As the LMP1 class at Le Mans and within the FIA World Endurance Championship heads into a new phase – a fuller range of privateers are ramping up expected programs for 2018 – the new 2020 class regulations bring hybrid plug-in technology into the wording.
The development of hybrid plug-in technology will allow manufacturers to run short distances on battery power and then switch back to combustion engines. The regulations will also allow cars to finish the race on electric autonomy, although those details are still being determined.
Anyway, per the ACO, these regulations produced five major objectives from discussions between the ACO, FIA and manufacturers:
Adapting the technologies to road-going vehicles
Level playing field in terms of performance
Retain the appeal for spectators, sponsors and media thanks to top-level performances undergoing constant improvement
The six main principles outlined to govern these regulations include:
Zero emissions and rapid recharging
Two energy recovery systems retained still limited to 8MJ
Following the withdrawal of Audi at the end of last season and Rebellion Racing’s decision to step down to LMP2, this year’s LMP1 field will feature just six cars – down from nine in 2016, and 14 in 2015 – all of which race full-time in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
As the post-Audi era begins at Le Mans, Porsche and Toyota are poised to continue their close battle for supremacy through the early part of the WEC season, with the latter appearing to hold the upper hand after the test day.
Toyota stormed to a 1-2-3 sweep of the timesheets on June 4 at the Circuit de la Sarthe, its trio of TS050 Hybrids mustering up laps that Porsche simply could not live with. While it is only a test day and the true colors of both manufacturers are yet to come to light, it could nevertheless prove to be an indication of things to come.
Top honors within Toyota went to Kamui Kobayashi in the No. 7 entry, with his time of 3:18.132 already dipping below the pole lap from last year despite efforts to slow the LMP1 field down.
In the sister No. 8 car, Sebastien Buemi finished 1.1 seconds off Kobayashi’s pace, while Le Mans rookie Jose Maria Lopez completed the test day sweep for Toyota in third. Earl Bamber was Porsche’s fastest man in fourth, with defending Le Mans winner Neel Jani taking fifth.
Third cars last ran in LMP1 at Le Mans back in 2015 when Audi and Porsche added an entry for the 24 hours, the latter’s wildcard No. 19 919 Hybrid ultimately taking a famous victory. The companies agreed for 2016 not to run third cars in a bid to cut costs following the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
Toyota will bring back the tradition this week with its No. 9 car that made its bow at Spa last month. Shared by Lopez – swapped into the line-up from the No. 7 due to his inexperience and recent injury – Japanese Super Formula champion Yuji Kunimoto and defending LMP2 Le Mans winner Nicolas Lapierre, the car will give Toyota a numbers advantage that, while being far from decisive, could prove important.
Few figures within the Le Mans paddock would begrudge a Toyota victory following last year’s heartache. The TS050 Hybrid has looked strong and reliable through the early part of the WEC season, taking two victories from two races and a one-two at Spa.
Porsche may have more to come at Le Mans, but for now, the smart money would be on Toyota to finally break its duck and take its maiden overall victory as a manufacturer at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
CAN PORSCHE’S FIVE-STAR LINE-UP FIGHT BACK?
Porsche heads into this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with what is arguably the most experienced and successful driver line-up on the grid. The re-jig that saw 2016 Le Mans winners Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas get relocated within its motorsport family (plus the retirement of Mark Webber) freed up space for Audi refugee Andre Lotterer and 2015 victors Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy in its full-season line-up.
Add in Jani (2016 winner with Lieb and Dumas) and Timo Bernhard (2010 winner with Audi), and you get to five Le Mans victors in a line-up of six. The exception is Brendon Hartley, who finished second in 2015.
Toyota may have enjoyed the upper hand through the early part of the season, but that is not to say Porsche has not been a force. The team made clever strategy work to get in the mix at the front at both Silverstone and Spa, and as we saw with Toyota last year, outright pace isn’t everything when it comes to Le Mans.
