Extreme Speed Motorsports: The Lean, Green WEC Machine?

It’s possible that, in the coming years, the 2014 Six Hours of the Circuit of the Americas may be remembered as the time when Extreme Speed Motorsports made their first steps toward a glittering international prototype career. Speed Chills View caught up with Scott Sharp, Ed Brown and Ryan Dalziel ahead of their FIA World Endurance Championship debut to find out what the newest, greenest hopefuls are all about.

15300054362 75dff4fda5 z

On track they're hard to miss. Firstly there’s a name which bluntly states the overall objective: not just speed, EXTREME Speed. Then there are the two stealth-black HPD LMP2s that appear to have been rammed directly into a late ‘90s laser party.

Yes, on appearance alone the Floridian racing outfit appear as American as they come. Big, brash and balls out at every opportunity; yeehaw, y’all and all of that sort of thing.

But dismiss them at your own risk, because despite having been racing for just five years they’re already one of the most influential teams in US endurance, and now they're eyeing up a role on the world's stage.

Case in point: in Texas recently for ‘Lone Star Le Mans’ - we’re still getting used to calling it that - the media was called to an unscheduled press conference; a sure fire way to get the hacks interested.

In the conference room Scott Sharp and Ed Brown, proudly sporting ESM's green and black Tequila Patrón livery, sat comfortably behind a desk made for nine and announced the surprise confirmation of their entry into the 6 Hours of Shanghai in November.

“What an incredible opportunity and next step to take Tequila Patrón and ESM to Shanghai and race against the top P2 cars in the world,” said driver and team principal Sharp, “It’s exciting for the team and it should be a great experience for us.”

Brown continued: "We’re committed to going to Le Mans next year. If we truly want to be competitive at Le Mans or any other WEC race, we need to get our hands around the series and regulations at one of the most demanding locations."

This was good news - fresh blood is currently very welcome in the WEC's competition-starved LMP2 class. The team had already made their intentions on the Le Sarthe crown clear, and here they were proving that with nine months still to go they’re already getting ready for it. Wise heads nodded approvingly.

But then came an arguably even more potent piece of news: “Racing is expensive, and because of that we’ll park the cars for Petit Le Mans and not run the final race of the TUDOR Championship series so we can set up the cars for Shanghai.”

"By all means, we’re going to be racing in the United States next year, but we felt that this was important to set us up for the goals that we’ve set."

15113665299 7c357b47c7 z

Missing the final round of America’s premier endurance series is a big move, but a bit of background is required to understand the full juiciness of this statement and what it might mean for those ‘goals’.

Brown isn’t just a keen racing driver, he’s also CEO of The Patrón Spirits Company, official ‘spirits partner’ of both TUSCC and governing body IMSA as well as title sponsor of the North American Endurance Cup which counts Road Atlanta's much-loved 'Petit' as its final round.

Appearing in China - whose burgeoning economy presents a lucrative challenge for many expanding businesses - makes sense both competitively and commercially, and for a global brand like Patrón the international exposure of the WEC will be an enticing prospect.

But the coffers aren't limitless, and while Sharp confirmed that ESM would be taking part in next year’s Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup questions were immediately raised about where the team would be focussing their racing efforts in 2015. Better the TUSCC you know or push on into a brave, new World Endurance Championship?

And so the team has a big decision to make in the coming weeks. One thing is certain: IMSA won't be keen on the idea of losing one of their biggest assets in what could be seen as a top prototype team voting against the fledgling series with its feet. Of course, the FIA will be quietly opening their welcoming arms; America's loss would be the world's gain.

Ryan Dalziel, a 2014 ESM initiate, knows what it takes to win in the WEC after a hugely successful 2012 with Starworks Motorsport. With a brace of brand-new-for-2015 HPD coupes on the way and a possible shift in operations on the cards the Scot’s experience will play a pivotal role in the team’s upcoming plans. He explained what will be influencing ESM’s crucial choice:

“Personally I’d like to end up in a series where we're competitive and this year has been pretty frustrating. As good as the team is we haven't been able to win some TUSCC races when I think we should have.”

Coupe

IMSA have just announced their schedule and Detroit is on the same weekend as the Le Mans Test Day; that's a big negative for us as a P2 team. We were really hoping that there wouldn’t be any conflicts so that might make the decision a bit easier to make.”

“A lot of the decision for next year will ride on this weekend (at COTA). This is all quite new for Ed and Scott and ultimately it's their decision, but I think with a company like Patrón it makes sense to run in the WEC.”

TUSCC’s slightly inauspicious inaugural year - beset by officiating and performance balancing arguments - is clearly a big sticking point when it comes to ESM. But what about the global carrot provided by the FIA’s flagship endurance series?

“I would like to race in the WEC next year," continues Dalziel, "you get to drive at some of the best venues in the world and it’s always pretty cool when you have an Audi and a Porsche fly by you at stupid speeds! But for me the biggest part is Le Mans; we want to be there next year no matter what.”

Later we asked Sharp where he’d like to be in 2015, and his reply was borne of the cautious pragmatism of a team principal: “You've got to spend a lot of money so you'd better have it right! We've spoken to teams like Level 5 that have gone to Le Mans before and they felt that the biggest detriment was that they they never got their heads around the different tyres as well as the locals.“

“If we want to run two cars at Le Mans we probably need to run at least one WEC race at the beginning of next year. We haven't seen a schedule yet so we don't really know for sure but ideally we'd like to race somewhere like Spa.”

The decision can’t just be hashed out over a coffee in a Florida café. When the sums involved run into the millions it makes sense to approach things cautiously, and the WEC has the capacity to either make or break a venture like ESM's.

15297318591 d3b711f79e z

Shanghai will be an even trickier test than Austin. Changing tactics, massive distances and painful logistical headaches all have to be dealt with before the cars even turn a wheel in China, and the fickle nature of the WEC means that even the best prepared teams can come away with only disappointment in their trophy cases.

We already know that they’ll probably have to miss the Detroit round of the TUSCC, and the logistics of moving from Sebring to Paul Ricard in less than a week present a tricky problem, but we’ll have to wait until the November release of the full 2015 WEC calendar before the final decision is made.

However, a few hours after we spoke Dalziel, Sharp and Brown were standing on a podium in Texas, soaked through with champagne in front of a truly global audience of racing fans.

With unfamiliar tyres, just a few weeks to convert the car and world class opposition just a couple of garages down the pit lane, a third place finish showed that ESM could have what it takes to go international in the biggest way possible...

If they believe they can do it then we shouldn't doubt them. With a host of experience at the top level of US sports car racing and a big name like Patrón on the side of the car they’re well placed to make a difference. Snooty European prototype perfectionists should look out; the Americans are coming to take our silverware in all of their lurid, extrovert glory. They mean business, and you’re standing in their way.

Jamie Snelling is an FIA accredited freelance journalist and Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him at @speedchillsview