With less than six months to go until the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, and just 10 weeks before the final champions are crowned in GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series, some key details surrounding next year’s United SportsCar Racing series have yet to be finalized.
Many prototype team owners in the paddock last weekend at Road America, site of the historic first, and only, combined event between both series, have voiced concerns over the timeframe for the release of the DP and P2 technical regulations and the general lack of details surrounding likely changes to their equipment for next year.
“We have no idea. Nobody has any answers; nobody is asking [us] anything. So I don’t know how we will be going testing at all, at this point. We don’t know anything,” longtime Daytona Prototype team owner Wayne Taylor told SPEED.com.
What is known is that DP and P2 cars will compete alongside each other in the unified Prototype category, with both types of cars allowed to use paddle shifters and six-speed gearboxes, and the Le Mans-style prototypes continuing to follow the technical specs of the ACO with only minor modifications expected.
DPs, on the other hand, are set for moderate upgrades in order to bring them up to similar performance levels to the P2 cars. With nearly a six-second gap between the quickest P2 and DP in their respective qualifying sessions at Road America, multiple developments to the tube-framed prototypes are expected, although nothing has been decided.
“We’re unfortunately waiting on [USCR] to give us any clue of what [the regulations are] going to be,” said Chip Ganassi Racing sports car team manager Tim Keene. “We were hoping we’d have something by now as far as what the regs are, and doing some on-track testing. That hasn’t happened yet.”
As a result of the uncertainty over the regulations, Ganassi, the most successful team in GRAND-AM history, is undecided on its 2014 plans. The six-time DP championship-winning squad could even switch to a P2 program, according to Keene, who had hoped for a series-sanctioned side-by-side DP/P2 official test following the Road America weekend.
“I think we’ve been missing a lot of good opportunities to actually test the cars on track together to see what they’d actually be like,” he said. “Monday after [Road America] would have been a good opportunity [for a side-by-side test], I think. It’s kind of disappointing at this stage.”
According to Scot Elkins, vice president, competition and technical regulations for USCR, the timetable for the P2/DP balancing process has been going to plan.
“Everybody knows where we’re going and what the ideas are,” Elkins told SPEED.com last month. “We’re working on still doing a bunch of simulation and still doing CFD and work.
“What we’re doing is no different than what anybody else would do in the same kind of process, which is utilize the computerized simulations and that kind of work, then validate that in the wind tunnel and then validate the wind tunnel [results] on the race track.”
The next phase is set to begin this week, when one of the Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b P2 cars will undergo wind tunnel testing. The data collected there will then be used to compare with existing DP cars, which GRAND-AM already has data from previous wind tunnel sessions.
While Elkins would not confirm, it’s believed on-track testing could begin early next month, with development bits being evaluated on existing DPs. However, the regulations are not likely to be confirmed until October at the earliest, which would leave teams in a race to build and prepare for pre-season testing.
“To me, it’s just a futile exercise,” said 2012 Rolex 24-winning team owner Michael Shank. “It’s going to be really hard to do it in the time we have to do it. Just from a timing standpoint of CFD design, then distribute it to the chassis manufacturers, then tooling, then molds, then parts and the testing…
“Here we are in [mid] August. We’re supposed to be at a Sebring test the week of November 18th. I know production work in the race car world. I just think it’s extremely optimistic to think we’ll be ready to do that.”
It’s still unclear what changes will actually be made to the DPs, but Shank believes the cars will be given more power and additional downforce. Discussed options include carbon brakes, a duel-element wing, splitter and diffuser package, a bump in horsepower, as well as the already announced six-speed gearboxes.
On the P2 side, ESM team owner/driver Scott Sharp said he expects only minimal changes, with indications that the cars could run with a low-downforce Le Mans aero kit at all tracks. Another change comes in the form of class-wide Continental tires, which his team has already tested on at Road Atlanta in May.
