Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: Ryan Dalziel on LMP2, A Disaster of a 2019 Season and Starworks

Ryan Dalziel is a veteran presence in the IMSA paddock, having competed off and on in major sports car races here in the United States since 2005. In that time, Dalziel has raced everything from GT cars to Prototypes, in addition to a short stint in Champ Car back in 2007.

That said, 2019 was a trying affair for Dalziel and Starworks Motorsport. The team struggled with a recalcitrant Audi R8 LMS GT3 that just didn’t feel like being competitive.

Everything’s changed for 2020. Starworks Motorsport has a new name, Tower Motorsport by Starworks. Dalziel has a new full-time teammate in John Farano and a new class in LMP2. We sat down with Dalziel the day before the Rolex 24 at Daytona to talk about his new ride in LMP2, where the LMP2 class is going, his disastrous 2019 and more.

Phil Allaway, Frontstretch.com: Earlier, the convergence of Hypercar and DPi 2.0 was announced. DPi 2.0 will now be known as LMDh and will premiere with the 2021-22 WEC season and debut in the U.S. here in 2022. What do you think about bringing these rulesets together for the future?

Ryan Dalziel, No. 8 Tower Motorsport by Starworks ORECA 07-Gibson: To me, unity is important in sports car racing, and I think that mistakes have been made in the past four or five years between WEC and IMSA. To me, it seemed like whoever had the biggest ego.

Look what’s happened. We have seven DPis and three or four LMP1 cars. We have to do something. If you look at the LMP2 market, making a global platform of some kind [has the potential] for big grids and it’s going to continue that way.

My concern always, as a driver, is the manufacturers coming in and spending manufacturer money means hiring manufacturer-paid drivers. For guys like me, that’s bad.

There’s pros and cons. If we strengthen the numbers in the series, maybe then more people want to come and play. Ultimately, what does it do for privateer teams? Not a huge amount. You can’t buy a Cadillac DPi-V.R. right now. Can’t buy an Acura, can’t buy a Mazda.

Note: At the time Dalziel made this statement, it was in fact true. Since this interview was conducted, Juncos Racing has put their Cadillac up for sale. Despite the substantial cost, it does not come with an engine.

The manufacturers have to be backed into a corner by the series in order to make these cars available [to privateers]. That’s not something that’s been done. It’s also not exactly affordable. To run an LMP2 car is $2 million. To run a DPi is $5 million.

Allaway: Speaking of the LMP2 class, there are some different rules for this season. There’s a bronze driver requirement now and it’s more in line with the European Le Mans Series. How do you see the LMP2 class coming along in the next couple of years?

Dalziel: I think we’re probably in the ELMS model because it works.  We made the decision as a series too late.

Starworks had a program with a silver-rated driver that was all but signed, but then they changed the rules at the 11th hour and mandated a bronze-rated driver. [The move] has resurrected the class.

I think there’s a lot more interest than the car count shows. We have the potential of running a second car for Sebring onwards. I know that PR1 [Mathiasen Motorsports] do. There’s a couple of ELMS team combinations that are looking to come over.

Daytona’s a hard one because it’s not part of the championship. [The move was made to cut costs,] but it’s the Super Bowl. You want to win it. Hopefully, doing this race is more important than doing Sebring, Watkins [Glen] and Petit [Le Mans] put together for a team owner to win.

I think the decision is right. For me, DPi and LMP2 should have stayed as one class, but as a Pro-am championship. The LMP2 class would have been as it is now, while DPi would be Pros and factory backing.

Allaway: In your case, you have John Farano as your teammate. He’s been racing in ELMS, first in LMP3 and most recently in LMP2. What’s it like working with him?

Dalziel: I’ve known John a long time. One of my former driver coaches was John’s old teammate, David Empringham.

Note: Empringham and Farano won the 2012 Grand Sport championship in what was then the Grand-Am Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, now IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

That’s more or less how this deal came together. John and I talked about a Le Mans program last year, me joining him. The conversation continued and resulted in this.

What I like about John is that he drives a lot and he’s trying to get as much experience as he can. He knows that the step from LMP3 to LMP2 is a big one. We’re looking forward to it. It’s been a good partnership so far between John’s company, Tower [Events] and Starworks. We’re as good as anybody out here.

The car’s not what we want, either. We’d rather that there were 20 cars here. I think we’ll get there, as long as we continue down this path where it’s true Am’s, unlike in GT [Daytona]. That was the frustration we had last year. You have to make it bronze in order to avoid those silvers.

Allaway: This year, you’re stepping into the ORECA 07, which seems to be the car to have in LMP2 for the last three years. What do you think about it so far?

Dalziel: It’s really good. I was with Ligier for five years in different forms between the Nissan DPi and the JS P2.

We knew that when we competed against it in the WEC [with Extreme Speed Motorsports]. We saw the strengths of the car. I think in this generation, it is clearly the car to have. The Dallara [P217] and the Ligier [JS P217] are close, but with the regulations freezing the homologation, it’s hard to catch up.

Here, having a little BoP (Balance of Performance) would actually help. If [IMSA] introduced a little BoP to allow the Dallaras and Ligiers to be competitive, there’s a dozen of those [cars] in the United States that might come and compete here.

The ORECA is great and fills the class. If you want to race in a one-chassis class, this is the one to do it in. My suggestion at one point was to make it all ORECAs, but open up the engine development. Teams could run a Chevy LS motor, or a Ford EcoBoost or anyone that isn’t current in INDYCAR.

Note: The previous generation LMP2 cars that ran through 2016 in IMSA did have multiple engine options. The Ligier JS P2 that Dalziel raced in the WEC raced with Nissan, Honda and Judd powerplants.

