IMSA and the Automobile Club l’Ouest have entered into an agreement that will allow both organizations to compete with their top prototype classes at North American WeatherTech SportsCar Championship events and at the ACO’s legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans in France.
The heart of the partnership involves combining the upcoming 2020 Le Mans Hypercar class and a new formula named LMDh which comes online in 2021. Hypercar and LMDh will race together in a single, blended class, which relies on Balance of Performance equalization.
The LMDh formula, which stands for Le Mans Daytona (and awaits confirmation of how the ‘h’ will be defined), is scheduled for a staggered rollout. LMDh will debut in September of 2021 alongside Hypercar in Europe, and in IMSA, LMDh will replace the current DPi formula in January of 2022 at the onset of the new WeatherTech Championship season.
“When my father, Bill France Sr., brought the first Daytona Continental sports car race here to Daytona International Speedway back in 1962, he wanted to bring together sports car drivers, teams and manufacturers from around the world,” said Jim France, IMSA co-founder and chairman. “With the ACO, IMSA and manufacturers aligned, today’s announcement proudly takes my father’s vision to the next level.”
ACO president Pierre Fillon, who has become close allies with his American counterpart, shares those views on where convergence can take global endurance racing.
“This announcement today is the crucial starting point for a joint endurance racing future, supported by both the ACO and IMSA,” he said. “The platform represents the convergence achieved by both organizations which is a great success story for endurance racing. A manufacturer will soon be able to compete in the top category of two championships, the FIA WEC and the WeatherTech Championship. We can’t emphasize enough, as it’s exceptional, how many opportunities this long-term sporting and marketing vision will open up.”
Although the joint press release cites the ability for Hypercar and LMDh entries to contest any and all IMSA and FIA World Endurance Championship events once convergence takes place, the FIA is not listed as a signatory in the agreement, which suggests a direct engagement has been made between IMSA and the ACO.
WEC president Gerard Neveu, however, has offered an encouraging message on where he expects convergence to lead within the FIA.
“The big winner today is endurance racing, as the door is now opened to many additional competitors to compete at the highest level on both sides of the Atlantic with the same car,” he said. “The two sanctioning bodies should be congratulated for their vision and spirit of collaboration. Le Mans Hypercars and the new LMDh cars racing together at Le Mans or Daytona will be an incredibly exciting prospect for endurance fans across the world.”
It’s believed convergence plans will be put to a vote at the next FIA World Motorsport Council meeting, where Hypercar and LMDh would potentially be ratified for the 2021-2022 WEC calendar.
A name for the class where Hypercars and LMDhs will vie for overall wins is expected to be revealed, along with the technical regulations for the new formula, at March’s Super Sebring event where IMSA and the WEC serve as co-headliners.
Convergence between IMSA and the ACO comes at the request of numerous auto manufacturers who implored the storied organizations to find a common ground with prototypes.
Despite multiple failed attempts to create a platform where IMSA’s DPi formula would be permitted to race at Le Mans, including the most recent stall that emerged at Sebring in 2019, the leaders at both organizations kept a channel of open communication going behind the scenes. Former IMSA president Scott Atherton played a significant role in advancing the topic to where it stands today, and with successor John Doonan taking the reins one month ago, convergence was finally taken across the finish line with the ACO.
“On the eve of IMSA’s 51st season of competition, future race fans will regard today as one of the most significant of all time for IMSA, the ACO and the world of sports car racing,” Doonan said. “Providing a common platform for top-level prototype racing globally has been a goal for the sanctioning bodies, our manufacturers — and most importantly, sports car racing fans everywhere — for many years, and we are proud to say the opportunity has finally arrived. We are grateful for the collaboration with our partners at the ACO and the open dialogue with our manufacturer partners that led us to today’s introduction of the LMDh platform.”