While there has been some criticism from team owners on the timeframe for announcements, Sharp is mindful of the challenges Elkins, Richard Buck and the rest of the IMSA technical staff are up against.
“I think it’s almost monumental what has to happen next year,” Sharp said. “I really hope everybody takes a little bit of a deep breath and recognizes that it’s going to be an ebb and a flow over the next couple of years.
“There’s going to be races where it really plays into a particular [car’s] favor and there’s races that it doesn’t. And until they sort themselves out in combining so many different kinds of cars, teams and sponsors, they’re not going to get it all right [in] step one.”
Yet, there is still uncertainly, particularly in the DP camp, as teams don’t know how much they’ll have to invest for upgrades heading into next year.
“I’m really concerned of where the series is going,” said 8Star Motorsports team owner/driver Enzo Potolicchio. “We don’t know what to do next year. We have people coming from South America asking for budgets and asking for seats available and we don’t have an answer.
“There’s no way to put a budget together. We have no schedule, we have no rules package to see how much we have to invest in our cars to make them competitive. We haven’t made decisions of where we’re going. We just have to wait for announcements.”
Potolicchio is particularly concerned with how the Balance of Performance between P2 and DP will shake out, especially in light of the recent launch of BMW’s new 4.5-liter V8 engine, which dominated last month’s Brickyard Grand Prix before being handed a 150-rpm penalty for Road America.
“The proof that we’re going to struggle is what happened this year with the BMW [engine],” he said. “Bringing a new motor package [mid-season], knowing it’s going to change again for next year and not being able to do the proper Balance of Performance.
“The way they did it… really tells me that there’s no way they’re going to get it right for next year with a P2 car against a DP. It already seems impossible to do but more now that they weren’t even able to balance the performance for something we’ve been running for years.”
8Star as well as Taylor’s operation are already heavily invested with Corvette DP machinery and would not consider making a switch to P2 cars for 2014. With the schedule also not yet known, selling a USCR program to potential sponsors and drivers has been a challenge, according to the three-time IMSA champion.
“At the moment, it’s very difficult because we don’t know what the rules are,” Taylor said. “We don’t know how many races there are. And when you don’t know that, how do you actually sell it to a sponsor?
“Secondly, when you’re in a longer-term contract like I am with some of my brands, these contract negotiations were done before. And now with the merger, you potentially got a 30 percent increase in budgets. How do we do that?
“It is extremely difficult at the moment. I’ve never known it to be more difficult as an owner, ever. I think the merging, big picture, is the best thing that happened. But where we stand today, I have no idea what it’s going to look like.”
While Taylor expects to be on the grid next year with at least one Corvette DP, Potolicchio has set a deadline of October to finalize his 2014 program. If the regulations are not out by then, it could result in 8Star sitting out of USCR’s Prototype category and Potolicchio concentrating his efforts elsewhere in the racing world.
“If you ask me where we’re going next year, I can’t answer that because we have to wait for everything to be more clear and we need to trust the series that they can actually do it,” Potolicchio said. “We may need to take a step back and maybe do something completely different next year and wait until the series figures things out.”
Despite some concerned team owners, Elkins hasn’t changed his outlook on the timetable for finalized DP/P2 technical regulations.
“No matter how many people complain and moan and scream at us, we’re not going to rush this process,” he said. “Because we’ve got one shot to get it right. The truth of the matter is that we know it’s not going to be perfect at the beginning, so everybody has to have patience and have understanding of that… We’re doing what we can.”
With 14 current full-season DP entries, along with four P2 cars in the ALMS, and the likely addition of the DeltaWing, the possibility looms for a 20-car Prototype grid next year. While there is still some uncertainty, some team owners haven’t lost the faith in the unified series just yet.
“I’m locked in to what got me to where we’re at today, through good and bad, and I’m going to try and stick with it,” Shank added. “It’s frustrating times for sure but I still believe to the potential upside of it if we can get through this quickly.”