The reason behind the [spec motors] was cost and reliability. But I wouldn’t say that it’s that cost-effective. I think that there are many options out there, but when one manufacturer controls the market, then they can price however they want.

Allaway: Last year was not the greatest. You were teamed up with Parker Chase, who you had raced with in Pirelli World Challenge in 2018. It seemed like there were a lot of problems with the Audi itself. How would you describe it?

Dalziel: It wasn’t just a bad year, it was the worst year that I’ve ever had in racing. It was a very trying year that makes you question whether you want to keep doing this as a sport. Thankfully, I’ve found my passion again for this year.

The Audi and what went wrong? I don’t even know where to start with it.

It was doomed from the start. [The Audi] wasn’t the same car that we ran in [Pirelli] World Challenge, but the chassis were identical. But right before the ROAR [Before the 24], we got thrown a curveball from both IMSA and the FIA. The Evo kit was getting BoP’ed significantly because it was good, apparently.

The second curveball from the FIA was that we had to take away four inches [in width] from the rear wing. We ended up with a car that was developed to have more front downforce, which was what the previous generation lacked. Then, they took away our rear downforce, which made the car extremely difficult to drive and very draggy.

Where did Audi do well last year in GT3 competition? Not really anywhere, but they were least effective in IMSA. The car was the heaviest here.

It got better towards the end of the year, but our money guy had already pulled the plug by then. At that point, I don’t blame him. It was a frustrating year and a waste of his resources and funds. At some point in racing, you have to cut your losses and move on.

Allaway: Prior to last year’s adventures, you drove two years for Extreme Speed Motorsports with their Nissan DPi. It’s a shame that they’re no longer out there, but what was your biggest takeaway from the Nissan?

Dalziel: The Nissan DPi was a very good platform. We took a fairly mediocre Ligier JS P217 compared to the ORECA 07 and made it into a very good race car. I think we didn’t capitalize as a team on the races that we had fast cars in.

We had a number of mechanical issues in the first year (2017). Year No. 2 was a tough year because we all knew it was ending from the start. I think that everybody was a bit deflated going into the final year.

My car won [Petit Le Mans] in 2017 and shortly after that, we found out that we were done after one more year. It was a tough one. I don’t think that we really saw it coming.

A lot of people don’t know this, but Starworks was very close to resurrecting the Nissan program. It was October of that year at Petit [Le Mans]. Our backers at the time were over measuring stuff and putting deals together.  At the 11th hour, the deal died. We couldn’t get IMSA and Nissan to agree to marketing terms

If it hadn’t had been for that miscommunication and being short on the funds to make it happen, then we would have been out there. Instead, we ended up having to bail on the project and went with the Audi.

The Audi was always there in the background, but that was going to be a separate program. DPi was going to be the main focus.

Allaway: In Starworks’ case, they’ve been in and out of prototype racing. The last time they ran LMP2 was in 2012, a very successful run including victory at Le Mans. Good times.

Dalziel: Starworks, to me, is one of the best teams at doing a lot with a little. We’ve proved that over and over, whether it was the Grand-Am days against Ganassi where we beat them with the same equipment on many occasions. Whenever we are given a fair shot, we have the right people to compete with anybody.

Allaway: Things have changed significantly in the LMP2 class since 2012. Cars today have more power and mandated closed cockpits. Is there anything that you can take from that period and use today?

Dalziel: To be honest, all the prototypes today are pretty similar. A lot of the cars are tire-dependent today. The tires are quite a bit better now than they were in 2012.

The previous generation LMP2 cars were underpowered, but the cars were really good. They had a lot of downforce and a lot of technology in them. Those cars were not cost-capped. A lot of them were derived from LMP1 programs. The ARX-03b came from the Acura P1 program in the American Le Mans Series, which came from an older LMP2 program. That car had a lot of money spent on R&D for it.

These cars with the cost caps don’t have anywhere near the technology or suspension parts, damper programs and so on. They just have more power and better tires, so they’re going faster.

Allaway: This weekend, you have David Heinemeier Hansson and Nicolas Lapierre as part of the program, a couple of good drivers. Lapierre being a former Peugeot factory driver and Heinemeier Hansson being one of the better amateur drivers out there. How has it been working with them?

Dalziel: They’re both former teammates of mine at different times. I really enjoy my time with David when we were with ESM. We wanted to work together more, but we weren’t able to make it happen. We feel like we have a bit of unfinished business.

With Nicolas, I’ve only worked with him a couple of times, but what can I say? The man has won Le Mans four times. He’s such a good asset with the ORECA. We knew that I didn’t have a lot of experience with this particular car, so we wanted to bring in people who did. Both David and Nico were the perfect fits.

Allaway: Goals for the 2020 season?

Dalziel: Our goal is to win. We want to put Starworks back on the prototype map. We want to build on the one car and expand. I think we have the tools to do it.

In the Rolex 24 at Daytona, no one really had anything early on for PR1 Mathaisen Motorsports’ Ben Keating. Keating literally ran away and hid.

Meanwhile, the Tower Motorsport by Starworks No. 8 worked its way forward. Lapierre’s exquisite pace put the team at the front of the class. Just how fast was he? Take a look at this comparison of driver pace in LMP2.

Dalziel was pretty fast in his own right. However, he ran into some problems that you wouldn’t exactly expect.

In addition to the unwelcome burning, the water leak Dalziel mentioned cost the team a significant amount of time, making victory impossible. Dalziel, Farano, Heinemeier Hansson and Lapierre ended up finishing fourth in LMP2, 13 laps down.

By now, Dalziel’s hindquarters have recovered from the scalding and his nose is blood-free. He’ll be good to go for his second home race at Sebring in March.

About the author

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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