in as part of an affiliate program — as an offshoot of the teams that run factory DPi efforts — one step removed from the four manufacturers. Whether that would allow a team like JDC to keep its name and run a DPi in a direct link with a factory team or require a rebranding as an extension of the team is unclear.
Among the items that have received clarity, Church says the DPi affiliate-team route is the only solution that has been presented so far. The next item on his list is seeing if turning verbal expressions of interest into real progress on the topic is possible.
“I’ve been told that everybody will do a program, but that’s not by the manufacturers,” he confirmed. “At this stage, one has told us they would consider doing something.”
If, by the end of the exploration process, Church learns upgrading to DPis is not possible for 2019, sticking with WEC P2s would be the only option if JDC-Miller wants to stay in Prototype. Holding onto — or possibly adding — drivers and sponsors could, in that scenario, become more likely if IMSA shifts to the rumored split points structure for factory DPis and privateer WEC P2s.
With a newfound ability to vie for a championship dedicated to IMSA’s WEC P2 entries, Prototype privateers would be freed of the mounting frustrations they face against DPis. If IMSA ratifies separate DPi/WEC P2 points structures, would this fallback position be amenable to Church?
“I don’t even know at this point,” he said. “I’m not sure how it would work.”
Fifteen races into IMSA’s combined DPi and WEC P2 Prototype class, the win tally is 14-1 in favor of the factories. Of the 10 full-time teams competing this season, six represent DPi manufacturers and four are privateers.
As the WeatherTech Championship embarks on the second half of the season this weekend at Watkins Glen, look for the future of IMSA’s WEC P2 entrants to take center stage as 2019’s rules and plans come into focus.