With Audi no longer on the grid, Porsche is left to fight alone for the Volkswagen Group’s pride at Le Mans. Its brands have won all but one 24-hour since the turn of the millennium (2009 being the break when Peugeot was victorious). Continuing that record and taking a third straight overall victory would be significant; perhaps even more poignant (or neat for the numbers fans out there) would be a 19th overall win claimed in a 919.
The WEC paddock has felt a bit emptier this year because of Audi’s absence, and the same will likely be true at Le Mans. To not have the likes of Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich and Leena Gade (who admittedly had already left Audi prior to its own WEC exit) decked out in Audi colors in the garage and pit lane will be strange.
The majority of the Audi drivers will still be around, though. Lotterer is the only one who has stayed in LMP1, joining Porsche; Marcel Fassler has a seat with Corvette in GTE-Pro; Lucas di Grassi is also in a GT, racing a Ferrari for AF Corse; Oliver Jarvis is in LMP2 with Jackie Chan DC Racing. The only members of the 2016 cast missing are Benoit Treluyer and Loic Duval.
Motorsport, like life, goes on. There is still a Le Mans without Audi. And we’ve got two heavyweights in the form of Porsche and Toyota ready to duel for top honors.
AND WHAT OF BYKOLLES?
Don’t go thinking that LMP1 only comprises Toyota and Porsche. After Rebellion’s decision to step down to LMP2, the ByKolles team is going it alone for the LMP1 privateers, with its ENSO CLM P1/01 NISMO car set to be shared by Oliver Webb, Dominik Kraihamer and Marco Bonanomi.
Being in what is effectively a one-car race, the ByKolles team’s expectations will be chiefly internal. A solid result would be getting to the finish without too many major dramas, and if the team can stay ahead of the LMP2 field as it did at Spa last month, that would be a solid achievement.
Otherwise, the privateer side of LMP1 is more a case of looking to next year, when increased numbers are expected. Ginetta, Perrin and BR Engineering are all working on chassis for customers to buy, and a few established teams have been linked with making the jump up. More details will hopefully come out across the course of Le Mans.
PREDICTION: TOYOTA TO WIN, BUT WHICH CAR?
Toyota is probably going to be the neutral’s pick for victory given the events of last year, but even putting that aside, the Japanese marque has looked really strong so far this season. It proved last year it has the strategy nous to succeed at La Sarthe, so I’m going to put my money on a first overall victory for Toyota this weekend.
But which car?
It’s really a toss-up between the No. 7 and No. 8. The No. 9 has strong drivers in it, but the lack of Le Mans – and, frankly, general endurance racing – experience makes it a real wildcard. So which of the full-season Toyotas will get the job done?
The No. 7 was the car to beat at Spa, even if it finished second after being, to quote Mike Conway, “screwed” twice by full course yellows. But I think if the No. 8 crew can work out why it lacked the pace there and get things turned around for Le Mans, then we’ll see last year’s ’23 hours and 59 minutes of Le Mans’ victors Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi finally – and deservedly – take a maiden 24 hour victory.
British motorsport engineering company Perrinn has confirmed the receipt of two orders of its LMP1 chassis for the 2018 FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Following the withdrawal of Audi and Rebellion Racing’s decision to step down to LMP2 for 2017, this year’s LMP1 class in the WEC features just five cars, with boosting numbers a key aim for the series’ leadership at the ACO and FIA.
Perrinn has joined the fray by announcing on Thursday that it has received two chassis orders for 2018, as well as releasing renders of its design.
“With the design work already completed alongside preliminary digital and crash test simulations, the as yet unnamed car is expected to be revealed in late November before testing starts in December,” the statement reads.
“With the program already at such an advanced stage, Perrinn has confirmed it is capable of supplying further cars for the 2018 season.
“The first two cars sold will be run by a European race team with its identity and engine details to be released shortly.”
