Could IMSA and the ACO be headed for a return of the direct relationship that served both sides for three decades?
And could IMSA’s next-generation DPis, commonly referred to as “DPi 2.0”, become a global solution as the top class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to complement IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship?
Those two topics have been making the rounds in American and European sports car circles in recent weeks, and the chatter has only increased this weekend at IMSA’s stop in Mid-Ohio and the FIA World Endurance Championship’s round in Belgium. A rumored meeting in Miami, Florida last month is said to have contained leadership from both organizations where the topics were discussed.
The two initiatives, if they prove to be true, would transform global endurance racing overnight. The former could also be the tonic needed to break down the systematic dysfunction that has plagued the ACO, FIA, and IMSA on the subject of shared rulemaking.
The ACO — the French sanctioning body that controls the Le Mans circuit — and IMSA, in its original guise, worked together in an uncomplicated manner from the 1970s through the 1990s where cars conforming to unique classes were allowed to compete in both series. In the most enduring example, the ACO created a GTP class for the great 24-hour race, allowing IMSA’s bespoke Grand Touring Prototypes to cross the Atlantic and vie for GTP class victory in France.
The ACO also worked directly with the former American Le Mans Series, which merged with NASCAR’s Grand-Am series to reconstitute IMSA, where the relationship led the ALMS to base most of its classes off those created by the ACO. Minus the FIA, a long and healthy connection between the ACO and IMSA made for positive and unified decision making where both parties found numerous ways to work together.
Under the combined ACO/FIA WEC relationship, IMSA has routinely been cast aside and its interests disregarded as planning for LMP1’s replacement, the vastly troubled 2020 “Hypercar” formula, has been developed without IMSA’s needs being heeded. The same was true leading into the launch of IMSA’s DPi formula in 2017. Despite initially welcoming DPis to compete in Europe, the ACO/FIA gradually walked those overtures back until IMSA’s top class was not allowed to compete outside of North America.
In imagining a reunion between the ACO and IMSA, shared goodwill and the best intentions of both organizations could have incredibly positive outcomes. Reopening collaborative efforts on shared rules, classes, and entries can only benefit the Le Mans- and Daytona Beach-based sanctioning bodies.
Where that might leave the FIA WEC — which relies on Le Mans as the centerpiece of its existence — is unknown.
And if the ACO and IMSA were to come together, where might DPi 2.0 factor into the equation? Even better, could DPi 2.0 be the thing that brought both sides together?
Due to arrive in 2022, DPi 2.0 represents an interesting take on the original formula that has drawn Acura, Cadillac, Mazda, and Nissan — as a contracted supplier — to IMSA’s custom prototype class. Derived from the ACO’s LMP2 class, DPi was an instant hit where auto manufacturers found they could play at IMSA’s top level for a relatively minor annual investment, at least in comparison to the ACO/FIA’s moribund LMP1-Hybrid category.
With heavy costs causing the decline of LMP1-H, and auto manufacturers disallowed from fielding full-fledged factory programs in the WEC’s LMP2 class, the grand idea to pull the FIA WEC out of a tailspin has been 2020’s Hypercar concept. For more than a year, current and prospective entrants have been patiently waiting for a final set of rules.
Set for a September 2020 racing debut, time has almost expired for auto manufacturers to request and receive budgets to participate. Complicating matters, a frequently evolving set of basic rules have gained and lost a number of core technologies, making it difficult for manufacturers to define exactly what they’re asking for from their marketing and R&D departments, or what the marketing team will have to promote.
Beset with a lack of buy-in from most manufacturers, paddock intel suggests Hypercar 2020 could be shelved in favor of DPi 2.0 in 2022. Nine manufacturers are said to have attended Thursday’s DPi steering committee meeting at Mid-Ohio, meaning five brands that aren’t currently taking part in the class are at the table as the finer points of the 2022 rules, which are likely to include a spec hybrid-electric kinetic energy recovery system to provide a modest horsepower boost, are finalized.
If nine manufacturers are engaged with IMSA on its cost-effective future DPis, how many from Asia, Europe, and elsewhere, would engage with the ACO if DPi-at-Le Mans was an option?
With Hypercar looking like it might fail to launch, maybe the thought of the ACO and IMSA joining forces again, and making DPi 2.0 the next global standard for prototypes as their first major move together, isn’t such a crazy idea.