Troy Flis’ decision to make a late-season change in LMP2 chassis suppliers was bold and inspired. Driven by the kind of bravery that only fear can produce, the Visit Florida Racing team owner took stock of his situation and came to an honest conclusion: Without switching to a faster car, his team would head into the offseason as an afterthought – an irrelevant member of IMSA’s Prototype grid – whose business could fail.
The decision to use the Riley/Multimatic Mk. 30 LMP2 model proved costly in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings as the car’s troubled aerodynamics became a liability outside of the low-speed street circuits.
The Mk. 30’s dire lack of speed on the straights meant the talents of VFR’s crew and drivers were largely wasted, and with few results to show through the first seven rounds, Flis was also facing the real possibility of losing his sponsors at the end of the season if the situation was left untended.
Pulling the plug on the Riley/Multimatic experiment was the only logical call to make with three races left to impress VFR’s backers, and thanks to the availability of a Ligier JS P217, a thrash to move to a new car was completed heading into this weekend’s race at Road America.
After leading the opening practice session and qualifying fourth for the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, the motivating power of fear has served its purpose under the VFR canopy.
“We’re a team that wants to win races…we don’t want to go and just ride around,” Flis (pictured) told RACER. “We’ve never wanted just to be field filler. Our whole team is there to win races and when you go there and you know when you roll off the truck you’ve got a pretty big uphill battle, it just was really tough for us to keep eating that every weekend.”
The choice of the Mk. 30 wasn’t made lightly; a close relationship with the car’s designers played a pivotal role in aligning with the American-Canadian constructor. When ongoing efforts to increase the Riley-Multimatic’s speed did little to move the Mk. 30 forward in the Prototype class, Flis knew a solution involving another P2 manufacturer was required.
“The big issues we ran into was we didn’t know how the sanctioning body was going to handle [Balance of Performance] for P2s,” he said. “With them not having a BoP for P2 cars, it put the Riley-Multimatic in a really tough place because the car just didn’t have the performance coming out of the box, so there needed to be a lot of upgrades and updates to the car.
“So, with Multimatic taking more of a lead over the last month or two, we tried to do the most we could but we just weren’t getting the results on what we needed to be in the competitive spot we wanted to be. We could run it for the rest of the year, but we knew we weren’t going to have something that was going to be competitive. We were already mid-season, so why would you spend all of this money and not be able to really be where you needed to be?
“I literally stood back and said, ‘I’ve either gotta spend a lot of money or put this car on stands and see what happens after the end of the season with what updates they’re going to do at the end of the year for next year.”
Before the change was made, Flis consulted his partners and sponsors. Everyone agreed with the new plan for the No. 90 VFR entry to return with Ligier and its North American agent Max Crawford aiding in the transition.
“All of our partners understand that we are always looking to look ahead and try and make the best decisions we can,” Flis said. “We felt that we made a good decision with our relationship with Riley and Multimatic on doing that decision, but it ended up that it just wasn’t where we wanted to be, so we decided to go down this road now with Ligier and Crawford to start building something new. All of our partners are on board with what we’re doing. They get it, they understand. They also are in the same boat as we are, being aggressive and wanting to win races.”
To Flis’ relief, the French P2 constructor was aptly able to make the move seamless despite the short time span between races.
“Ligier did an excellent job in facilitating every need we needed,” he added. “We’re not lacking any parts, everything is ready to go, so we’re really pumped that they got this done in realistically about 10 days. And it’s really great to work with a company that can do that. They’ve been a huge support of this whole thing, so we’re looking at the future and how we’ll be ready for next year and to run for the championship.”
Considering the late date for its chassis conversion, VFR will be challenged to master the JS P217 and earn its first WeatherTech Championship win this season. It’s hard to predict how the season will end for the team as it competes at Road America, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta, but Flis isn’t worried about those outcomes.
For now, getting back into the groove of being competitive is enough of a thrill.
“Just be able tune on the car, and get back after working as a team again, and working on pit stops, and driver changes, and all that stuff is a joy,” he said. “It’s starting later than we’d hoped, but it’s nice to not worry about looking to get our car to go faster because we don’t want to get lapped. We’re really pumped for the future and where it all goes.”