IMSA: It is crunch time for ESM to race in 2019
By Marshall Pruett | RACER magazine and RACER.com sports car editor
Extreme Speed Motorsports is searching with renewed vigor to find a primary sponsor or new partner team to keep its race-winning Nissan Onroak DPis in motion next season.
With the mandatory Roar Before The 24 test at Daytona less than two months away, and the departure of Tequila Patron as the major underwriter of ESM’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program, ESM has been busy exploring all sponsor leads, speaking with funded drivers, and pursuing co-entry options to maintain its presence in the series.
Having recently sold its IMSA transporters, timing stands, refueling rigs, and other key trackside items to the new AIM with Vasser Sullivan Lexus GT Daytona squad, ESM would need a rapid infusion of funding or a fully-equipped team to preserve Nissan’s place on the grid as IMSA’s fourth DPi manufacturer.
“I still have a couple of options I’m working on,” ESM co-owner Scott Sharp told RACER. “But as things have been up and down, we’ve had to figure out what we’re doing with all the [asset and operating] expenses here.
“So, at this stage, we’re probably more looking for some kind of deal where we’d merge with somebody to make it happen. We’re being careful on what we think we can divest of, what we’re doing with the shop, and we have some big decision to make here in the next couple of weeks.”
As the closest rival to Cadillac’s dominant DPi-V.R, the Ligier-based, ESM-commissioned Nissan Onroak DPi ranks second in class with four wins earned across Road America, Petit Le Mans, the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca since the DPi formula launched in 2017. With its Nos. 2 and 22 Nissan DPis as the only major items left from ESM’s IMSA Prototype campaign, Sharp is doing his best to prevent the cars from sitting idle once the new season gets under way.
“Next season is looming quick,” he continued. “We have a competitive package and have always said we want to keep our guys together and keep things going as-is. We’re trying to make the best decision possible on what can come out of this because we know these Nissans can win. At this stage, I’m open to anything.
“In a perfect world, we would have found a major sponsor a few months ago and prepping now going into the season, but that hasn’t transpired, so we’re having to be flexible and look at any reasonable option.”
Buying ESM’s Nissan DPis — or merging with the team — to race at Daytona and beyond will likely face an extra hurdle before entries are accepted. Auto manufacturers who race in IMSA are required to commit up to $1 million in marketing expenditures as part of registering as an official manufacturer. With ESM’s unique solution to entering DPi by hiring Nissan to supply engines, the Japanese brand has not operated in a traditional manner; ESM and Patron worked directly with IMSA to cover the commitment.
RACER has confirmed Nissan will not pay the manufacturer fee, leaving the solution to be arranged between IMSA and the next entrants of the twin-turbo V6-powered DPis. On the greater topic of finding ways to continue with the program, Sharp has nothing but positive comments to offer regarding IMSA.
“Unequivocally, everyone at IMSA wants us back and has supported us however they can,” he said. “They want Nissan back as a manufacturer in the series and have opened some doors to help us find the support we need. We’re not there yet, obviously, and it’s on us to make it all happen, but they’re trying to do what they can do, which has been tremendous.”
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