IMSA paddock reflects on end of DP era
Saturday's Petit Le Mans not only marks the end of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, but also draws to a close one of the longest-running and most successful sports car racing platforms in the Daytona Prototype.
DPs, IMSA-spec P2 cars along with the DeltaWing, will be replaced by a new generation of LMP2-based machinery in the top Prototype class beginning next year, marking the end of a 14-year run for the venerable tube-framed prototypes.
While often ridiculed for their rather outlandish looks, particularly with some of the first-generation cars from Picchio or Multimatic, the DP platform evolved into an effective workhorse for privateer teams that left a significant mark on the sport.
"In my many, many years of WSC, GTP, Group C, Group 5... It's probably the most functional race car that I've ever been involved with," said IMSA's Mark Raffauf, who helped launch the DP platform in Grand-Am.
"It's probably the toughest race car I've ever been involved with. It's probably the most reliable race car I've ever been involved with.
"It certainty has a pretty stellar safety record and it provided some of the best wheel-to-wheel competition for 12-14 years."
Born in Daytona as a cost-effective, customer-driven formula, the DP platform launched at the 2003 Rolex 24 with a modest six-car grid and, despite being Grand-Am's new flagship class, it lost the overall victory to a TRG Porsche that year.
However, there were better fortunes ahead for Jim France's new vision, not only with improved reliability for the DPs but with a significant increase in car count, with a series-high 30 cars having taken the start at Daytona in 2006.
The explosive growth through the mid-2000s resulted in Grand-Am holding qualifying races at some events, as well as DP-only races.
All told, 103 DP chassis had been produced, between ten different constructors, and with nearly half of them being Riley MkXI or MkXXVI cars.
One of the teams to initially utilize Riley chassis, prior to a switch to Dallara, was Wayne Taylor Racing, which had debuted in 2004 under the SunTrust Racing banner.
"For me and Jordan both, we've made our names in the DPs and where we've spent the majority of our careers," Ricky Taylor told FOXSports.com.
"For us, to see them go is going to be pretty sad. We're pretty sentimental about it, from the whole family's standpoint with the team and everything.
"In my career, I haven't driven tons of stuff. I've driven by fair share but it seems like we have a car that you can really ring its neck and push hard.
"You can slide the car around; the racing is really exciting. You can bang doors and has lots of power. The downforce in the last couple of years have made them a lot more exciting in the corners.
"It's just a very fun car to drive. It feels mean. I don't know how to put it into words. It gives you great feeling when you're driving.
"I haven't quite felt it in any other car I've driven."
WTR ranks second to Chip Ganassi Racing with most DP victories, at 33, with 44 of 46 of Ganassi's wins having come by Scott Pruett, who leads in all-time DP wins.
For longtime DP entrant Michael Shank, who debuted a Doran JE4 Lexus in 2004, the former Atlantic driver-turned team owner owes his current career to the platform.
While having switched to a Ligier JS P2 Honda two years ago, all but 20 of Shank's 250 Prototype starts came with DP machinery.
"I'm very opinionated about it because it made my team," Shank told FOXSports.com.
"The concept of DP when it came out in '03, and you go through the thick periods... a team like mine could come in and beat Penske, which we did, or any of the other big-funded teams.
"That was the true beauty of the class. At that time in ALMS it was harder to do anything because the cars were so expensive.
"With the DP, you could have success at the top level, whatever it was at the time, and it got us on the radar. I owe it everything.
"You can call it ugly or slow, everyone's got their comments, but for me it saved my racing business. Period."
Joao Barbosa, who along with Action Express Racing co-driver Christian Fittipaldi, are the only P class champions post-merger, having claimed back-to-back titles in 2014-15 in their Corvette DP.
The Portuguese ace, who also made his name in North American racing with the platform, is seeking his and Fittipaldi's third consecutive IMSA title this weekend.
"It's really sad to see the end of this era of the prototypes," Barbosa told FOXSports.com. "They definitely have come a lone way from the start.
"All of the drivers that drive this car have a blast because it's a car that you really have to drive.
"I think they were always a little bit overbuilt, so you can race them really hard, you can go over the curbs, you can touch side-by-side and you can still race hard.
"That's probably one thing we're going to miss next year with all the new cars, they're a little bit more fragile, so you will have to race it differently."
Fittipaldi, meanwhile, will go down in the history books as being the only driver to have been at the wheel of a DP in its first race (Bell Motorsports Doran Chevy), and last.
Both Ozz Negri and Scott Sharp also took part in the first DP race at Daytona in 2003 but are racing P2 cars this weekend.
While Saturday's 10-hour enduro at Road Atlanta will mark the 171st and final professional race for the DPs, IMSA's Raffauf doesn't see it as the end, but more of a new beginning, with the new DPi formula on the horizon for next year.
"There's a lot of things that are different in racing today than it was in 2003," he said.
"But the overall concept of DP is really what DPi is. It's another reiteration of a similar concept, with four chassis, all made more or less the same way, with different engines, stylized body elements.
"To me, it's not dying at all. It's just moving into a different space. But the idea is still there and I think the idea will just get better."