“Increased support and stability from the FIA and ACO, coupled with programs from other manufacturers has meant we’ve had a lot of discussions with teams seeking more freedom than the new LMP2 category,” designer Nicholas Perrinn added.
“LMP1 offers a route to progress from an engineering and pace point of view. In just a few short months, the program has progressed very quickly to the point where we’ll have two cars plus enough spares to build another car within six months.
“We have ensured we have capacity to do more should some of our other discussions develop.”
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Lucas di Grassi says that he is “likely” to race in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans despite Audi’s withdrawal from the FIA World Endurance Championship at the end of 2016.
Di Grassi previously balanced duties between Audi’s LMP1 team and with its affiliated ABT Schaeffler operation in Formula E, with the latter now becoming his priority for 2017.
A number of drivers involved in both WEC and Formula E face dilemmas over which to prioritize later in the year.
Most notably, the New York Formula E double-header clashes with WEC’s visit to the Nürburgring, ruling out a number of drivers from the electric event including Sebastien Buemi, Jose Maria Lopez and Sam Bird.
Di Grassi believes it will be hard for Formula E to avoid clashing with other series as it expands, and thinks that drivers will need to fully commit to the championship down the line.
“With Formula E expanding, I think it will be hard not to have clashes in the future. I hope there are no clashes,” di Grassi told NBC Sports.
“For me with Audi, they told me: ‘The priority is Formula E. If you want to do one or two other races, you can.’ They even told me if you want to do WEC, you can, but the priority is Formula E. You have to miss the WEC.
“It’s a very clear, straightforward view for us, for ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport. For the team the priority is Formula E. That I understand and I agree that Formula E is getting to a level where it is getting very complicated, very detail oriented, so you need to focus on that.”
When asked if he would be racing at Le Mans and making other WEC appearances, di Grassi said it was “likely”.
“My interest is in the Pro categories. Either LMP1 or GTE Pro,” di Grassi added.
“I think GTE is the future. P1, you have very little cars, only two manufacturers. For GTE the tendency is to grow. GTE is very interesting in a career point of view.
“But still to be discussed if Audi would release me or not to do it.
“But normally Audi understand quite well if I want to do another race in which they don’t compete.”
The LMP1 privateer ranks are set to get a boost if customers step up to Ginetta’s new LMP1 chassis offering. The LMP1 rendering released today follows the success of the manufacturer’s LMP3 and G57 models, and will look to attract new entrants into the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Ginetta said it is in advanced talks with engine supplier MECACHROME as well as gearbox manufacturers Xtrac for the drive train. The car will be around 60kg lighter than a P2 and have up to 200BHP more. The manufacturer plans to build ten chassis to support three, two-car teams run by customers. Significant interest has already been expressed from both new and existing customers, including G57 customers PRT Racing and ARC Bratislava for their 2018 WEC campaigns.
Personnel-wise, Ginetta have perhaps scored a coup with the hirings of Adrian Reynard, who will head the aero development and Paolo Catone, who previously designed the Le Mans-winning Peugeot 908. The manufacturer also announced an as-yet-unnamed Head of Aerodynamics who has past LMP1-H experience.
“I’m hugely thankful to the ACO for the opportunity to run at the front and challenge for overall podiums,” said Ginetta Chairman Lawrence Tomlinson. “The Ginetta design team’s ability has already been proven by the class dominating Ginetta LMP3 and G57. With Adrian and Paolo on board, the performance of the Ginetta LMP1 is going to be amazing. We are now offering a genuine ladder for our customers all the way from first race to Le Mans which is incredibly exciting for me.”
“This certainly appeals to my competitive nature,” Reynard added. “Aerodynamics, driveability and fuel efficiency dominate race car performance in this category. With the highly talented team of experienced engineers that Ginetta has available, this LMP1 contender will be designed and developed to challenge at the highest level. Lawrence has a strong desire to create the very best LMP1 car available for the privateer and he has the commitment to deliver a production run of these.”