IMSA reacts to ACO/FIA Hypercars announcement

Image by Levitt/LAT

IMSA reacts to ACO/FIA Hypercars announcement

Le Mans/WEC

IMSA reacts to ACO/FIA Hypercars announcement

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IMSA will continue doing its own thing with prototypes. Europe’s ACO and FIA World Endurance Championship will do theirs. And, for the better part of the next decade, an alignment between top prototype formulas will not be possible as different visions play out between Hypercars and Daytona Prototype internationals.

IMSA and its North American WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will stay the much less expensive course with its DPis that are due for a regulatory refresh in 2022. The ACO/FIA WEC, finally committed to the Hypercar formula due in 2020 that wavered endlessly over the last 12 months, will replace its LMP1 prototypes with road-styled prototypes. These will not require the nine-figure budgets once spent by Audi, Porsche, and Toyota, but will still cost multiples — upwards of five times as much — of what some annual DPi budgets run today.

The unfortunate news, confirmed on Friday at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, means both sides will win on local levels, but fans and manufacturers who were hoping for a unified prototype approach across the three sanctioning bodies must look well into the future for DPis to race at Le Mans and Hypercars to play in IMSA.

Separate visions, priced in different stratospheres, account for the dividing line. A united trio, using IMSA’s DPi rules as the common ground, was actively discussed between the ACO, FIA WEC, and IMSA, and looked like it had a real chance of happening as the Hypercar concept withered on the vine.

Only the very recent decision by Aston Martin to build a Valkyrie Hypercar, added to Toyota’s general commitment to Hypercar, rescued the formula. Sprinkle in the stated intent of Jim Glickenhaus to bring his SCG 007 model to Hypercar, and the overnight news of privateer LMP1 constructor ByKolles wanting to build a Hypercar, and the pair of French racing organizations now have enough manufacturers to support the new regulations.

The news leaves IMSA to carry on with writing its DPi 2.0 rules for 2022 without much need to keep the French sanctioning bodies in mind.

“None of today’s announcements were a surprise,” IMSA president Scott Atherton told RACER. “I guess that’s the good news. We’ve been actively in dialogue with the ACO throughout the process, but most especially in recent times, the last 30 days or so. We’re of the opinion that the announcements today were only made possible by some very recent developments. And that’s good for them. They had announced these regulations months ago, but until someone steps forward and says, ‘We’re in,’ they’re not of much worth. There’s not a lot of value unless you get manufacturer involvement, team involvement.

“As far as what it means to IMSA, too early to tell for certain. Many more questions than there are answers as we speak. We had, as recently as yesterday, some open, candid dialogue about what the potential future could be, specific to their announcements today and what everyone — at least everyone who follows our sport — is aware that we’re in the process of defining the next generation DPi regulations. Whether or not there’s a future there — whether or not these two platforms can coexist — time will tell.

“And I guess we can only leave it at that for today.”

In reading some of the comments made by members of the ACO/FIA WEC leadership following the most recent meeting, it was challenging to find anything that qualified as a genuine interest in having DPi 2.0s and Hypercars compete in the same race. The apparent disparity will not slow or deter IMSA from charting its domestic course with DPi 2.0.

“We had what we felt were good dialogue recently that would have at least confirmed the collective, mutual goal of enabling the two platforms to work together. As you and I speak at this moment, we shouldn’t speculate whether or not that’s a viable option or not,” Atherton added.

“I am of the opinion that when two genuine organizations have a common goal, admittedly surrounded by a lot of variables, a lot of moving parts, but when you get really smart people working together towards a common goal, it’s often that good results come from that. Whether or not that ultimately is reflected in the process to come is anyone’s guess right now. I know what we are capable of, but we are not certain of what the ACO’s intentions are.”

IMSA recently held its latest DPi 2.0 steering committee meeting where nine auto manufacturers — including the four currently involved in DPi — met to shape the 2022 rules. During that early May gathering, the likelihood of a unified DPi 2.0 formula for the ACO/FIA WEC and IMSA was strong. Part of the interest, we can assume, came from the possibility of building to a single prototype formula, at an exceptionally reasonable price, that could be raced un the U.S., in France at Le Mans, and all the other international WEC rounds.

In losing that option, the feedback received from some manufacturers on Friday was not pleasant. Whether it leads to some brands losing interest in DPi 2.0, or Hypercar, or both, will be known in the coming years.

“I’ve only had a couple of contacts today,” Atherton said. “It’s been a very busy day and the two that stand out were very similar in their reactions to today’s news, and that was just one of disappointment. Again, I don’t think it was a surprise, but the fact that it now is official, it’s public, it’s out in the open, so to speak. They expressed disappointment because they realized we genuinely had an opportunity for that global solution that would’ve been a catalyst for unprecedented growth and participation within the highest level of endurance sports car racing.

“Again, it doesn’t change anything from our perspective. We’ve been following a very well-organized, very comprehensive development process to define our next generation regulations. I’m very proud of the job that [IMSA technical leader] Simon Hodgson and his team are doing. It’s something that I think is a benchmark example of how a sanctioning body interacts with not only existing partners, but those that have expressed an interest in future participation.

“To arrive at a set of regulations that will be reflective of what’s needed to stay relevant, to deliver a platform that’s surrounded by a value proposition that makes sense for manufacturers and independent teams as well — our goal here is not to create a platform that’s exclusively a manufacturer environment, but support and reflect exactly what we have today, albeit in a more relevant specification, especially knowing that these regulations will carry us through 2027.”

Where the ACO/FIA WEC let indecision erode faith in Hypercar until Friday’s re-confirmation, IMSA does not want to let DPi 2.0 fall into the same cycle of delays with actionable regulations.

“Our self-imposed deadline is the end of this year. So, the end of December, for a set of draft regulations,” he said. “And when we use the term ‘draft regulations’, that doesn’t mean first draft. That means arguably final draft, but subject to minor adjustment based on final input, feedback, etc. But we’re on schedule to hit that mark.

“It would give not only the sanctioning body IMSA, but all of the participants, the appropriate runway to develop in a very reasonable schedule. Nobody’s going to have to perform miracles to achieve the goal of having a full grid of fully sorted, tested, developed, reliable prototypes on the grid at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January of 2022. So when you work backwards from that date, while nobody has got their hair on fire, it’s also none too early to be zeroing in on those details.”

Behind the scenes, making calls on the power of DPi 2.0’s hybrid-electric energy assistance system and other core details will dominate the rest of IMSA’s season. Sticking with Dallara, Ligier, ORECA, and Multimatic as DPi chassis suppliers appears to be a formality.

Freed from the shackles of speculation, IMSA is full speed ahead on its 2022 DPi formula. Image by Galstad/LAT

“A wonderful process is underway,” Atherton continued. “We know what we don’t know in terms of our in-house abilities. So we’ve gone outside to several industry experts — consultants — in hybridization, in packaging, aerodynamics, etc., to make sure that what has made the DPi platform successful today is retained. I can easily say that the next generation car will have a hybrid. The only question is, ‘What definition?’

“The next generation we’ll continue to embrace the four [chassis] constructors that we have. We believe that’s the secret sauce that makes this platform so effective. Not requiring participating manufacturers to design and build a bespoke chassis, but to instead to utilize an existing platform in the form of the LMP2. So that’s a work-in-progress very much. It’s priority one right now from our competition team with the goal of having those regulations out by the end of the year.”

IMSA tried to create an inclusionary rules process with its friends across the Atlantic. It was ultimately rejected. Time to refocus on what’s best for the WeatherTech Championship.

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