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The only driver who drove DPi cars from every factory

Olivier Blah raced Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan cars during IMSA’s International Daytona Preliminary Era. (IMSA photo)

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

Four car manufacturers have submitted over the six seasons of DPi competition: Cadillac, which has had 27 race wins and three Drivers’ Championships to date; Acura, with 16 consecutive wins and titles in 2019 and 20; Mazda, achieved seven victories; And finally, Nissan, which racked up four wins in 2017 and 18, and launched the IMSA career for future champ Bebo Dirani.

Only one driver participated 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 analyzing the pros and cons of each of these four machines in a public forum, he was kind enough to discuss the general matter. The challenge of learning and adapting to different racing cars.

“It’s really fun to move from one car to another because you’re always learning something and it’s such a fun process,” Bla said. “These cars are very sophisticated, with a lot of electronics and settings that can affect engine specifications. There is a lot of information to learn, but it is our job. You really have to adapt quickly.”

Pla’s first DPi experience came in 2018 with Nissan, when he ran three endurance races for the Tequila Patrón ESM team. It wasn’t a major modification for the veteran sports car pilot. He was already fully familiar with the Ligier Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) chassis that Nissan was based on. The DPi rules provide for the use of a symmetric LMP2 chassis with an external drive and a unique chassis architecture.

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

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

Every car looks completely different

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Oliver Pla. (IMSA photo)

Pla started eight endurance races for the 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. Combined with Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez, she finished second in the 2020 Rolex 24 in Daytona and third place in the same year at Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts.

The Mazda years have shown the similarities and differences between the DPi entries to Pla.

“Every car looks very different,” he said. “Some are immediately satisfied with your driving style, and with others, you have to work more to adapt the way you drive the car. There are cars you really liked in the past, and some you really hated. Some cars have very efficient aerodynamic capabilities but are probably less mechanically cohesive, while others Others may have a lot of mechanical holding but are less efficient. It’s always a matter of compromise.”

When the Mazda DPi was downsized to a single car after the 2020 season, Pla signed Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian to run the #60 Acura ARX-05 DPi with co-driver Dane Cameron. Their best achievement was a runner-up at Watkins Glen. They were joined by Juan Pablo Montoya, who also finished third at Sebring.

This year, Pla was brought in mid-season by Action Express Racing to reinforce the 31st Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-VR offensive with defending champion DPi Derani. Third place at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is the duo’s best standings to date with four races together.

The spacious box fits perfectly

Pla hinted that the Acura adaptation was DPi’s toughest.

“The Acura had a really tight cockpit, so it didn’t feel really comfortable,” he said. “The Cadillac cockpit feels huge, and I have more leg room. I found Cadillacs to be very simple and easy to learn, because some of the cars I’ve driven in the past were a little trickier in terms of electronics etc.

He continued, “I really like Cady.” “It’s still very new to me, and it’s hard to get into the championship in the middle of the season with a new car and a new team. Detroit (his first race) was tough, but at Watkins Glen in particular, I went a long way in the car and started to feel more comfortable. It’s a big learning process, but every lap or every mile that I do in the car works for me. Pipo, my teammate, has spent the last four years in this car, and it’s been really helpful. It just takes a while.”

The driving experience of all four DPi contenders gave Pla a renewed respect for the task IMSA officials face in their quest to create a level playing field for different cars through a balance of performance.

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

Pla will have another chance to chase success in Cadillac at Motul Petit Le Mans.

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