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DATE News (chronologically)
02/19/13
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Ford Bringing Turbo EcoBoosts, Custom Bodies To DP
GRAND-AM has distinguished itself in the sports car marketplace for more than a decade by taking a low-tech, racing-first approach to its cars. But with the unification between its Rolex Series and the American Le Mans Series less than a year away, GRAND-AM's top class is set for a change to its core identity.

Currently regarded as a bastion for 5.0-liter V8 powerplants, SPEED.com has learned GRAND-AM will allow turbocharged engines into the Daytona Prototype class starting in 2014, with Ford at the forefront of the new high-tech initiative.

The production-based 3.5-liter, twin-turbo, direct-injection V6 was recently displayed at January's Roar Before The 24 test by Michael Shank Racing, and as I was told by Ford Racing director Jamie Allison on Friday, the Blue Oval is working directly with GRAND-AM and MSR to help map a more relevant, tech-friendly way forward in DP.

"We are working with GRAND-AM to bring in our EcoBoost powerplant into the DP class, the unified series," confirmed Allison. "In endurance racing, it's the blend of performance and fuel economy, which is what the P-class is about. You don't sacrifice performance when you try to go after fuel mileage. And in endurance racing it's equally important."

GRAND-AM managing director of competition Richard Buck and his technical team have been tasked with finding the right competitive balance for the Ford EcoBoost turbo to fit among the existing V8s.

"We have the submission of the turbo engine from Ford to GRAND-AM and it's in process right now for homologation if it meets all the guidelines and milestones for the 2014 season," he said. "And that has been communicated as well with our current partners in the series, including Porsche, GM and BMW."

A controlled shift to add variety to the DP class—engine alternatives to the lumbering motors that currently power every entry—is a welcome change.

With the ALMS P2 cars destined to merge with DPs to form a single prototype class next year, the natural expectation would have been for the turbocharged P2 cars from Honda to bring diversity to the combined field.

The fact that GRAND-AM has begun the process of allowing modern technology into the engine bays of its DP cars is not only refreshing, but also somewhat unexpected.

The Daytona Beach-based organization revealed to me back in 2010 that turbocharged DP engines were under consideration, and reaffirmed that interest to SPEED's John Dagys last year, but the concept struggled to get out of the starting gates.

While it would have been easy for GRAND-AM to use ALMS P2 cars to satisfy the high-tech desires of sports car fans and manufacturers, the series' move to update the DP class with turbo engines for 2014 is a genuinely positive sign. It's also rather intriguing.

Like many others, I've continued to look for indicators from GRAND-AM on its approach to unification, and the choice to embrace technology--even something as common as smallish turbo DI engines--is welcome news.

"I give a lot of credit to Jim France and Richard Buck and especially Ed Bennett around advancing the DPs to be more brand relevant in terms of what the Corvettes have done," Allison opined. "We're looking to bring more product relevance to the Ford DP cars."

Ford's DP EcoBoost turbo is built by Roush Yates, the famed NASCAR engine builders who also supply Ford's current V8 DP engine.

The DP EcoBoost turbo is an evolution of the engine briefly used by Libra Racing in P2 last year, and with an increased capacity from 3.2L to 3.5L, Allison says the engine has now been developed specifically for GRAND-AM, rather than as a unit that could be used in either prototype class from 2014 onwards.

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