The only driver to have driven DPi cars from any manufacturer

Olivier Pla has raced for Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan during IMSA’s International Daytona Prototype era. (Photo IMSA)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 25th anniversary Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on October 1 will serve as the 59th and final race for the Daytona Prototype International (DPi) class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Four manufacturers have fielded cars during the six seasons of DPi competition: Cadillac, which has achieved 27 race wins and three drivers’ championships to date; Acura, with 16 wins and consecutive titles in 2019 and ’20; Mazda, scoring seven wins; and finally, Nissan, which took four wins in 2017 and ’18, launching the IMSA career of future champion Pipo Derani.

Only one driver has raced in all four DPi cars: Olivier Pla. And while professional ethics (not to mention non-disclosure clauses in contracts!) prevent the 40-year-old Frenchman from specifically analyzing the pros and cons of each of these four machines in a public forum, he was kind enough to discussed about the general. the challenge of learning and adapting to different race cars.

“It’s actually interesting going from one car to another because you always learn something and it’s an interesting process,” said Pla. “These cars are very sophisticated, with a lot of electronics and settings that can affect the engine specification. It’s a lot of information to learn, but it’s our job. You really have to adapt quickly.”

Plas DPi’s first experience came in 2018 with Nissan, when he ran three endurance races for the Tequila Patrón ESM team. It wasn’t a huge adjustment for the veteran sports car driver. It was already quite familiar with the Ligier Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) chassis on which Nissan was based. The DPi rules stipulate the use of an LMP2 homologated chassis combined with an outboard engine from the manufacturer and a unique chassis.

Pla and his teammates failed to finish any of his three races in the Nissan.

“I knew that car quite well because the chassis was a Ligier similar to the one I had driven for many years,” he said. “The engine had a lot of power, but reliability was the weakness of that car. And of course, that’s one of the biggest things!”

‘Each car feels very different’

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Olivier Pl. (Photo IMSA)

Pla drove eight endurance races for Mazda Team Joest in 2019 and ’20, teaming up with Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell to score the brand’s first DPi win at Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in 2019. Paired with Oliver Jarvis, he and Tristan took second place at the 2020 Rolex 24 At Daytona and third place that same year at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

Mazda years demonstrated the similarities and differences between the DPi entries in the Pla.

“Every car feels very different,” he said. “Some feel right away with your driving style, and with others, you have to work harder to adapt the way you drive. There are cars I’ve really loved in the past, and some I’ve really hated. Some cars have very efficient aero but perhaps less mechanical control, while others may have a lot of mechanical control but less efficient aero. It’s always a matter of compromise.”

When the Mazda DPi program was reduced to a single car after the 2020 season, Pla signed with Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian to drive the Acura ARX-05 DPi no. 60 with co-host Dane Cameron. Their best finish was second at Watkins Glen. Joined by Juan Pablo Montoya, they also finished third at Sebring.

This year, Pla was brought in mid-season by Action Express Racing to bolster the no. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-VR with defending DPi champion Derani. A third-place finish at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is the duo’s best finish so far in four races together.

The wide caddy fits just right

Pla hinted that adapting to the Acura was the most difficult of the DPi cars.

“The Acura had a really tight cabin, so I wasn’t really comfortable,” he said. “The Cadillac cabin feels big and I have more legroom. I’ve found the Cadillac quite simple and easy to learn because some of the cars I’ve driven in the past were much more difficult in terms of electronics and such.

“I really love Caddy,” he continued. “It’s still very new for me and it’s difficult to arrive in the championship in the middle of the season with a new car and a new team. Detroit (his first race) was tough, but especially at Watkins Glen, I put more mileage on the car and started to feel more comfortable. It’s a big learning process, but every lap or every mile I put in the car is a benefit to me. Pipo, my teammate, has spent the last four years in this car and has been really helpful. It just takes a little time.”

The experience of driving all four DPi contenders gave Pla a new respect for the task facing IMSA officials in their effort to create a level playing field for different cars through the Balance of Performance.

“Matching performance between four different cars is almost impossible because a lot depends on the type of track,” he noted. “Some cars are just going to be faster than others. BoP doesn’t always work positive for you. Sometimes you know you’re going to a place that won’t be good for your car, but maybe next week, it’s better. You have to make the most of it.”

Pla will have one more chance to follow Cadillac’s success at Motul Petit Le Mans.

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