A golden age awaits for world sports car racing's exciting future
A bright future is on the horizon with the convergence of hypercar rules on both sides of the pond from 2021 onwards. The second renaissance is upon us.
After years of rhetoric between the two meteoric governing bodies in world sports car racing, it was finally announced last week that IMSA and the ACO would join forces from the beginning of the tenth season of WEC in 2021 with a single formula top-class hypercar regulation. This would bring a much needed unity amongst teams and fans alike, and will almost certainly bring a new golden era to a once dominant form of motorsport. Exciting times are definitely ahead, and the giddy prospect of seeing a Toyota or Aston Martin hybrid rocket around the Daytona high banks, or a beastly Cadillac DPI blast down the Mulsanne straight would make any fan's eyes water with excitement.
The past decade for sports car racing on a global scale has seen some of the biggest changes in the almost 100-year history of the racing discipline. In 2012, the formation of a world championship governed by the FIA was gigantic leap in the right direction, and when IMSA inaugurated the WeatherTech Sport Car Championship in 2014 after combining the American Le Mans Series and Rolex Sports Car series - things were looking up. In the years after this, both organisations have been at loggerheads bargaining for the correct ruleset to bring the LMP1 and DPI class together. And when the ACO announced the new hypercar regulation scheduled to begin this very year as a 'warm up' in the WEC, unity was finally gained. and we now have a complete singular class as of September next year. Can I pinch myself yet?
So when does this all begin?
Bear with me here, but here is how the transition will occur. We're currently halfway through the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship, with the season scheduled to conclude at the 88th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in mid-June. When the championship reconvenes for the 2020-21 season opener at Silverstone in September, we'll have our first round of hypercar regulations in the books, with Aston Martin, Toyota and Glickenhaus being the first manufacturers to enter a car in this new era for sports car racing. Then we're off to the temple of speed at Monza, the mysterious Fuji Speedway, the sand dunes of Bahrain, and then back to Kyalami for what will be a welcome return to world class motorsport at South Africa's premier circuit. Then the season will round off at Sebring, Spa and then Le Mans once again for the 89th running of the great race.
Toyota are currently leading the way in the WEC with their TS050 LMP1 car, but will be using a new hypercar for the next season beginning in September.
So far, WEC stalwarts Toyota, Aston Martin and Glickenhaus have confirmed to be producing hypercars ready to go for the ninth campaign of the World Endurance Championship. And it doesn't end there, with many more manufacturers showing interest in the new innovative regulations such as Porsche, Mercedes, Ford, McLaren, Lamborghini and Lexus. This could cause a huge influx of teams that will want to compete for overall victory at Le Mans especially, and finding the correct amount of cars to compete could be crucial to keeping manufacturers interested, as there's only 60 garages at the Circuit de le Sarthe, and the increase in LMDh cars can't be at the expensive of LMP2, GTE Pro and GTE Am cars, so the real challenge begins now as the applications for this new class come on over the coming months.
What will these cars look like?
The teams that have come forward have already started testing their hypercars ready for the next season of endurance racing, with the exception of Glickenhaus - who have just posted a mock up image of the concept they're shooting for. But let me tell you, the hypercars are a radical departure from the LMP1 cars we've grown to know a love over the past 10-15 years. They'll represent the road models that will be made available for purchase to the public, making the new class much more road relevant to fans and manufacturers alike. With Toyota now being the biggest car manufacturer in the world, they'll be getting maximum exposure to a global audience with their new Hypercar concept, whereas Aston Martin will be looking to extend their programme after announcing just a few days ago that they will be taking over the Racing Point Formula One team previously known as Force India. Things are certainly on the up for the British manufacturer.
So what happens with the current LMP1 cars?
Will these new rules completely outlaw the LMP1 cars then? Well, in a word, no they won't. Teams and manufacturers will still be able to 'grandfather' the soon to be defunct generation of car. For example, the ByKolles team could run an older version of their LMP1 car that they used in last year's 'super season' and just adapt it to the hypercar regulations in terms of engine and power usage parameters. Teams like Rebellion and even SMP Racing could also make a return to the top class if they're allowed to run a modified version of their LMP1 chassis, and this would furthermore bolster the newly formed class.
With the exit of Nissan, Audi and Porsche in the LMP1 category within the last half decade, It soon came to pass that the current ruleset were unsustainable, and Pierre Fillon (President of the ACO) was looking for a set of regulations that could produce cars in the top class for 25% of the LMP1 budget, and these were his words on what will happen to LMP1 in the new era. “It’s an evolution of the LMP1. For sure maybe there will be one or two years with the grandfather in LMP1 and the new generation, we have to discuss that." He also stated that LMP2 and GTE are in good hands for now, and is experiencing great stability with no need to immediately change anything just yet. There has been swirling rumours as of late that the premier GTE Pro class may introduce a form of hybrid system akin to what has been used in LMP1 over the past 7 years, but it's on the back burner for now.
And what about DPi?
The current top-tier class in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship will arguably changing the most drastically, with the whole principle set of rules being replaced entirely. The new DPi rules were set to be introduced in 2022, but the formation of the new LMDh class has put pay to that. So, IMSA has assigned the top four LMP2 chassis manufactures: Dallara, Ligier, Oreca and Multimatic to build the new cars with a rear-wheel KERS based hybrid system. These cars will therefore be eligible to compete in this new class across the IMSA and ACO/FIA sanctioned events.
The current DPi regulations acts as a 'halfway house' between LMP2 and LMP1 in terms of performance.
It's thought that the major players in the DPi category will continue into new era, with unanimous support from everyone involved meaning the initial response to this announcement being a positive one. Penske, Action Express and Wayne Taylor Racing have all expressed their intention to attack the 24 Hours of Daytona should the rules be beneficial for them, and now with an umbrella being resurrected over everyone, it appears that their wish has come true.
So, the wait is almost over. The change that so many wanted, fans and manufacturers alike has finally been agreed on. September 2020 will be a monumental month for sports car racing, and then as of September 2021, the WEC boys will have a free pass to attack Petit Le Mans at the end of the year of they so wish. The excitement levels are reaching fever pitch, and if truth be told - I can not wait.