When the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship chose to abandon its traditional “Daytona Prototype” formula for something more closely aligned with the technologies and manufacturing concurrent with their European counterparts, the new era of today’s DPi formula was created.
Short for “Daytona Prototype International,” the intent was to take the platform of modern European “LMP2” machinery, a international specification of prototype cars that are built for commercial use, and adapt it to specific American needs. More specifically, the LMP2 category in Europe is mandated to NOT be a manufacturer’s category, allowing only four producers of prototype machines to take part, and all being required to run Gibson produced engines. This was meant to be a major departure from Europe’s LMP1 platform, which is specifically made for factory involved efforts (such as Toyota, Porsche, formerly Audi, etc.). With the raising costs of development to compete in LMP1, European rule makers decided LMP2 should be a prototype strictly for “privateer” teams; small organizations with minimal commercial funding, or more often a wealthy amateur taking on one of the driving roles.
It was within this space that the American DPi was born. Put simply, the category is meant to take the base of an LMP2 prototype car, but allow for car companies to create their own bodywork that can adapt, as well as produce their own engines more in-line with their production cars.
While the specific balancing of performance between the various manufacturers remains contested, the success of DPi is resounding. In its first year, the formula has attracted GM (Cadillac), Nissan, Mazda, as well as a to-be-confirmed program from Honda.
The cars are stylish, with aesthetics that are universally approved by fans, but still within a budget range that is reasonably manageable.
So why is it working?
Shared Costs. One of the greatest challenges in racing today is the lack of shared costs between the various entities in the sport. In an era where more and more series, for example IndyCar, move toward “spec” racing, the operational costs become absorbed by the teams, as the chassis and component suppliers have zero competition and can rely on a retail. With DPi, you have three different financing entities: 1. The chassis manufacturer and their development, 2. The OEM and their respective bodywork production, and 3. The team itself and the day-to-day operational costs. The shared costs makes the balance much more manageable.
Easy Entry for Manufacturers. The cost and process of development within DPi is one of the single most attractive elements. Because the chassis is already built, major manufacturer’s don’t have to get in to the budget and brand liability of “starting” from scratch. This mitigates R&D cost, and equally important mitigates the level of risk for a manufacturer to test the waters.
Engine Baseline. By requiring vital components of the race engine to replicate their production car counterparts, the same appeal in bodywork development applies. Manufacturer’s don’t have to invest in a ground-floor design, they’re literally forces to start with street car components that make the mitigated risk more enticing.
Marketing Crossover. By forcing manufacturers to use production-car elements in the engine, and forcing bodywork rules that are supposed to feature key design features of their street-car counterparts, the marketing appeal of DPi becomes apparent. Each manufacturer has really taken to the concept of developing a true prototype look at a street car of their choosing, and so far it’s well received.
Balance of Performance. While the parity within the balance of performance is a source of dispute right now, the existence of a system in which the series forces cars to adjust their performance in the name of equality creates a boardroom appeal for manufacturers. While they still have to do a good job in designing and developing a car, the notorious “arms race” notorious in race car development becomes stifled, as over developing your car can ultimately lead to the series slowing them down.
Homologation / Frozen Development. Finally, manufacturers are forced to “freeze” their designs once competition begins, forcing them to stick with their phase of R&D so that the series can maintain an equal balance of performance. This creates an appealing budget scenario as manufacturers don’t have to keep up with out of line R&D.
In an era where fans are happy to criticize anything in the sport, it’s been great to see a universally heralded platform.