ACO confirms WEC technical regulations tweaks, LMP2 engine supply for 2017

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The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) has confirmed its planned changes to the FIA World Endurance Championship technical regulations for the 2017 season, as well as unveiling the new spec engine for LMP2 to be used across series.

Ahead of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, officials from the ACO including president Pierre Fillon and sporting director Vincent Beaumesnil held a press conference to announce the planned changes for 2017.

For the manufacturers racing with hybrids in the LMP1-H class, there will be a reduction in aerodynamic performance for 2017 by increasing the height of the splitter and reducing the size of the rear diffuser.

The ACO and the FIA are keen to increase the popularity and attractiveness of the privateer LMP1 category (LMP1-L) by increasing performance while reducing costs. Currently, just two teams – Rebellion Racing and ByKolles – race in the LMP1 sub-class.

For 2017, the regulations will allow LMP1-L cars to be wider at the front and use bigger rear wings. The minimum weight of the cars has also been reduced to 830 kg, while a single fuel flow metre will be introduced. The torque metre will be removed, as will limits on the number of engines.

The introduction of a Drag Reduction System (DRS) for cars is also being discussed for 2018, having been used effectively in Formula 1 and DTM.

It is hoped that these changes will cut the pace difference between the LMP1-H and LMP1-L cars, which has grown from 2.5 seconds to 7.5 seconds per lap in the past four years.

In LMP2, the ACO announced that it had chosen Gibson to be the sole engine supplier for the class at Le Mans, the FIA WEC, the European Le Mans Series, the Asian Le Mans Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The normally-aspirated V8 will offer teams more power while being fractionally cheaper than engines currently are. Teams will also benefit from technical support from Gibson.

Looking ahead to the future, plans to improve safety were discussed, with the plan being to introduce a new survival cell to cars and enforce stricter crash tests.

The push for zero-emissions racing was also expanded on, leading to discussions about hydrogen-powered cars racing at Le Mans in the future. Investigations into the possibility of using hydrogen in endurance racing will be carried out over the next year.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”