By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
New and improved DPi cars will be on display at Petit Le Mans
Class designed for better speed, performance appears to be creating global opportunities for sport
10042017 PETIT 1
The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi driven by Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque is one of the new Daytona Prototype international cars that will be running the Petit Le Mans on Saturday at Road Atlanta in Braselton. - photo by For The Times

A seasoned racing fan will be able to quickly spot the physical differences in the new Daytona Prototype international cars.

For instance, the DPi class is completely constructed of carbon fiber, whereas the old Daytona Prototype cars featured steel tube frames. And new IMSA regulations limit the vehicles to employ one of only four approved chassis manufacturers.

But under the surface, these first-year cars are already having wide-reaching effects on the sport — and they’ll be on display right here in Hall County.

The DPi class will make its debut at Road Atlanta during the 10-hour Petit Le Mans on Saturday, the season finale for both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

On top of being geared toward more top-end speed and performance, the first-year class appears to be ushering in a new era of competitiveness and global opportunity for endurance racing.

“We’re pretty excited about the future of the series,” said Gary Nelson, team manager for Action Express Racing. “ … People who come out (to Road Atlanta) might be able to see the beginning of a pretty exciting program on its way up in sportscar racing.”

The DPi platform closely aligns with those used by major European classes, mostly notably cars that compete in the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile World Endurance Championship. The DP vehicles that used to race in IMSA series didn’t meet FIA regulations, meaning owners who wanted to compete in European events had to purchase a separate, suitable car to do so.

Being able to cross over from North American to European series eases the financial burden on owners, who can now enter the DPis in more competitions or sell them to other teams.

“They wanted to make the car a little more global,” said Troy Flis, owner of Visit Florida Racing. “The DP car was just a North American class and wasn’t eligible to go overseas and didn’t have the following of some of these (European) cars that gave them value after the season. 

“There is now more value in the cars as assets now that they can race in different series. There’s better value, better life term.”

The key to the DPi’s design is the chassis, which must match one of the four used by LMP2 Prototypes, another model featured in the WeatherTech and FIA series. Though DPi cars enjoy a little more freedom when it comes to electrical packages and bodywork, having a common foundation to build around ensures competitive balance among the classes.

Flis said these changes have leveled the playing field in a global sense, all while enhancing the product on the track.

Nelson, who was the crew chief for 1983 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Bobby Allison, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the DPi’s durability despite being several hundred pounds lighter than the DP. This new class of car boasts double the downforce, Nelson said, and its tires are capable of much higher grip levels.

“It kind of goes against the old-school opinion that you don’t get stronger and lighter; you get lighter but weaker in most cases,” he said. “We have been very happy to find out that is it lighter and stronger.”

As a result, Flis said he has seen an uptick in interest from partners and sponsors. Several major manufacturers — such as Lexus, Mercedes AMG and Acura — joined the WeatherTech Championship for the first time this year, further popularizing the series’ global brand.

This week, area racing enthusiasts have a chance to get an up-close-and-personal look at the game-changing DPis, which may soon be burning rubber at Europe’s top-tier endurance races.

“Having an audience around the world tuning into our event has much bigger effect,” Nelson said. “They are paying attention now to the whole program. In that way, they’re helping all of our sponsors get more recognition. It’s a great format … and a boost for the sport of racing worldwide.”