PRUETT: Split decision

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PRUETT: Split decision

Insights & Analysis

PRUETT: Split decision

It won’t make every entrant happy, but IMSA’s decision to split the Prototype class into separate championships was the smartest option available to the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series.

Announced Friday at its State of The Series event, the adjustment comes after two seasons of largely unsuccessful attempts to balance IMSA’s custom Daytona Prototype internationals and the FIA World Endurance Championship-spec LMP2s. With a win tally of 14-3 in favor of DPis, the recent upturn in fortune for the P2s with back-to-back wins wasn’t enough to halt the mounting wave of frustration expressed by the auto manufacturers and teams supporting DPi.

On average, DPis have been responsible for two-thirds of the Prototype grid, giving Acura, Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan (by way of Tequila Patron ESM) a strong voice when addressing concerns with IMSA. Citing the endless Balance of Performance restrictions applied to the DPis in an effort to give the P2s a shot at winning, something close to a mutiny formed leading into the May race at Mid-Ohio.

With a quick brokering of peace happening before tensions hit a breaking point, the first whispers of the split emerged later in the Mid-Ohio weekend. Adding fuel to the topic in July, DPi manufacturers were less than enthused to see Pro-Am privateer P2 teams come out on top at Watkins Glen and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. For the sake of unity and positivity, a split became inevitable.

The last note, if not the entire premise of DPi entrants being displeased with the BoP restrictions and losing to P2s, has been a source of amusement for some of the Pro-Am entrants.

Image by LePage/LAT

“Didn’t they sign up in the beginning knowing they’d be balanced with us?” one team owner said on the condition of anonymity. “How can anybody be upset since they knew what they were getting themselves into?”

It’s a completely valid point, and speaks to the shared disenfranchisement on both sides of the Prototype divide. A promise that P2s would be able to vie for victories was not delivered (barring one race) in 2017, and has only become a reality in the middle of the 2018 championship. For those who bought P2s with the expectation of giving its drivers and sponsors regular visits to the podium, the promise will finally be fulfilled at every round once the new season arrives.

And how many Pro-Am P2 teams will sign up for the new class next year? That’s going to be the big topic to follow as the Rolex 24 At Daytona approaches in January.

Some P2 entrants like United Autosports have made use of all-pro lineups, and going forward, it will not be an option if they wish to continue using their Ligier JSP217s. To race with Pros, UA and every other team with that aspiration will need DPis. It takes us back to the old question of whether privateers will be granted access to buy factory-blessed prototypes.

UA owner Zak Brown has the type of connections to land DPis. Through new sponsor/partner Bob Stallings, the JDC-Miller Motorsports team could be closing in on a DPi if the extra funding can be found.

Image by Levitt/LAT

If they’re unsuccessful, will they come back to P2? Will an AFS/PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports or a Performance Tech Motorsports do the same? That’s the adjustment P2 entrants will need to make. Without divine intervention, overall wins will not be possible as DPis are set to have the BoP shackles taken off.

Can P2 owners find enough non-pro drivers with deep pockets to sign up for running behind DPis? The class split was never going to be a cure-all. It’s freed the majority of the Prototype entrants — the well-funded factories — from the areas that created constant grousing. But will it open up new problems for P2 entrants if they can no longer offer headline-making wins to its customers? And will there be enough P2 cars on the grid to keep two classes afloat?

Daytona 2019 will be a mightily important State of The Series update for IMSA’s privateer P2 owners.

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