‘Too early’ to expect manufacturer response to IMSA/ACO convergence

Image by Richard Dole/LAT

‘Too early’ to expect manufacturer response to IMSA/ACO convergence

IMSA

‘Too early’ to expect manufacturer response to IMSA/ACO convergence

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It is too early to expect manufacturers to react to the IMSA and ACO convergence of endurance racing’s top class as they eagerly await further details, according to World Endurance Championship CEO Gerard Neveu.

A new top class for prototypes called LMDh – standing for Le Mans Daytona h — was announced on Friday morning at Daytona International Speedway ahead of this weekend’s Rolex 24. Multiple manufacturers were present to witness the announcement that LMDh cars will be able to race alongside Hypercar entries for outright victory in both the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and WEC, but few offered an immediate reaction to the news.

“It’s too early – it would be very arrogant to say anything about manufacturer commitments now,” Neveu told RACER. “Of course we have discussions with OEMs, and expectations, but that is internal. Our job is to provide the best conditions to discuss with OEMs and pay attention to what they are looking for.

“OEMs want to stay in sports cars; nevertheless, we need to make sure the budget is reasonable and that the technology is right. You also can’t imagine manufacturers doing separate programs – one in the WEC, one in IMSA. We have to find a way to do something together or to make it possible to race at major events on both sides of the Atlantic. This is easy to understand.

“If you are a big manufacturer and you want to race in sports cars, your wish is to race in Le Mans, but also Daytona, Sebring, Spa, Petit (Le Mans), Silverstone. With the announcement today we have made it possible to do it.”

As part of the announcement it was confirmed there will be technical details announced at the Super Sebring event that is co-headlined by IMSA and WEC in March. Despite an overwhelmingly positive reaction at Daytona, the lack of further detail led to a number of manufacturers declining to offer official comment.

Of the few manufacturers to comment, one of particular interest was Aston Martin, which has already committed to WEC’s Hypercar formula that will be introduced later this year but has been largely silent while development of the project has been ongoing.

“Aston Martin Racing is pleased to note that the future of sports car racing’s top class has been secured and that the FIA, the ACO and IMSA have been able to work together to find a common path,” a statement from the company read. “We await further details of the new Hypercar/LMDh class with interest and look forward to working closely with all parties to ensure that the Hypercar vision retains its proper position within global sports car competition.”

Toyota is understood to be most advanced with its Hypercar project, and sees the convergence plan as a way of displaying different technologies to a wider audience.

“We want the possibility to improve our road-relevant hybrid technology in WEC and we welcome the chance to test our technology against even more manufacturers,” a Toyota Gazoo Racing spokesperson told RACER. “We are sure this will create even more excitement for endurance fans in the new Le Mans Hypercar era.”

First to respond from the IMSA side was Cadillac, with the reigning Rolex 24-winning manufacturer saying it is interested in the opportunities that convergence could create.

“Cadillac congratulates IMSA and the ACO on their announcement of a convergence in the top class of prototype racing,” said Mark Kent, director of Cadillac Racing. “Since the introduction of the Cadillac DPi-V.R in 2017, we have had tremendous success in North America in the IMSA series and are encouraged at the prospect of an international formula for the future of prototype racing.

“Once we obtain further details, we will evaluate if our participation aligns with our company’s future vision.”

Cadillac’s cautious response was echoed by Porsche, a manufacturer whose representative told RACER last month that it required a global solution for it to consider a return to the top class.

“It’s a historical moment for the sport and sports car racing, but we can’t say much aside from that it’s a nice decision from the ACO and IMSA,” Porsche director of factory motorsport Pascal Zurlinden told RACER. “I will say though that this is the right decision for the racing and the fans, but we will have to wait until we see the technical side of things at Sebring before we say more. If it’s the right way for Porsche to go, we will see…”

Porsche will be racing Lamborghini in the GT categories at Daytona this weekend, and the Italian marque admitted it also harbors a desire to compete in the top class if it applies to both IMSA and WEC.

“We are interested and appreciate what the ACO and IMSA has announced today,” Lamborghini head Georgio Sanna said. 

“All the makes, including Lamborghini, want a global platform. It will be beneficial for everybody. It doesn’t change at the moment anything for us, but we are still evaluating all the opportunities for us in terms of growth in customer programs, and absolutely what we have heard today is a significant step.”

While sharing in the the positivity at the announcement, Mazda made clear its focus for now is on making the most of its involvement in DPi 1.0. Image by Michael Levitt/LAT

Mazda summed up the situation by highlighting the importance of the announcement despite a lack of technical detail, as new director of motorsport North America Nelson Cosgrove says he is eager to find out which other manufacturers will consider entries under the new regulations.

“It’s an historic day,” Cosgrove said. “It’s super exciting for motorsports in general. It gives us a wonderful runway going into the next 10 years to race competitively and globally. So now it’s going to be incredible to see everybody that comes out and wants to be involved.

“As for our program, first of all we have to wait to see exactly what the rules are and how that plays out with the cycle plan going forward. We’re going to obviously have to take a strong look at this alongside how we plan to close out the DPI 1.0 era, too. We have got to try to close that out with winning some of these big races and fighting for the championship.”

Manufacturers present at the press conference who opted against providing any reaction at this point included Acura, Porsche, Audi, BMW, Lexus, Ferrari and Hyundai.

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