By: Kobe Lambeth
On March 1, 2015, I submitted a letter to IMSA and the ACO regarding the 2017 LMP2 regulations. Most race fans were not pleased with the new rules and neither was I. After lots of research on the regulations, I wrote a lengthy letter to IMSA and the ACO. Below, you will find the letter I submitted to the two organizations.
Dear Mr. Pierre Fillon and Mr. Jim France,
Hello, my name is Kobe and I am a major fan of sportscar racing. I understand that you two are extremely busy men who have a lot to deal with in your respectable series. There is one concern I have about the future of sportscar racing worldwide. Before getting down to business, I want to say that I admire everything that the ACO and IMSA does to provide terrific racing for the fans to enjoy. On the ACO side of things, a new championship was created in 2012 called the FIA World Endurance Championship. Many people were skeptical on whether or not this series would survive when Peugeot withdrew, and Audi was the only manufacturer who began as the season’s only “factory team.” Later on that season, Toyota showed up at Le Mans, then Porsche debuted in 2014, now we have Nissan coming to Le Mans this year with a revolutionary prototype. The ACO has truly did magnificent job with creating an amazing championship with top level racing on a worldwide stage. Along with the FIA World Endurance Championship , it was a great decision for the ACO to sanction the European Le Mans Series. They used to have low car counts and struggled to fill the grid, but now the series is really exciting to watch. The LMP2 class is very exciting and diverse, and the GT classes are also competitive! Adding LMP3 to the mix this year will definitely help increase car counts and bring more exciting racing. In my opinion, I firmly believe that the future of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the European Le Mans Series will definitely be a bright one. I applaud the ACO’s decision to take over management in the struggling Asian Le Mans Series. It has been painful to watch this series produce an average of eight cars on the grid in 2014. Two LMP2 prototypes and the rest of the field being filled with GT cars is not going to last long in this society. The introduction of LMP3 is a step in the right direction, because we may see more cars on the grid, due to the lower cost of buying this certain prototype compared to an LMP2 car. I have faith that this series with thrive in many years to come, because the ACO is one of the best racing organizations in the world. IMSA has also did an amazing job with the Tudor United Sportscar Championship. I remember the day when the news broke about the Grand-am Rolex Sportscar Series and the American Le Mans Series merger. It is definitely the best thing that has happened to sportscar racing in the United States. I know that it has not been an easy job merging two different organizations together into one big happy family. Like most new championships, 2014 was a very challenging year for IMSA. Troubles with Balance of Performance in the Prototype Class caused a lot of trouble between the LMP2 cars and Daytona Prototypes. However, the IMSA tech team did not give up and the cars are closer than ever. IMSA definitely has a bright future, due to so many improvements that you have made since the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Speaking of the future, I have some concerns about the proposed 2017 LMP2 Regulations.
The news about the new regulations for LMP2 was recently made public and I was completely shocked. The first thing that caught my eye is that the ACO is proposing LMP2 to have a single engine supplier for teams running in the FIA World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans Series, and the Asian Le Mans Series. My first thoughts is LMP2 going to be the faster version of an LMP3 car or is this another version of LMPC? There is nothing wrong with having a spec engine supplier as LMPC has been successful with their open cockpit Chevrolet powered Oreca prototypes. I also agree that this is a great way for teams to save money, but is it really worth the risk of losing the different variation of technology? I understand that this would make the Balance of Performance process much easier, but I do think having multiple engines is the best way to produce wonderful racing for years to come. IMSA’s approach to this situation of welcoming multiple types of engines is a great way to keep the diversity in LMP2. I understand that IMSA teams wanting to run the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be allowed to race, but they will be balanced with the ACO’s LMP2 cars. The only thing that does not make any sense is that Le Mans is the only race where they would be allowed to run. For example, an current IMSA LMP2 team Michael Shank Racing has a Ligier JS P2, and he has expressed interest in racing around the world in the future. In 2017, Shank and other LMP2 teams in the Tudor United Sportscar Championship may want to race in a few races overseas, but that will only happen if they have a proposed ACO spec car. My dream for LMP2 is to have a car that you can take from the United States and race in overseas in ACO sanctioned championships and vice versa. It is extremely hard to understand why IMSA cars would not be allowed to compete in various races in the foreign championships. If the ACO is willing to balance the different engines at Le Mans, then they can balance the cars at high downforce circuits. If both organizations agree on that, then everyone will be happy.
