INSIGHT: Drivers and teams reflect on the end of IMSA DPi era

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

INSIGHT: Drivers and teams reflect on the end of IMSA DPi era

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Drivers and teams reflect on the end of IMSA DPi era

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When the checkered flag falls on Motul Petit Le Mans Saturday night, it will mark the end of Daytona Prototype international (DPi) as the top class in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. While there is much excitement for its replacement — LMDh and (potentially) Le Mans Hypercar combined into the new GTP class — there is also nostalgia for the cars and the quality of the racing they produced.

“Having been here in sports car racing for 30 years, I would say that the DPi class has probably been the best ever,” declared Wayne Taylor, whose Wayne Taylor Racing team has competed with both Cadillac and Acura in the six-year history of the class and whose No. 10 Acura ARX-05 is in contention for its final championship. “It’s just unfortunate that we ended up with so little cars at the end, six cars or seven. The DPi cars were fast, they were good looking, and they were relatively inexpensive in comparison, but we will have to move on and LMDh is going to be the best because I mean, the cars are spectacular. But I’m sorry to see the end of a series that I think certainly car-wise was probably one of the best seasons I’ve had in North America.”

While the class ends with only Acura and Cadillac participating, since 2017 Mazda and Nissan have raced as well. As the cars matured, they were fast and reliable. In 2022, they are the fastest prototype cars in the world.

“It’s such an end of an era,” said Renger van der Zande, driver of the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R and the longest-tenured Cadillac driver. “And it’s such an end of an era to nice new beginning. We raced these cars a few years longer than we expected when we started, but they’re so good. Just the ability of driving the car and managing it from a driver’s perspective, and the speed you’re doing in the corners, I think we’re gonna miss that. The high speed is so, so agile and so much fun.

“And it’s not been an easy car to drive. Everybody who jumped into it was like, ‘Oh, I thought it was easier.’ So you still have to get the most out of it. And it’s not easy to do that. But once you’ve got that feel of it, I think we’re extracting the most out of it, for sure.”

Cadillac and Nissan took widely differing approaches to the Dpi formula, with the GM brand winding up with the lion’s share of class successes. Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

The basic DPi concept was simple: take existing LMP2 chassis, modify them to accept a manufacturer-specific engine and bodywork, giving them more power and aero in the process. The result were cars that looked different, had different performance characteristics, but raced together well.

Each manufacturer took a slightly different approach, Cadillac going with a thundering normally aspirated V8 in a Dallara-based chassis. Scott Sharp’s ESM team stuffed a Nissan twin-turbo V6 from the GT-R GT3 into a Ligier chassis. Mazda partnered with Multimatic and based their car on a Riley-Multimatic for the RT24-P that used the MZ-T turbocharged inline four-cylinder. And Acura entered the DPi class in 2018 with a turbo V6 in an ORECA-based chassis.

“It’s the manufacturer’s engine, a solid one, in a very, very good P2 car. It’s a better P2 car because we can do some extra downforce on the car with very good tires. So it’s all what you want to ask for from a driver perspective,” noted van der Zande.

Cadillac was the winningest marque in the DPi era, with 27 victories, three drivers’ championships and three manufacturers’ championships. Acura has 16 wins, and will finish with three manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles as well. Mazda took seven victories, and Nissan had four.

Before Mazda departed at the end of last season, it was truly a three-way fight throughout recent seasons, with each manufacturer scoring multiple wins last season. And while this year’s drivers championships are down to a battle between two Acura teams, Cadillac is still strong with four victories to Acura’s five; it’s likely they’ll end up tied for victories in the final season of DPi.

“For my career, it’s been the highlight,” said Ricky Taylor, who has won championships in both a Cadillac and an Acura. “From getting to drive for my dad and a top level team to winning a championship with my brother, and getting to start my relationship with Acura has been amazing. And the racing, I think, underlines everything about it. At its height there were many different manufacturers and the racing was was amazing. The closing speed between the GT cars and the DPis provided for some really exciting interclass battles. I think DPi had some of the most memorable finishes and in sports car racing history.

“Personally, it suited my driving style a little bit coming from the Daytona Prototypes, which were heavier, low-downforce, high-powered cars to something that was a little bit more nimble and quick and relied a bit more on the downforce platform. I think Filipe [Albuquerque] and I have been saying for the past few races that we’re both gonna miss driving these cars. It was a huge jump from Daytona Prototypes to to the DPi, And it’s going to be another huge jump to the LMDh and GTP era. We’re going to miss driving these, but I think it’s going to be a whole new version of excitement and fun once we get there.”

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