There’s and old saying in sports that the next season begins as soon as the last one ends.
Never has that been more true than at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Monday, where 36 hours after the checkered flag fell on Motul Petit Le Mans, the first IMSA-sanctioned, multi-manufacturer LMDh test was underway in preparation for the arrival of the GTP class in 2023.
Acura, BMW and Cadillac are participating in the three-day test with their respective teams, while Porsche has chosen to forego the non-mandatory test. Meyer Shank Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing (Acura); BMW M Team RLL; and Chip Ganassi Racing and Action Express Racing (Cadillac) are encamped in the paddock and putting miles on their cars.
In addition to the teams, IMSA technical staff are on hand, along with representatives from the suppliers of the energy recovery system – Bosch, Xtrac and Williams Advanced Engineering.
“This test, I would say it’s about running time for everybody, putting mileage on their package,” explained IMSA President John Doonan. “I think as you fast forward to the Daytona test in early December, it’s going to be about gathering real performance data.
“Given global supply chain, given other challenges, what each of the OEM needs is runtime. We wanted to provide the opportunity for them to come to a track that they all just had raced on one way or another and give them laps, give them hours on the overall package, the chassis, the engines, the hybrid system.”
In addition, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports stayed to provide an ORECA LMP2 for benchmarking, driven by Tristan Nunez. With the GTP cars expected to be a bit slower than the DPi machinery, they wanted to have an LMP2 running at the same time to get a feel for how different the speeds were going to be to ensure that a gap is maintained between the two.
“One of the huge benefits of being here, right after Motul Petit Le Mans to be able to ask an LMP2 team to come. We’re very interested in maintaining what has been a tremendously exciting show in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship.
“So to have an LMP2 car here to gauge performance levels is really important. To have a team that’s quite an experienced championship team over the years be here with an LMP2 car at the same time has provided us a good opportunity to get some early reads on some performance.”
While there didn’t expect to be any real revelations over the course of the test, it will give the teams a feel for how prepared they are in relation to the others. Real performance benchmarks won’t likely come before the test at Daytona International Speedway in December, but here are still some things to glean, even though for the three manufacturers present, it is still early days.
“We are going through all the drivers to be comfortable in the seat, to be comfortable with the belts,” said Wayne Taylor Racing’s Filipe Albuquerque. “So we will know by Daytona if we’re going to be in 100-percent performance reliability or if we’re going to be 90 percent of what we can do, and then we will match compared to the other guys.
“So, we will have an idea how many laps each manufacturer will be doing, that will give us a little indication of reliability. And how sorted each manufacturer is, sort of, as well as performance.”
Unfortunately Albuquerque had limited running on Monday, as Tom Blomqvist suffered a component failure that led to a crash early in the afternoon. Blomqvist was fine, and the Meyer Shank Acura is repairable, but Acura parked both cars until the cause of the failure has been determined. The WTR car was back on track Tuesday morning,
IMSA isn’t providing any timing data, but observed times range from the high 1m10s range to low 1m12s. By comparison, the fast time in Saturday’s race, set by Earl Bamber in a CGR Cadillac, was 1m09.664s. A little slower times aren’t unexpected, as while the LMDh machinery does have more power than the DPi cars, they are a bit heavier and have less downforce.
However, there’s no way of knowing how hard the teams are pushing or how much fuel they were carrying, and the cars aren’t yet homologated. But the teams do feel that the test has been useful so far.
“A very productive day for us, ran a lot of laps,” stated Brandon Fry, technical director at BMW M Team RLL. “Really this was the one of the smoothest tests we’ve had so far. Everything just worked all day. We got through a lot of a lot of our development plans and running.
“So yeah good day all around. We had both Connor [De Phillippi] and Marco [Wittmann] in the car and everything went really smooth for them. So a lot that we’ll learn about and digest tonight and go from there.
“It’s certainly a new new car, a lot of development, a lot of stuff going on. So we needed a strong day, like we had today where we we put in a lot of laps. So this was, in some ways, a little bit of a breakthrough day for us,” he added.
Surprisingly, this was Doonan’s first time to witness LMDh cars on track, and he was beaming like a kid in a candy store.
“This morning. I didn’t come to the tower, I didn’t go into the garage or pit lane. I actually walked about three-quarters of the circuit. And I went to different corner stations and I stood with several of the corner marshals and watched for the first time.
“That was a special moment because you see the video clips, I’ve been to several of the unveils; but to actually be standing trackside with the corner marshals on what has been a stunningly nice day… That was a special moment to be able to see and hear the cars for the first time,” he said.
The teams will continue their private testing programs after the conclusion of this test. One more IMSA-sanctioned test that is mandatory for all manufacturers is scheduled at Daytona for December.