Sports car news from Europe over the past week has highlighted an interesting and forward-looking trend in the World Endurance Championship P1 class that has now reached across the Atlantic.
With dramatic and costly changes to the rules governing the top-tier prototypes for 2014, the works Toyota P1 program and the privateers at Strakka Racing have curtailed their 2013 WEC programs in favor of focusing on 2014. The Toyota factory program was first to announce its reduction from two cars at Le Mans to a single entry for the rest of the season, and was followed by leading privateer team Strakka Racing confirming its outright withdrawal from the series in a bid to conserve finances and plot its return next season.
With North American P1 competition only months away from disappearing under a single, IMSA-sanctioned championship in 2014, the storied Dyson Racing squad has now added its own twist on the theme of building for the future. Under the new United SportsCar Racing banner, P2 will become the top class carried over from the ALMS, combining with Grand-Am's DP category to form a blended playground for prototypes. That move by Grand-Am has left teams like Dyson Racing and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing with important decisions to make ahead of the USCR opener in January at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Simply updating their current cars – standard practice for teams carrying over the same car from one season to the next – will be replaced with choosing a new class, selecting chassis and engine solutions, building jigs, spares, relevant pit and support equipment, and conducting the requisite track testing that kicks off at in December.
With little more than a month between the ALMS series finale at Petit Le Mans and the start of testing at Daytona, the compressed timetable led sporting director Chris Dyson to reduce his driving duties in favor of securing the team's next steps in the sport.
“We're at a stage in the season where winning the P1 championship is very unlikely,” said Dyson (LEFT: climbing out of the No. 16 Lola B12/66-Mazda he shares with Britain's Guy Smith). “So with all the changes on the horizon coming next year, I thought it was best to marshal our resources from a standpoint of exploration and planning, and that decision led to Guy and myself stepping out of the car for some of the upcoming events. There are only a few months left in the season, but this change, albeit a temporary one, will help Dyson Racing to chart our next course.”
The team's turbocharged P1 car will complete the American Le Mans Series schedule with a new driving combination at Mosport, Elkhart Lake and Circuit of The Americas as former Dyson drivers Tony Burgess and Chris McMurry return to the program.
Dyson and Smith will also maintain part-time driving duties at the final six ALMS rounds. The duo will pilot the No. 16 at Baltimore; sports car veteran Johnny Mowlem, who drove with Burgess at Le Mans last month and also has a history with the team, joins Dyson and Smith at the penultimate round in VIR, and Dyson is set to bid farewell to the ALMS with Burgess and McMurry at Petit Le Mans.
The change in course for Dyson (and Smith) also presented a perfect opportunity to reconnect and possibly expand relationships with some of the team's recent driver roster.
“We're very confident and comfortable with Chris, Tony and Johnny,” Dyson added. “They're proven commodities, they know the team from the inside, and as things continue to evolve, if there's something to be developed going forward, we'd welcome exploring those options.”
Wresting P1 purists like Dyson and Smith from inside the Lola-Mazda wasn't easy, even for a few rounds, but the second-generation driver insists a bit of short-term suffering is in the best interest of the team that recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
“There's a lot of work to be done between now and when IMSA returns under its new guise; Dyson Racing has been around for some time and has always taken a ‘big picture' approach to this sport,” said Dyson. “And that's precisely what we will continue to do. But it takes time. Sports car racing is going through another stage of evolution and we're committed to making sure that no matter what path we choose, we're looking as far down the road as possible and extremely prepared to act when we finalize our plans.”
ALMS founder Don Panoz has already received approval to bring the DeltaWing chassis (which currently competes in P1) into the USCR under a set of rules and classification that has yet to be announced, leaving the Muscle Milk Pickett team as the final P1 entrant to declare its post-ALMS plans. Team owner Greg Pickett has been reluctant to commit to the USCR or comment on the direction he and team manager Brandon Fry might be leaning toward once the ALMS draws to a close.
Switzerland's Rebellion Racing, which contested the first four ALMS rounds of the year with its Lola B12/60-Toyota P1 chassis, returned to Europe in May to concentrate on the design and construction of the new Rebellion R-One P1 car being produced in partnership with ORECA.