Two-car team to contest the WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai next weekend.
Next week, the Extreme Speed Motorsports team will board a plane and head for Shanghai, China, to mount a two-car challenge in the LMP2 class in the FIA WEC 6 hours of Shanghai.
The cars should already be there. “I hope,” said driver Ryan Dalziel. “We air-freighted them over.”
This is the sound of the other shoe dropping; the first shoe fell when the ESM team, owned by Tequila Patron president and CEO Ed Brown and veteran driver Scott Sharp, announced in September at Circuit of the Americas that the team would be passing on the season ender for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
The official reason, said Brown at the time: “Racing is expensive and because of that we’ll park the cars at Petit Le Mans and not run the final race of the TUDOR Championship series so we can set up the cars for Shanghai. By all means, we’re going to be racing in the United States next year, but we felt that this was important to set us up for the goals that we’ve set.”
This rang a little hollow with some TUDOR loyalists, since Petit was more than a month before Shanghai. Indeed, in subsequent interviews, Brown and Sharp made it known that they were not pleased with the “Balance of Performance” adjustments made by the series that, some P2 team thought, favored the Daytona Prototype cars.
ESM’s absence at Petit was particularly striking since Patron is the sponsor of the four-race, championship-within-a-championship North American Endurance Championship that was decided, and awarded, at Petit.
Dalziel said that the team does plan to race those NAEC events in the TUDOR series next year – Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit – but as far as the rest of the season, the final decision hasn’t been made. The team does want to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year, and certainly getting some experience in the WEC, as they did at COTA (Dalziel, Sharp and Brown finished third), and will be doing at Shanghai, is a good idea, if for no other reason than to get some time on the Dunlop tires, since TUDOR teams are restricted to Continentals.
What they learn at Shanghai won’t transfer exactly to next year, though, in one regard: The two open-cockpit Honda Performance Development ARX-03Bs the team has now will soon be replaced by much-updated closed-cockpit cars. The first is expected to be delivered in November, with the second following in a month or six weeks. An aggressive testing schedule is planned for as soon as the cars hit the shop.
They will need it. The Honda engine is the same, “but nothing else is,” Dalziel said. “Even the wheels won’t fit.” The new car should be a bit faster and lighter than the current one, since it dates back to the generation-ago Acuras. Plus, given recent incidents like Jules Bianchi’s horrible crash in Formula One, “It will be nice to be back in a car with a roof on it,” Dalziel said.
As for his 2015 season, Dalziel said he’ll be back with Extreme Speed, and also hopes to work in some Pirelli World Challenge races, as he did this year. In Shanghai, Dalziel – who has raced at the track before – will be joined by Sharp and Ricardo Gonzalez in the number 30. The second car, number 31, will be driven by Brown, David Brabham and Johannes van Overbeek. ESM is the only two-car team in P2.
It’s a comparatively large Prototype field: There are nine LMP1 cars and seven P2s, including G-Drive’s Ligier-Nissan and OAK’s Morgan-Judd, co-driven incidentally by Mark Patterson, a veteran Grand-Am veteran Prototype pilot, mostly with Michael Shank’s team. Patterson, Sharp, van Overbeek and Brown are the only U.S. drivers in the race; though Patterson was born in South Africa, he’s now a U.S. citizen.
Once ESM gets back, it will be full speed ahead on the new cars. “It will be a busy, and short, off season,” Dalziel said. “The Roar Before the 24 isn’t that far away.”