IMSA team owner Brent O’Neill is looking for positive signs in the LMP2 class where his Performance Tech Motorsports team competes.
In the run-up to the Rolex 24 At Daytona, O’Neill made it clear that as one of two full-time LMP2 entries scheduled for every IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship round, value would need to be observed in order to contest the remaining races.
Along with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and a pair of one-off entries from DragonSpeed, the LMP2 category had four cars to follow at Daytona, and from O’Neill’s viewpoint after the Rolex 24, the Florida-based small business owner will need to see the class receive more acknowledgement when the action resumes at Sebring.
“If you watched the [Rolex 24] broadcast, you wouldn’t even have known there was a P2 car on the racetrack,” he told RACER. “And I’m not crying that we need a lot of airtime because we know the manufacturers are going to get the majority of the airtime. We know that and expect that, but when I’m watching as they’re going down on the leaderboard and they name off all of the DPi cars, and they get to P2, and they skip over P2, go directly to GTLM, finish GTLM, and go directly to GTD…
“My wife said watching the broadcast, the only time a P2 car had real airtime is when it crashed. And if that’s what they’re going to do, then let’s all pull our PC cars back out and spend half the money. If that’s what they want, then let us just do that. Let’s not spend 2.1 million dollars this year racing a P2 car.”
O’Neill’s concerns are not based on vanity. With drivers and sponsors paying to participate in IMSA’s Pro-Am prototype class, value is returned with a modicum of TV coverage and mentions during a broadcast — especially one that had 24 hours to fill.
Without a stronger commitment to covering the LMP2 field at future rounds, O’Neill fears he and PR1/Mathiasen will struggle to retain their sponsors and funded drivers.
“It’s real money. I actually have a real sponsor with Centinel Spine,” he said. “It’s somebody that I have cultivated for the last two years to actually spend a lot of money, rebranding our team, and not one mention. Not one. You wouldn’t even know that we existed. That’s the big thing. I had the CEO of Centinel Spine in our pit box with seven spine surgeons that he flew in from the around the country, and they all had a great time.
“But when the CEO comes over to you during a race and says, ‘How come we get zero airtime?,’ it’s a problem. And I explained to him that this is how it works, the DPis, the Cadillacs, Acuras, Mazdas all spend a lot of money to get the airtime; they’re manufacturers, they’re going to get the bulk of the airtime. But should they get everything?
“How do you justify it if it’s going to be that way every race? My check cleared the bank for $42,000 worth of tires, just like everyone else. My check cleared the bank for $10,000 worth of fuel like everyone else. We need to be noticed that we’re out there because that’s how businesses stay healthy.”
Although the entry list for March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring has yet to be finalized, there are strong rumors of a third LMP2 being readied to join the No. 38 Performance Tech ORECA 07 and the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen ORECA 07 on the full-time grid. O’Neill is hopeful the absence of regular LMP2 coverage throughout the Rolex 24 will be resolved in a manner that eases the tension among sponsors and helps stoke interest to grow the category.
“IMSA keeps telling us they’re behind the P2 class and they want to make it work,” he said. “We’ve been busy on social media trying to get the word out about our sponsors, and there was a big article about Centinel Spine in one of the money magazines, and that’s being done from this side. It’s the investment they’ve made, and any of the other [LMP2] sponsors have made to be in IMSA that has got to improve. I believe they want P2 to take off like PC did. From a business perspective, if they can get the broadcast part taken care of, it changes everything.”