The shock of the new....and the familiar
There’s Dyson Racing’s new relationship with Mazda announced last week that will see the team running a brace of LMP2 Lola B08/86-Mazda MZR-Rs in the 2009 American Le Mans Series; make that two LMP2 Lola B08/86-Mazda MZR-Rs sponsored by BP Petroleum. Then there’s the team’s new headquarters facility. It’s still in Poughkeepsie, NY but it’s more than double the size of the facility Dyson Racing has utilized for the better part of the past two decades.
And did we mention the arrival of young Nicholas Robert Dyson - Chris and his wife Joy’s first child - back on November 14th?
But for all that’s new for Chris Dyson and Dyson Racing, there is much that is familiar. For while the Lola-Mazda is certainly a switch from the Porsche RS Spyders that Dyson Racing campaigned the past two seasons, the car owes much to the Lola-AERs the team previously raced. Coupled with the opportunity to form new alliances with Mazda and BP, the familiarity with Lola and Advanced Engine Research (which prepares the Mazda MZR-R engines) was a key factor in Dyson Racing’s decision.
“If you look at what Mazda’s plans are for the long term, there’s a very nice dovetailing with our own plans. Mazda’s commitment to racing far exceeds every other manufacturer in terms of their breadth of involvement, particularly with their commitment to formulating young talent as it comes up through the ranks. That’s something that definitely appeals to us in the long term.
“But above all else they want to get to the top in prototype racing. They have elected to work with two of our longtime partners, Lola and AER. That was attractive because we know how potent a package both of those companies can put together. And we have been the beneficiary of it, and in some respects we were the catalyst to some of the success we all enjoyed.
“From our side, technically and relationship-wise, this is a very easy lateral step. Clearly we have a hill to climb to understand this car and maximize its window. But in the sense that it’s a development of a car we’ve been racing for five years that gives us a leg-up from a chassis standpoint. And from an engine side of things, this is a logical evolution of the AER engines we’ve races in the past.
The new program brings down the curtain on Dyson Racing’s long association with Porsche, one that dates back to the days of the Camel GT Challenge and the Porsche 962s campaigned by team founder and principal (and Chris’ father) Rob Dyson. However, the younger Dyson is quick to stress the two parties parted company in a cordial fashion … and that we may not have heard the last of Porsche in LMP2 despite his team’s new association with Mazda and Penske Racing’s decision (for now) to discontinue its American Le Mans Series program.
“We had an ongoing conversation with Porsche about their commitment to the program throughout the year,” Chris says. “They made it clear they are committed to the RS Spyder program on a customer level through 2010. So we are actively entertaining buyers and some offers on our cars and hope to see them in the American Le Mans Series next year. Obviously, the Penske program has ended but Porsche is ready to support any customer and they are supporting some Spyder customers in Europe.
“We talked with Porsche about their long-term plans and, of course, we have our own business plan for the long term. When the Mazda opportunity came along it was, frankly, too good to pass up. We ended our relationship with Porsche on a very good note. They understood that business opportunities sometimes come along and you have to move on from each other.”
Any observer of the American Le Mans Series is keenly aware that Dyson and Porsche aren’t the only entities that have “moved on from each other” since the 2008 season finale. As Dyson noted, Penske has moved on from the Series. Ditto Andretti Green Racing. In addition, the new Audi R15 TDI’s only scheduled appearance in North America is at Sebring in March.
Acura, on the other hand, has divided its attention, moving into LMP1 with de Ferran Motorsports and Patr¢n Highcroft Racing leaving - for the moment - Lowe’s Fernandez Racing as its sole representative in LMP2.
Thus the Dyson/Mazda partnership faces a very different landscape that has characterized the American Le Mans Series’ prototype classes in recent years. While taking pains not to sugarcoat the situation, Dyson is remarkably bullish about the coming season.
“Certainly the LMP2 class was exciting in 2008, a high-water mark not just for the entry level but the level of competition,” he says. “If you look at the Series, we’re losing the Penske team and Audi hasn’t renewed their effort - at this point at least. I think the Series would certainly benefit if they were there.
“But Honda is making a major investment through their LMP1 cars and, from our side, the Mazda effort is going to be fabulous for our Series. They’ve doubled their effort and the Lola LMP2 coupe is one of the most evocative cars you can imagine. I think it’s going to steal a lot of headlines.
“But if you look across the grid at any major racing series, I think 2009 is going to be a challenge for everybody. Where the American Le Mans Series is still incredibly well-positioned is we’re still on the cutting edge of new technology. It’s still a pretty good value proposition for people who want to get involved relative to a lot of other series.
“That’s not to trivialize what’s happening now. But I think the Series is still going to be phenomenal racing with super exciting cars; there’s just a few less guys out there. At the end of the day the core of it is still pretty unshaken by all this (and) I think there’s going to be plenty of competition to keep everybody excited.”
Another aspect of the program that has Dyson excited is the new facility the team will operate out of, beginning in February. It has been a long time in coming, but he believes it’s been worth the wait.
“The thought process on the shop was over in the last five years,” he says. “Like anything, you had to locate a site, go through the design and development process. Because we’ve had so long to plan it out, really there will only be a few days of moving-in heavy equipment. It’s an upgrade in terms of workspace, so we look at it as a gain across the board.
“It’s more than double the space of our current facility, and it utilizes all the latest green technologies to maximize efficiency. Not only is it more space, everything is packaged much more logically in terms of workspaces versus preparation spaces. Everybody is going to have more room. We’re going to have much more prep space where we can add car bays which, in turn, means we can add programs. We’ll have more room for indoor storage of our trucks, we’ve added more office space - the upper levels of our staff have grown - and we have the opportunity to expand if we need it.
“So it’s going to be such a step forward for everyone; it positions us to take advantage of new opportunities going forward.”
And while it may be a few years yet before Nicholas Robert Dyson can take advantage of any of those opportunities, Chris Dyson - indeed the whole Dyson family - is already enjoying his contributions to their lives…including, in a round about way perhaps, the racing effort.
“It really is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to Joy and me,” Chris says. “It’s the first grandchild in the family, and my Mom and Dad and my sister live close enough that they can come over regularly. Whenever you have a new addition to the family, particularly at this time of year - he arrived right before Thanksgiving - it just energizes everybody.
“You can prepare yourself for the workload that you’re going to have, but what surprises me is how willing you are to do it and how much you love doing it. Given the sleep depravation, I could go out now and do a 24-hour race and feel like I’m getting a lot of sleep. So the 12 Hours of Sebring should be a breeze after this!”
David Phillips is one of North America’s most respected and renowned motorsports journalists. His ‘Another Turn’ feature appears regularly on americanlemans.com. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Le Mans Series.
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