American IMSA prototype teams have been chomping at the bit for a shot at the world stage, especially Le Mans, for what seems like an eternity.
Their prayers were finally answered in a January announcement that IMSA and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest have agreed to a new worldwide competition formula, called LMDh.
In short, prototypes that compete in the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship will be eligible to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans beginning in 2022.
As Ed Sullivan used to say: “It’s a really big show.”
Even team owner Roger Penske is excited. On a recent episode of the Dale Jr. Download, Penske said competing with his Acura team at Le Mans has been on his bucket list for a very long time. This comes from a guy who has done just about everything else in motorsports.
ACO President Pierre Fillon and Jim France, who oversees IMSA for NASCAR, weighed in during the Rolex 24 At Daytona earlier this year.
“This announcement is the crucial starting point for a joint endurance racing future, supported by both the ACO and IMSA,” said Fillon. “The platform represents the convergence achieved by both organizations, which is a great success story for endurance racing.”
France said his father’s dream has come true.
“When my father, Bill France Sr., brought the first Daytona Continental sports car race here to Daytona Int’l Speedway back in 1962, he wanted to bring together sports car drivers, teams and manufacturers from around the world.”
According to the announcement, the LMDh car will be “based on a new chassis common to both ACO and IMSA, using elements of the Le Mans Hypercar and the LMP2 chassis. It will be built by the four current LMP2 manufacturers — Dallara, Ligier, Multimatic and Oreca. This chassis will also be used for the new-generation LMP2.”
In addition, teams will be allowed to use silhouettes and styling cues from manufacturers as the IMSA DPi cars use now. Power will come from each manufacturer’s internal combustion engines and spec Formula One-style electric motors.
Even though the sport is in limbo, the pandemic has not blunted the momentum for the convergence of prototype racing. IMSA President John Doonan has not taken his eyes off the prize.
“Since the Daytona announcement, the enthusiasm for this platform has been quite positive,” Doonan said. “Obviously, the world has changed a little bit for the technical staff at IMSA, as well as ACO. We’ve been working on a daily basis and we’ve been sensitive to not making major announcements when there are some other significant priorities in the world, far more important priorities.
“We were pretty ready to do it at Sebring as planned but as soon as that (COVID-19 travel and social-distancing guidelines) we decided to pump the brakes,” Doonan continued. “The relationship with ACO is stronger than ever. We’ve continued at both the leadership and technical level, sharing ideas on an ongoing basis during this quiet time in the world. We hope to have other announcements very soon because the manufacturers are eager to put their plans together and have a cadence of what the timing could be given the other challenges that are facing the industry.”
When these cars hit the famed Sarthe Circuit in 2022, it will not be a two-horse show.
“There are as many as 10 manufacturers at the table,” Doonan noted. “They are recognizable brands that are in sports car racing already or want to be. It warms my heart to see such beautiful variety in IMSA and top-level sports car racing. It’s positive to look forward to.”
To quote talk show host and IndyCar team owner David Letterman, “That will blow the lid off the dump.”
Wayne Taylor, whose team won the Rolex 24 in January, would love the chance to bring Cadillac back to Le Mans. GM’s luxury brand have been there twice before — in 1950 with the “Le Monstre” and 2000 with a more stylish LMP design. Both were lackluster attempts.
Taylor vows this will be different. “I’d put my guys up against anybody,” he said.
His team has collected Daytona Rolex watches three out of the last four years, and Le Mans has a magnetic attraction for Taylor.
“It’s something that we’ve talked about,” he said. “For me, it’s always been a dream to enter at Le Mans, but to go to Le Mans without the support of a manufacturer is pretty pointless. We need to have everybody engaged and my view is you can’t compete against the manufacturers like Acura. So I’m just waiting to see down the road. I’m certainly hoping Cadillac will eventually come.”
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