ROB LAD­BROOK

“The Day­tona DPI rules could re­place LMP1”

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J

ust to the left of this col­umn you can read about the po­ten­tial fu­ture of the Le Mans 24 Hours and the FIA World En­durance Cham­pi­onship. Well, at least to those of us blessed with com­mon sense it very well could be.

The news of Mazda un­veil­ing what is essen­tially a bud­get, turn-key man­u­fac­turer project for the Amer­i­can IMSA sportscar cham­pi­onship may not have made huge waves over here just yet. But it could do very soon.

As much as I adore the FIA World En­durance Cham­pi­onship, it has a prob­lem. And that prob­lem is LMP1.

Ever since the cham­pi­onship – rather sen­si­bly at the time – branded it­self as a play­ground for mod­ern tech­nolo­gies and put an em­pha­sis on hy­brid pow­er­trains, costs have started to es­ca­late.

The WEC en­joyed ar­guably its golden era when Porsche an­nounced it would be re­join­ing the top ranks of world mo­tor­sport to com­pete along­side Audi and Toy­ota. Three of the world’s big­gest brands, in one arena, each run­ning cut­ting edge new tech­nol­ogy and push­ing en­gi­neer­ing lim­i­ta­tions – it was magic.

But that en­vi­ron­ment has be­come a dan­ger­ously ex­pen­sive play­ground, which has raised ques­tions over its sus­tain­abil­ity.

Audi has gone. Leav­ing just Porsche and Toy­ota. How long un­til one of those pro­grammes falls over and what will the FIA and ACO do then when just one brand stands alone at the top with no­body to race with?

This is why the DPI rules make sense. They al­low a man­u­fac­turer to buy an off-the-shelf LMP2 chas­sis and sim­ply re­design its body­work in their own im­age and have tun­ing in­put into an en­gine range.

The re­sult? A cus­tom-de­signed pro­to­type with more power and aero­dy­nam­ics than an LMP2 car and, per­haps more im­por­tantly, its own iden­tity made in any man­u­fac­turer’s set im­age. Per­fect. LMP1 was at­tract­ing in­ter­est from some other ma­jor play­ers dur­ing its golden era too, with BMW and Re­nault both hotly tipped to bring projects. But both ap­pear to have seen the rather ex­pen­sive ice­berg and have re­fo­cused on For­mula E – a se­ries where a man­u­fac­turer can buy an off-the-shelf chas­sis and de­velop and fit its own en­gine tech­nol­ogy... Sound fa­mil­iar yet? Al­low­ing cer­tain spec parts, such as the chas­sis and en­gine block, makes a full fac­tory pro­gramme far more ap­peal­ing by dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing the costs in­volved. Sure, aero work is still ex­pen­sive, but thanks to sys­tems like CFD, de­sign work is nowhere near as ex­pen­sive as the process of chas­sis con­struc­tion, crash test­ing and such.

If it’s af­ford­able and ex­cit­ing, then it can work. Mazda’s pro­to­type looks stun­ning, and there’s more to come with strong in­ter­est from Honda (HPD), Cadil­lac, Nis­san and per­haps even Bent­ley. Imag­ine all of those brands lined up at La Sarthe? Not only that, imag­ine pit­ting them on a level play­ing field where be­ing at the front doesn’t de­mand an F1 bud­get!

Should LMP1 die out in its cur­rent guise, the cov­ers have just been pulled off what would ap­pear a ready-made replacement that could bring man­u­fac­tur­ers flood­ing back.

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