Another Turn: The Changing Face Of LMP2
The past couple of seasons have seen LMP2 vie with GT2 as the most fiercely-contested class in the American Le Mans Series. Acura's entry into the category in 2007 (and its remarkable debut victory at Sebring) triggered a head-to-head confrontation with Porsche that produced some of the best prototype racing in years. Indeed, Acura vs. Porsche generally had outshown the "bigger, faster" LMP1 class where Audi usually had its way, notwithstanding flashes of speed from Intersport Racing and cameo appearances by Peugeot. Spearheaded by Penske Racing with Dyson Racing chipping-in, Porsche managed to win the LMP2 team, driver and manufacturers titles in '07 and '08, but not without a real fight from Acura's Andretti Green, Patrón Highcroft and Lowes Fernandez Racing and, in '08, de Ferran Motorsports. But those heady days of Acura vs. Porsche, Romain Dumas/Timo Bernhard vs. David Brabham/Scott Sharp, Patrick Long/Sascha Maassen vs. Adrian Fernandez/Luis Diaz, Chris Dyson/Guy Smith vs. Gil de Ferran/Simon Pagenaud have been consigned to the historical vaults now that Acura is going LMP1, Penske is racing elsewhere and Porsche has, evidently, withdrawn its factory support for LMP2.All is not lost in LMP2, however. Acura will still have a strong presence in the category with Lowe's Fernandez returning for a third season even as Patrón Highcroft and De Ferran move "up" to LMP1 and Andretti Green Racing (at least as of now) moves out of Series competition altogether. Although the cost of fielding an Acura ARX-01b is not insignificant and the worldwide economic meltdown makes new sponsors scarcer than hens teeth, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that another team could step forward to run LMP2 Acuras (or Porsches, for that matter) otherwise destined to become show cars in 2009. What's more intriguing, however, are the prospects for a revitalized LMP2 program from Mazda. Dyson Racing recently revealed it will not be racing Porsche RS Spyders next year and - while nobody is talking on the record - it appears the Poughkeepsie-based team will take over the Mazda LMP2 program from B-K Motorsports in the coming season. That's a prospect that figures to be good for Dyson, for Mazda and LMP2. Dyson, of course, is one of the most accomplished teams in American sports car racing with a dozen wins in the storied Camel GT series and another nine wins (including four overall) in American Le Mans Series competition since 1999. And while it fielded a typically professional effort with its Porsche RS Spyders the past two seasons, Dyson Racing was generally a step or two behind its cohorts at Penske in the Porsche development pipeline. That would no longer be an issue should rumors of Dyson's partnership with Mazda come to fruition. For its part, Mazda is widely believed to have been more competitive than the small B-K Motorsports team had been able to demonstrate the past couple of years. And a partnership with a veteran outfit like Dyson - particularly if Dyson's deal with Michelin tires is part of the bargain - would enable Mazda to really show what it's got. And the Mazda MZR-R engine - now installed in the handsome Lola B08/86 coupe - figures to give the Acura LM V8 a run for its money. This is not to imply LMP2 circa 2009 will match the past two seasons where four (and at times five) Porsche RS Spyders did battle with three or (in '08) four Acuras for class honors and, many a time, with the Audi R10s for the overall win. But it is to say the prospects of Acura going head-to-head with Mazda next season on a more or less equal playing field promise to be intriguing.
David Phillips is one of North America's most respected and renowned motorsports journalist. His 'Another Turn' features will appear periodically on americanlemans.com throughout the season.