United SportsCar Championship’s ‘Balance of Performance’ makes series a guessing game
There was a lot of sports-car racing news made last weekend during the American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans, most of it occurring off the track. Leading that list was the private distribution of IMSA Competition Memo No. 14-06 to Grand-Am teams running Daytona Prototypes, and ALMS teams running LMP2 cars. The DP and LMP2 machines will compete directly against each other next year in the top class of the merged Tudor United SportsCar Championship, beginning with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona on Jan. 25, barely three months away.
The memo, marked CONFIDENTIAL, listed a semi-final proposal on how IMSA, the sanctioning body, plans to equalize the DP and LMP2 cars, which are entirely different under the skin. It’s called BOP, or Balance of Performance.
The most unexpected aspect of the memo: Brakes are now “open.” DP cars had been restricted to steel brakes, while LMP2s could already use the much better, lighter, more expensive carbon brakes. Peter Baron, owner of Starworks Motorsports’ two-car DP team, says that upgrading to composite brakes also requires multiple other upgrades, including wheels (the DP’s cheaper, heavier multi-piece wheels can now be replaced by lighter one-piece forged wheels), ceramic bearings, new suspension uprights and a few other suspension pieces.
There are also multiple aerodynamic changes mandated for DP cars, including a new dual-element rear wing and, the memo says, “a new diffuser/tunnel has been designed and is in production,” all mandated. The LMP2 cars will have to use a “Le Mans aero kit” for Daytona, Indianapolis and Road America. They will also have to carry more weight.
“For the P2 teams, the expenses are pretty much just lead,” Baron said. “Which is what -- $3 a pound?”
Certainly Baron and the other DP teams can run their existing steel brakes, heavy wheels and other dated parts, but they would not be remotely competitive with LMP2 teams. DP teams that can afford the updates will also have the opportunity to use more sophisticated -- read expensive -- clutches and differentials.
To make his Riley-BMWs competitive, Baron figures it would cost an extra $500,000 or so per car -- more than double what he was expecting prior to Memo No. 14-06.
Which leaves him and other owners with some tough decisions to make, and not a lot of time. Formal testing begins in November, and the memo said, “It is expected that all teams participating in the November tests will utilize these parts.” Baron hasn’t decided what to do -- he has already lost his best driver, Ryan Dalziel, to Scott Sharp’s Extreme Speed LMP2 team for next year. Bob Stallings, owner of the Gainsco Chevrolet Corvette DP, has not committed to 2014, and in fact told drivers Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney they are free to explore other jobs. And these are not backmarker teams -- the Gainsco car won once in 2013 and was in championship contention all year, while Starworks won twice, with six more podium finishes.
Everything done now, too, may be obsolete after 2016, when an entirely new batch of specifications are released with the intent of developing one near-universal prototype car.
Even some LMP2 teams aren’t sure what to do, including champion Scott Tucker, who may or may not return with his two cars.
“I understand the regulations came out last night for P2,” he told Autoweek immediately after Petit Le Mans, “but we were focused on this race, so now we’ll be looking at them and exploring our options.”
Fortunately, he said, his Level 5 team has multiple options, including interest from other teams in combining forces, or moving to a more stable class like the spec LMP Challenge.
Testing is scheduled for Nov. 16-17 at Sebring, and the 19-20 at Daytona. What will we learn? Right now, nobody knows -- including United SportsCar Championship management. AutoWeek