Daytona Prototype International (DPi) is a brand new formula in North American sportscar racing. This weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona sees the debut of the new platform. The concept is simple, take 1 of the 4 LMP2 approved chassis and allow manufactures to install their own engine and custom body work. It is a brilliant way for manufactures to compete for overall victories without spending an absolute fortune. Entering its first season DPi has already gained a lot of interest. Mazda, Cadillac and Nissan have already embraced the new formula. While other manufactures such as Ford, Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz and Bentley have expressed interest but have yet to pull the trigger. They are waiting to see how the new formula takes shape before committing resources to a race program.
This is all very exciting, while the WEC sits on the brink of LMP1 disaster IMSA’s manufacturer class is thriving. It gets better as one of the biggest names in the sport is actively targeting a DPi program for 2018. Joest Racing, yes that Joest, the team behind Audi’s unprecedented run of LMP1 dominance wants in on the DPi fun.
“It’s very interesting of course,” Ralf Jüttner told Daily Sports Car. “For almost 25 years, with only a short break in the middle, we have run prototype programmes with close links to a factory (both Audi and Porsche), and that’s where we would like to be moving forward. Certainly the current budgets for running LMP2s for customer drivers in the FIA WEC is not something we are interested in at the moment. The factories that are looking at prototype programmes are certainly looking here (in North America) and that’s what we are targeting. We are talking to a number of interested parties for a potential DPi programme but there is a long way to go just yet.”
If it wasn’t abundantly obvious IMSA is clearly on to something with the DPi formula. When a heavy hitter like Joest wants in, the racing community takes notice. Not to surprisingly Juttner said Audi was not on their short list of manufacturer options. Which begs the question who would Joest team up with for a DPi program?
Initially I immediately thought of Bentley. Joest has previous experience with Bentley supporting the UK team’s Le Mans victory in 2003. However with Volkswagen Auto Group’s continued emissions drama it is looking more and more unlikely that they are going to throw money at anymore motorsports endeavors. Joest themselves are big enough and can attract sponsorship all on their own that they may not need too much manufacturer support. They could theoretically ask Bentley for their blessing on a DPi project. However with so many interested parties I think that path is unlikely.
Ford and Lamborghini are interesting options. Ford is no stranger to North American Prototype racing. Lambo wants to increase their standing in the motorsports community. A DPi program for either would make perfect sense. However I think Ford is content with their GTE (GTLM in IMSA) programs and I can’t see them throwing too much around to go DPi racing. Yes, Lambo wants to increase their motorsports presence but all whispers point to that being a step up from GT3 to GTE. It takes considerable resources to be competitive in GTE to have a joint DPi program running at the same time is likely to be a bit much for Lamborghini.
What about Porsche? Porsche is an interesting option. Their past successes with Joest could be enough to tempt them into the DPi mix. Porsche almost put a turbocharged flat 6 into the new 911 RSR (the mid engine 911 race car). So clearly they want to show of their turbo tech, DPi would be a perfect location to do so. That said Porsche has shown no signs of DPi interest and like Bentley they have the looming VAG emissions boondoggle hanging over their heads.
That leaves 2 options in my opinion. Alfa Romeo or Mercedes-Benz. Alfa is coming to North America in a big way and they want to show off by going racing. DPi is a perfect place to do so. Unlike any of the other marques I mentioned Alfa has no base, no engine they can plug into a prototype. They would be designing a brand new engine from scratch. This is quite expensive especially when you consider Alfa Romeo isn’t a huge company. Alfa wants to go racing and I would not be surprised in the least if they spend the money and go DPi racing. That said I think they are more likely to go GT4 or GT3 racing.
That leaves Mercedes-Benz as my pick for Joest. Mercedes came very close to a DPi program for 2017, last min financials killed the deal. However a big team like Joest has the cache that makes teams willing to spend a little more because they know Joest means winning. Mercedes already has a tried and true engine in the form of their 6.2 liter V8 from its GT3 cars. Mercedes makes the most sense for Joest. Merc wants in but wants to do so with a solid team. Well they don’t get any better than Joest. So you heard it here first, Mercedes Team Joest will be on the grid for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona.