Three-time Le Mans winner and sports car icon Allan McNish does not think the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class faces a long-term issue despite Audi’s withdrawal at the end of 2016.
Audi announced last fall that it would be ending its LMP1 program after 18 years following the 2016 season, signing off with a one-two finish in the 6 Hours of Bahrain. McNish won all three of his Le Mans crowns with Audi, as well as claiming the WEC title in 2013.
Audi’s exit leaves just four manufacturer entries in LMP1 for 2017 – two from Porsche, two from Toyota – plus a single privateer in the form of the ByKolles team.
Concerns have been raised about the future of the WEC’s top category due to the perceived lack of fresh manufacturer interest, with rising costs understood to be the biggest turn-off.
However, McNish feels the drop in entries is only a temporary setback for the LMP1 class, but stressed the need to focus on making the regulations appealing to boost grid figures in the future.
“I think the championship is in good health. I think the different categories, you could discuss; you could definitely discuss LMP1-H at the moment,” McNish told NBC Sports.
“LMP1-L, with Ginetta or the rumors of others, I think we’ve got to be practical here. I don’t think you’re ever going to have a situation where consistently privateers are going to beat factories. That’s a simple fact.
“Then it’s a case of making sure there’s a differentiation between the two. And I don’t mean performance differentiation, I just mean differentiation because those guys have to have their own race, their own championship.
“We want to see everyone competing, but we have to be practical about it, knowing the investment and energy and the requirement to win Le Mans, it’s unlikely you’re going to have privateers beating factories.
“So, I think the focus is, right, where are we now? What do we need for five years’ time? What regulation base do we need? What do we need to actually look at? The motor industry is changing very quickly right now, and motor racing has got to actually be in line or a little bit ahead of the motor industry so it has that relevance.”
McNish spoke warmly of the efforts being made in GTE Pro and LMP2, arguably the WEC’s strongest two classes at the moment, but is confident that LMP1 can bounce back in the future.
“When I started there it was GT1, which is now roughly the same times as a GTE car; a 3:48 in qualifying, a 3:45 on qualy tires, a 3:49/3:50s in the race, first time I went to Le Mans,” McNish said.
“If you look at the GTE times, they’re not a kick in the backside off that. So there is a very strong category there. You now know that BMW is coming in for ’18, you know there’s others looking at it. So that’s a strong category. You’ve got GTE Am on the other side of it, that can evolve. Then you’ve got LMP2 which is very good in depth right now. It’s going to have some trials and tribulations.
“It’s a case of what do you want for the future. And so I don’t think long-term, [LMP1 is] a problem. I think right now it could be seen as a problem.
“It’s a little bit like Peugeot pulling out on the day that the WEC entries closed for its first ever season. 4:30 in the afternoon they said they weren’t coming. Then it was the end.
“But it wasn’t. And I think this is a speed bump.”