INSIGHT: A lifeline for prototype collaboration between IMSA and the ACO?

Image by Scott LePage/LAT

INSIGHT: A lifeline for prototype collaboration between IMSA and the ACO?

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: A lifeline for prototype collaboration between IMSA and the ACO?


There could be hope for American and European prototype fans when the next set of regulations come to life. The FIA World Endurance Championship intends to launch its new ‘Hypercar’ formula in the latter part of 2020 as the replacement for LMP1. IMSA plans to update its DPi formula for 2022 to continue headlining the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Until last weekend, there was a common belief, based on recent history, that both series would continue down diverging prototype paths where DPi 2.0 and Hypercars would never meet. From a small press briefing on Friday with the WEC’s leadership, series CEO Gerard Neveu expressed a new openness to having the future prototype share the same track, provided their performance levels were similar.

“Clearly the wish, from both sides since the beginning, [is] if we can find with each other, similar performance levels with the top categories,” Neveu said in Sebring. “It would be very helpful from the visibility and the stories and the future together. There is permanent dialogue and discussion both ways. We know the [next DPi] evolution is for January 2022. The fact is, if we can find a way to rejoin someday, this is what we are looking for. There is always a discussion going on.”

Compared to the WEC’s initial openness to the original DPi formula competing at Le Mans, which was slowly walked back to the point of being banned from the legendary 24-hour race and all WEC rounds, IMSA was caught off-guard – in a positive way – by the WEC’s warmer overtures in Sebring.

“It was a surprise,” IMSA president Scott Atherton told RACER. “I was not in the room when those words were spoken. Thankfully, we had a couple people from our communications team that were, because I immediately was getting inquiries from reporters to get a response. For sure, it’s a positive. I think the devil’s in the details, as always.”

With DPi 2.0 three years away, IMSA’s technical team has a long lead time ahead before solid regulations are needed by manufacturers. It means that while the WEC is close to locking down its regulations for 2020 Hypercar, IMSA is in no rush to define its next formula, which leaves a significant question mark in place on where the two prototype philosophies will land.

“The technical regulations of our next-generation top category have yet to be confirmed,” Atherton said. “We are in a very comprehensive process right now of fact finding that involves a very detailed questionnaire that went to our existing DPi competitors, our manufacturer partners, and our constructor partners, as well as others who are not currently active but have expressed interest.”

Drawing from the tone and language used by Neveu at Sebring, the WEC’s Hypercar formula is not expected to be adopted by IMSA as a replacement for DPi. When the Hypercar concept was originally revealed, there was hope for the WeatherTech Championship to join in and use the WEC’s formula, therefore uniting both series with a single top-tier prototype class.

Due to the extreme annual expenses projected for Hypercar – estimated to be triple the cost of a similar DPi effort – that were revealed in 2018, IMSA appeared bound to its P2-based manufacturer-branded cars for 2022.

Atherton says it’s still too soon to make that call, and with a tweak to the Hypercar rules earlier this month that will allow production-based Hyper cars to compete alongside racing-bred prototypes wearing Hypercar bodywork, IMSA will continue to monitor the formula as an option to consider.

Stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic are waiting to see what the final version of the Hypercar regulations might look like. Image by Aston Martin.

“Should those [Hypercar] regulations result in a [IMSA] car that is eligible to compete at Le Mans, it can only be described as a positive,” he said. “I won’t speak on behalf of everyone within the organization, but on a personal level, I believe, based on the current state of the Hypercar and related regulations, i.e. the addition of allowing road car technology to be included in the mix, that perhaps there’s still enough flexibility and enough of a desire by all involved that potentially – with a capital P – there could be a global solution. That may be wildly optimistic and naive, but I still hold out the hope.”

Whether Neveu’s unity-minded comments regarding Hypercars and next-gen DPis playing together were born from a place of genuine interest to see it happen, or were throw-away lines with no hope of coming to fruition, will be known in the near future. Either way, IMSA hopes the doors remain open to explore the topic.

“I would rank it as one of the more positive, and constructive developments of recent times,” Atherton said. “I think it also is a tangible example of what I’ve been saying all along, which is the relationship between IMSA and the ACO is strong, and has been strong. The dialogue continues to be meaningful and respectful; we’re all seeking a next generation example that fits the profile of what each other needs for the sustainability, and growth, and prosperity of their respective championships. In a perfect world, that would be a one in the same example.

“If that’s not an option, but their solution, and our solution can play well together, then that’s a great second place. That’s a great consolation prize. When you introduce the Balance of Performance element, I won’t say that that means you can race anything and match it up. Because that, obviously, isn’t accurate. But, if you look at the prescribed performance that’s now been announced for a [Hypercar] lap time at Le Mans of being three minutes and 30 seconds … I’m not the engineer in the room, but I believe others who have done simulations based on our current [DPi] platform, the performance of that car is right there.”

IndyCar Debrief