Another concern I have involves plans to limit LMP2 chassis constructors to four, in another effort to reduce costs of the prototype. Although I believe that it is a brilliant way to reduce costs, but there is a chance that it is going to cause the LMP2 class to suffer in the ACO sanctioned series. On the bright side, it was very nice for the ACO to promise to have at least one chassis being North American based. Riley and Coyote currently have Daytona Prototypes, but they are considering building an LMP2 for 2017. This is a good way for the ACO to build a good relationship with American constructors, but there are other constructors that we have in LMP2 today that will possibly end their programs, due to the proposed regulations. With only four constructors, Balance of Performance will not be a headache, but I believe it should be done if the ACO and IMSA both want sportscar racing to succeed worldwide. I understand that LMP1 is all about technology, but we have seen technology grow in LMP2 over the years. Multimatic, Onroak Automotive, Gibson Technology, Dome, SMP, Honda, and Oreca are current constructors with LMP2 cars. Do you really want to destroy many years of hard work that made this class thrive? Limiting choices in 2017 could turn this class into a repeat of the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2014 or the final season of the American Le Mans Series. In 2014, there was only four full-time entrants in the LMP2 in a “global” championship. This is what the series may look like in 2017 if the ACO and IMSA are not willing to find a common solution to keep this class running strong for years to come. I remember the final season of watching the American Le Mans Series, and seeing Level 5 Motorsports and Extreme Speed Motorsports fighting for the P2 championship. Four cars is not really exciting from a fan’s point of view, but I am hopeful that the future of the LMP2 class will be fun for lots of people to watch. My dream is for the ACO to change their minds and follow IMSA’s lead by allowing multiple constructors to race. This is a great way for the relationship between IMSA and the ACO to grow by sharing common ideas.
I understand that the new car will be eligible for four years, but a new constructor will not be allowed to enter during this time period. Why would you want to limit new cars wanting to race? The ACO should welcome anyone wanting to be a part of their wonderful series. There are many LMP2 drivers out there hoping to get a ride in LMP1 someday. Allowing some manufacturer involvement in LMP2 will help those drivers get a feel of what a “ real factory ride” will be feel like. This would help make the transition from the division of prototypes much easier. With the current regulations, I believe that the cars race well, and they safe enough to protect the drivers in case of an massive accident. In 2017, it would be wonderful to see the continuation of the safety requirements, using an LMP1 tub, along with more safety updates to the cars. I praise the ACO and IMSA both for making these fast cars safe enough for the drivers to race their hearts out. Another concern I have is about only gasoline powered cars being eligible for LMP2 which has been a rule for many years. How come the ACO does not want to deal with a diesel powered prototype? I understand that Balance of Performance is the main reason for that, but I firmly believe that there is a future for diesel in LMP2. In the past, I have heard members of the ACO stating that balancing gasoline with diesel would be a complete nightmare, but look what IMSA did with the Daytona Prototypes and the LMP2 cars. Many people thought it would be impossible to balance two different kind of prototypes, but the lap times and racing is closer than ever today. The balance is terrific, because IMSA worked extremely hard and never gave up. I believe that the ACO has the ability to balance gasoline and diesel powered cars, because they have an amazing tech team. If the ACO believes that balancing diesel is too difficult, then they should collaborate with IMSA and work together on it. Speedsource, which is a “factory team” in the Tudor United Sportscar Championship has expressed running the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the future with their Mazda Skyactiv-Diesel prototypes. It is quite a shame that they will not be allowed to compete in the LMP2 class due to the diesel ban, and no “factory car” rule. If the ACO does not want works supported teams to race full-time in their series, then at least allow them for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Doing that would give “factory teams” such as Speedsource a chance to run the biggest race in the world.
