With its North American technical center up and running in Speedway, Ind. (ABOVE), racecar constructor Dallara hopes to expand its domestic activities to include new prototypes in the United SportsCar Racing series.
The Italian firm has held a high-profile role since joining the Indy Racing League in 1997, but its presence in American sports car racing actually pre-dates its open-wheel activities by 20 years, starting with the Can-Am series. It returned in 1994 with its production of Ferrari's glorious 333 SP which enthralled IMSA fans, and along with aiding Audi with a variety of its Le Mans projects, has built everything from customer LMP1s to Daytona Prototypes that have raced in the USA.
Although its Dallara DP has yet to become a big seller, the model continues to win Rolex Series poles and races wearing Corvette bodywork, but as a brand, Dallara has been largely forgotten since the third-generation DPs appeared in 2012.
Looking at options for DP customers, other than purchasing a Corvette-bodied DP, or with going with Riley Technologies, which sells its chassis with a modern, generic Gen-3 body, few, if any alternatives exist. Dallara USA CEO Stefano DePonti says the company is interested in filling that void for the USCR, using its current chassis to house new powerplants and new aerodynamics.
“Absolutely, we want to do this,” DePonti told RACER. “Now, with the new [USCR] rules, it's a positive energy for the sports car world. With this unification, we don't have to divide resources between Europe and America. It can bring the best cars together for Sebring, Daytona… It can bring huge interest from manufacturers because they have the possibility to race here.
“And we have a winning team with Wayne Taylor Racing, which is using the Dallara chassis that is now called the Corvette DP. At the end of the day, we would like to do business either for ourselves to distinguish the brand, or to cooperate with a big brand to do a car for them with their bodywork. We have done that in the past in sports cars with Chrysler, with Ferrari. We have the Daytona Prototype [manufacturing] license already, and that is something we want to continue with.”
A dire lack of new, modern P2 chassis for teams to choose from has also inspired Dallara to consider producing a customer car for the ACO's cost-capped prototype category. Compared to its DP chassis, entering the P2 market – which would open up sales opportunities in the USCR, WEC, ELMS and Asian Le Mans Series – would require a much greater financial commitment from Dallara.
“As a sports car manufacturer, doing a Dallara P2 car 100 percent by ourselves is a big investment,” added DePonti. “When Mr. Dallara decided to do the Daytona Prototype, it was a very competitive category and so we did it, but profit-wise, it was a loss. The costs of development and such was very expensive. We were happy to do it, and have satisfaction doing it against others.
“But if we are going to spend the money to make a new P2 car, this is something we would like to have a partner for – a manufacturer to be involved, or to have commitments in the beginning. We would not build a new car and wait to see if any customers want to buy it.”
Few constructors have made the effort to produce new P2 cars. German firm Adess builds the new Lotus-branded P2 coupes that run in the WEC (RIGHT), and Honda Performance Development, which manufactured a brand-new chassis this season for its familiar P2 car, serve as the only active marques to venture into the ACO's highly restrictive P2 rule set.
Limited to a sale price of approximately $480,000 since 2011, most P2 manufacturers have opted to stick with aging designs – some that appeared for the first time nearly a decade ago – due to the limited profits available.
As DePonti explains, Dallara isn't prepared to embark on a P2 project on its own and has been searching for a partner – either a manufacturer or an entrant – to get the process started.
“No, we don't have something ready yet, but as an engineering company, we have many relationships with manufacturers and team owners and we continue to talk with them to see what interest they have to do a project together,” he said. “The initial investment is substantial. From scratch, for a manufacturer, we are designing and building a car from zero, and to do this without pre-orders, it would be difficult. It's not like Indy car where it's a spec car and you have a lot of sales and very little development costs after the car comes out.
“With sports cars, you are always doing development, but with P2, the costs are very restricted. You must be very smart with the aerodynamics and mechanical components with the original design, and then make logical developments afterwards. This is something Dallara has very much experience with in all categories. This is why we look for a chance to make something new and want to talk more to make something happen. With the new [USCR], it's the right time to pursue this.”