Is LMP2 IMSA’s New Land Of Opportunity?

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Six cars took part in the LMP2 portion fo the Roar Before the 24 test at Daytona Int'l Speedway last week. (IMSA Photo)
Six cars took part in the LMP2 portion fo the Roar Before the 24 test at Daytona Int'l Speedway last week. (IMSA Photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Six cars participated in the LMP2 class in last weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

That’s huge for a class that had four entries in the 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona, and just two entries for the full season last year.

It’s even more encouraging when you consider that the Rolex 24 will not even count toward IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship points, one of a few significant changes to the class for this season.

“I think it’s great,” said performance Tech Motorsports owner Brent O’Neill, whose team fielded the No. 38 ORECA in the full 2019 season and will return in 2020 with full-season co-drivers Cameron Cassels and Kyle Masson. “That’s what we look for. That’s why we race, to have some competition. At the end of the day, I think some of the moves that IMSA has made to grow the class has worked, will work.”

Collaborating with existing LMP2 teams and those who expressed interest in competing, IMSA announced a budget-friendly, six-race schedule WeatherTech Championship schedule for the class. The Rolex 24 At Daytona is a “standalone” event for LMP2, although it does count toward the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup standings, and there are no back-to-back event weekends for the class this year.

“I think that’s magical, absolutely magical,” said 2019 WeatherTech Championship LMP2 championship-winning team co-owner Bobby Oergel with PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports, which is opening the year at Daytona with co-drivers Ben Keating, Simon Trummer, Nick Boulle and Gabriel Aubry in the No. 52 ORECA. “That was, to me, a slam dunk, to be able to limit the mileage we do at tracks that aren’t that important to most of the amateur racers.

“The bottom line is, bringing the budget down by limiting the amount of events – we still do twice as many hours as the ELMS (European Le Mans Series) does, for basically the same money. To me, that was a slam-dunk, out-of-the-park type of decision. In the end, I think it’s just beautiful. I really think it’s the thing that brings it back in this country. I mean, I couldn’t say more. I think it was the absolute right move.”

Another decision that has drawn praise from at least some LMP2 competitors was the requirement that every car have at least one Bronze-rated driver and the prohibition of Platinum-rated drivers in the class for every race except for the Rolex 24. Bronze drivers will be required to qualify and start every LMP2 race.

“With the bronze rating, I’m sure there are exceptions, but it’s fairly well matched for bronze drivers,” said Starworks Motorsport owner Peter Baron, whose team moved from the GT Daytona (GTD) class in 2019 and is fielding the No. 8 Tower Motorsport by Starworks ORECA for John Farano, Ryan Dalziel, David Heinemeier Hansson and Nicolas Lapierre in the 2020 Rolex 24. “A bronze driver can go out and race against other people that are his peers. They can be competitive.”

“I think the whole bronze thing was awesome because, really, IMSA had nothing to lose,” added O’Neill. “I mean, we were big on pushing to get the bronze driver in and I think it works. Immediately, John Farano signed up because he’s a bronze and he can come over here and run.”

Ironically, Baron was initially against the Bronze-driver requirement. He’s since changed his opinion.

“I was against it because I didn’t know any bronzes at the time,” he said. “Oddly enough, I was the only one that voted against it. Then, the rule announcement came out on a Friday and then my phone rang on Saturday from John about, ‘Hey, this bronze only makes a lot of sense for a person like him.’”

In addition to Baron’s team, DragonSpeed USA – which won the 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona in its lone WeatherTech Championship appearance last year – has committed to running the full season with co-drivers Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley in its No. 81 ORECA.

Era Motorsport, which has a wealth of historic racing experience, is entering the WeatherTech Championship full-time with team owner and driver Kyle Tilley and Dwight Merriman as season-long co-drivers of its No. 18 ORECA. Rick Ware Racing is also targeting a full WeatherTech Championship campaign with its No. 2 Multimatic/Riley LMP2.

“Everybody likes the prototypes, right?” says O’Neill of the interest in LMP2 from drivers. “Cameron’s a perfect example. He ran the Lamborghinis last year, he started in a Porsche and if you talk to him today, he’ll tell you that he doesn’t want to race sedans anymore. The prototypes are a cool car.”

And Baron believes even more will feel that way as time goes on.

“If you’re really a true gentleman out there and want to go professional racing, it seems like the LMP2 class is going to become the home of it,” he said. “Since we’ve been down this path and even since our announcement came out, it’s like my phone’s been ringing like crazy.

“Our announcement said we’re full. We have our four people, this is our program, and it’s still ringing. If I had another car, we could get another car out there. That’s good news about the growth of the series.

“I think now people see the talk of maybe five or six cars coming, and we’re going to surpass that for 2020. That’s just going to act as catalyst for ’21. I think 10, 11 cars on the grid for ’21 is a completely realistic number at this point based on the phone calls I’ve been having.”