My next concern is about manufacturer bodywork that is currently seen on the Daytona Prototypes and the Alpine LMP2 car. As we all know, the life of the Daytona Prototypes is going to end soon, so those teams will be looking for a car to continue running in their respectable championship. Both Coyote and Riley have expressed interest in building an LMP2 car with manufacturer bodywork that is similar to the current Daytona Prototypes. However, it is against ACO policy as this type of bodywork is only allowed in LMP1. I do not understand why there is such a problem with building a car using the carbon fiber LMP1 tub and throwing on a Corvette style of body on it. It would be a beautiful car and the fans would adore it. The LMP2 rulebook specifically states that the class is for privateers, and no major manufacturer involvement is allowed. I know the classes in the FIA World Endurance Championship are LMP1, LMP2, GTE Pro, and GTE Am. LMP2 is suppose to be for privateers with no manufacturer bodywork allowed, but why do you allow factory support in GTE Am? In the past years, some teams in that category have received supported from AF Corse which is a “factory team.” In my opinion, I believe that the ACO should take a few practices from GTE Am and let American constructors build their Coyote and Riley prototypes with the bodywork that identifies them. In a way, this is very similar to letting teams like AF Corse and Aston Martin Racing to help privateer teams be successful on the worldwide stage, but it is not exactly the same. This season in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the Alpine Team decided to run for the championship, but they have to run the Oreca 03 body kit, instead of using their own unique one. How come they cannot race their stunning body kit? It would only take a little Balance of Performance testing to equalise it with the other cars. I strongly believe that it is worth the time to make the teams and the fans happy to see a variation between the cars. In the future, I would love to look at the LMP2 grid and say “oh look, there’s a Corvette engine in a Coyote chassis, and there is a Ford engine in a Riley chassis.” This is what made the Daytona Prototypes really successful, and it has a chance to be a terrific thing on the world stage.
There are a few things that I really like about the proposed 2017 regulations. An increase of horsepower is a great idea, which will give a good distance between each class. I also believe that following IMSA’s lead of a spec tire is the best way to go. Dunlop and Michelin are two good options, but I would also consider Continental if they are able to produce a more “P2 friendly” tire. This will help make the Balance of Performance process much easier than trying to balance cars running on two or three different kinds of tires. The main reason for me writing this letter is not to complain about the proposed rules, but to give my own opinions on how to make the future of sportscar racing better. If the rules became final today, then IMSA would have a really bright future, and ACO sanctioned series would be struggling to find LMP2 cars to race. I want both sanctioning bodies to succeed together, and to continue building a relationship that will last forever. It is sad to see the divide between IMSA and the ACO, because both of you are world class organizations. The world of sportscar racing would be so much better if each sanctioning body collaborated, and worked together on Balance of Performance. This would make everyone happy when teams like Speedsource could run the 24 Hours of Le Mans and run their diesel fuel as a factory team. Coyote and Riley could build cars with their manufacturer bodywork, and race it overseas in ACO sanctioned championships. Teams in the ACO sanctioned championships would also be allowed to race in America without having to change cars and vice versa. I really hope that Mr. Pierre Fillon or Mr. Jim France will read this letter and think deeply about some of the things that I have mentioned.
*I wrote this in March and it is already December! Wow, where does the time go? A lot has changed since March as IMSA will stand alone on the superior island. 2017 has the potential to be the greatest season in American Prototype history if IMSA handles the situation properly. We should see returning manufacturers and a few new ones. Months ago, I believed that the new regulations would cause trouble in IMSA. Now, the series has great potential as manufacturer bodywork and multiple engines will be allowed. The new car will be a Daytona Prototype using the ideas from the ideas of the current LMP2 car. In my opinion, Daytona Prototype International is going to be extremely popular when the green flag drops on the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Please share your thoughts and opinions race fans! I want to hear what you all have to say about the 2017 LMP2 rules.*