Oh, so now the powers-that-be are open to letting the top spec in American sports car racing run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, according to Sportscar365. It only took the World Endurance Championship’s top LMP1 class imploding down to one manufacturer who may not even stay after all, but we’ll take what we can get.
That top American spec is DPi, which is used in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. Currently, WEC’s global LMP2 spec can enter into IMSA’s top Prototype class, but the DPis—which are based on LMP2s, but with some leeway for manufacturers to use their own engines and brand them as their own—can’t enter LMP2 classes.
This slight difference in cars that are supposed to have roughly the same performance is a weird technicality that effectively keeps some of America’s most successful endurance prototype teams from participating at Le Mans.
But now that the WEC’s top manufacturer spec is undergoing a heavy rework in hopes of attracting any stable teams it can, the series’ CEO Gerard Neveu told Sportscar365 that they’re finally open to allowing DPis to run at Le Mans:
If this partnership works very well between IMSA and the ACO, when we are looking for the long-term, in 2020, why we cannot imagine to have a [joint set of regulations] or something like this between these cars.
The WEC is partnering with IMSA to run at Sebring, so perhaps they can come together to develop a common DPi spec that would work for both series. DPis, who have the bigger buckets of cash from manufacturers to work with, may still have to run in a higher class than LMP2, but the important part is that they’d be allowed to run.
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which organizes Le Mans, also seems open to the idea. ACO President Pierre Fillon told Sportscar365:
We have to open the discussion. What is the future of LMP1 and what is the future of DPi?
Remember that I was very enthusiastic about a common prototype between [ACO and IMSA] and for me it’s not a dream. I think we can work on that.
I mean, how else are they going to get manufacturers anywhere outside the GT classes right now? There isn’t a ton of marque interest in LMP1.
For what it’s worth, the WEC’s emphasis on keeping LMP2 costs down by removing the manufacturers from the class seems to have worked there. There are a ton of LMP2 entries, and an LMP2 almost won Le Mans overall this year.
Yet this was their big split with IMSA in developing a common set of new LMP2 regulations for this year: IMSA needed the extra cash from manufacturers in its top class to thrive, and the WEC believed the #brands would drive LMP2 costs for privateers out of control on the international stage.
Meanwhile, DPi has been a big enough deal to attract some of racing’s biggest names to partner with manufacturers, including Team Joest, who used to run Audi’s ultra-dominant LMP1 car and is set to take over Mazda’s DPi next year.
There’s also big marque interest in developing one prototype that can run at Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona. McLaren is seriously interested in running such a car, Sportscar365 notes, and it’s something Mazda expressed interest in when they announced their partnership with Team Joest.
The only hang-up is that privateers have expressed interest in building non-hybrid LMP1s under the current spec, and the WEC doesn’t want to change everything while those cars are still in development. Neveu told Sportscar365:
We have at least 4-5 LMP1s coming next year with privateers. This category clearly exists.
I cannot say to Dallara and the other people building [LMP1 non-hybrids] for [the class] to disappear. That’s not the question.
With those faster cars still (hopefully) in play, there’s also some concern that manufacturers wouldn’t want to come to Le Mans and not battle for the overall win. So, the target for any DPis coming is still a few years off—possibly in 2020 with the new LMP1 regulations.
Still, there’s plenty of manufacturer interest in the GT classes and they finish nowhere near overall at Le Mans. That excuse doesn’t even make sense. When nearly everyone else wants to see DPis have a shot in the world’s biggest endurance race, you should probably figure out how to make it happen.