|LMP3 Ginetta Nissan|
IMSA's decision to restructure the newly re-named Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series with LMP3 machinery came after direct competitor and stakeholder input, according to series boss Scott Atherton in his State of the Series address on Friday at Road America.
The entry-level prototype platform, which was initially poised to be added into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge as a third class, was vetoed by the majority of the series paddock, leading to the overhaul within the Mazda-backed prototype development series instead.
"I think it's a material example of that process not being a charade but actually having some substance behind it," Atherton told Sportscar365.
"It's one of two or three examples that I can specifically point to say what we originally expected to do and what we ultimately decided to do was affected by feedback from our stakeholders."
The shakeup sees the current Mazda-powered Elan DP02 prototypes moved to the PC2 class and LMP3 machinery from all of the six ACO-approved constructors eligible for the PC1 category.
While admitting the introduction of the P3 platform, with turn-key cars cost-capped to 206,000 Euros ($228,000), comes as a price increase over the current Lites cars, Atherton believes the car's performance and ability will outweigh the initial investment.
"It's a radical step up from what is currently embodied in that category," he said. "But if you talk with the teams that are currently participating in Prototype Lites, they are eager to add this to their mix.
"They have customers that are ready to go and are just waiting on the word.
|LMP3 Ligier JS P3|
"None of these decisions are ever guaranteed. The best we can do is research, make a call and do the best we can do deliver."
With confirmation of the first North American championship, the interest level in LMP3 is expected to rise significantly over the coming months, according to Onroak Automotive North American representative Ethan Bregman.
A total of six Ligier JS P3s are already in the U.S., including a car that was on display Friday at Road America during IMSA's future platform and schedule announcement.
Numerous Ginetta LMP3s are also Stateside and have taken part in club racing, while ANSA Motorsports recently announced a partnership with ADESS AG for North American distribution of the ADESS 03.
"We expect to have plenty of cars on the grid next year," Bregman told Sportscar365.
"I understand IMSA's roadmap with the WeatherTech [Championship] in trying to make it accessible for fans and reduce the number of classes. It makes sense.
"There's benefits to having it in all different places. But to be honest, we're just ecstatic to have a place to race the car within IMSA in this country."
Bregman noted the significance of the P3 cars remaining with the ACO global spec Nissan-based V8 engine in IMSA competition, instead of opting for a series-specific engine package.
"It's valuable for a lot of our customers to have one single package that they can race in Europe, race in Asia and race at a premier level here in the U.S.," he said.
"That means no changes to the car. It gives them a much greater value for the money they are spending."
The platform's global nature could also bring some international teams to IMSA, with United Autosports among the European-based squads that's keeping a close eye on the latest developments.
The Anglo-American team, which currently leads the European Le Mans Series LMP3 championship with its Ligier JS P3, could expand into an IMSA program next year, according to team co-owner/managing director Richard Dean, who is on-site at Road America this weekend.
"It's such a great [platform] and we've already sold a car here into the U.S., and there hasn't been a series [yet]. I think it will be popular," Dean told Sportscar365.
"Today was probably the first time, when they pulled the cover off that [at the announcement], that anyone has seen one here in the flesh.
"These cars are filling half the grid for ELMS and they're turning people away for full-series entries. If it follows the same trend, it's going to be a very popular series." John Dagys/Sportscar 365
United Autosports Eyeing IMSA LMP3 Program; 24H Le Mans in 2017
United Autosports could expand its race operations into North America in 2017, with the Anglo-American team evaluating an entry into IMSA competition in the newly restructured Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series.
The UK-based squad, meanwhile, has not ruled out a LMP2 effort for next year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, should it gain the automatic invite for winning this year's European Le Mans Series LMP3 championship.
Team co-owner and managing director Richard Dean, who is on-site this weekend at Road America, admits that the introduction of LMP3 to North America has come as an opportune time for the team's potential foray into IMSA racing.
"Now that P3 has come here in some format or another, it's of interest," Dean told Sportscar365.
"We've got a base here in Indianapolis, that we have used very little, just as a storage and transit place for when we've got historics.
"It would be nice to utilize it, and we've been waiting for the right sort of program to come up."
Dean and Zak Brown's United Autosports team has been the dominant force in the ELMS P3 ranks this year, having scored class wins in the opening three races with its pair of Ligier JS P3s.
It's come in an ultra-competitive field of more than 20 cars, which has been capped by the series due to the excessive level of interest in the new entry level prototype platform.
"We're the UK agent for Ligier, and that's going rather well, and the series has exploded in Europe; it's really taken off," Dean said.
"We're in love with the cars. It's the right price, it's the right performance. Everyone who drives it, loves it. They run and run and run, it's a reliable car. What more do you want from a racing car?
"These cars are filling half the grid for ELMS and they're turning people away for full-series entries.
"If it follows the same trend [in North America], it's going to be a very popular series."
Dean feels a LMP3 effort in Prototype Challenge next year could help lay the foundation for larger involvement in the future, potentially with the new-look Prototype class.
While having ruled out a LMP2/DPi effort for next year, Dean admits LMP2 remains a target for the team in the long-term, both in Europe and America.
"Every team has an ambition to go to Le Mans," he said. "You can only really do that, realistically, with P2, so we have our eye on that.
"Obviously those regulations are changing as everybody knows, so I don't think 2017 is really the time for us to go into it.
"We've only just gone into the new LMP3, so to do a new series with new cars and a new investment in LMP2 cars is a bit too much."
However, should the team end up winning the ELMS title, Dean admitted they likely wouldn't turn down the LMP2 auto-invite for Le Mans, although a plan is not yet in place.
"It's safe to say that anybody who wins that is going to make every effort to be there," he said.
"I'm sure everybody has got a plan in place, if they win that championship.
"We won the first three [races], but there's no reason why somebody else can't win the remaining three, so we would be wrong to make too many detailed plans. I can't help but dream about it."
With the team set to continue as a two-car Ligier P3 effort in the ELMS next year, Dean is upbeat about the platform's future on a global scale.
"I think it's massively sensible of what IMSA have done, to take P3 in the same spec as it races in Europe," he said.
"You've now got LMP3 in Asia, Europe and America; they'll start national series with the British next year. There's a few national series that will start because ELMS is full.
"Now IMSA has taken it, it's truly a global series, and it makes perfect sense to take it in the same spec.
"Guys here can test and drive, and race all year, over here, and go to Le Mans and race exactly the same car there [in Road to Le Mans support race]. Or they can do the European Le Mans Series rounds in exactly the same car.
"I'm hoping that in the future if it's popular, and if these cars get the opportunity to race in places like Daytona, I do believe you will get European teams coming and doing those long-distance races like they used to do through the 1970s.
"The only reason it doesn't happen now is because there is no uniformity of eligible cars. IMSA has just made that possible again." John Dagys/Sportscar 365