Explained: Why WEC's Hypercar category might end up as a huge failure
Disclaimer: This article is based on my opinion and prior knowledge, not confirmed facts from WEC or FIA.
It seems WEC's future is quite bright at the status quo. Toyota, Aston Martin, and Glickenhaus will already be participating in the Hypercar class in the 20-21 season, and Peugeot has confirmed that they will return to the racing scene with Rebellion. Although everyone is hyped about the upcoming WEC season and the whole Hypercar category, after seeing Toyota’s GRSS, I got the feeling that WEC’s Hypercar class might end up in a total failure.
1. Errr… What made you think so?
If you are an endurance racing fan, you would have definitely had a flashback when you heard of the Hypercar class and its concept. The Hypercar class is basically top-class hypercars and prototypes battling against each other for overall victory. Yes, if you have thought of the old GT1 category, you are correct.
How many cars can you spot? I can see some F1 GTRs, 911s, and even an F40 LM! Image from Classic Driver
The old GT1 category can find its roots from the BPR Global GT Series. The BPR Global GT Series was a platform for privateers to compete in GT racing with lightly modified supercars from the era. Thanks to the power vacuum caused by the end of the World SportsCar Championship, the series has seen a massive influx of various privateers and professional teams. Well known cars like the XJ220, F40 LM, F1 GTR, and Porsche 911s participated, further increasing the popularity of the series.
Unleash the Jaguar!! Image from Wheelsage.org
However, things began to turn in the wrong direction as manufacturers decided to jump into the battlefield. Manufacturers thought that the BPR Series was an excellent opportunity to advertise their cars as not a lot of modifications were required, and soon factory teams from Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, Panoz, McLaren, Lotus, Nissan, Jaguar, and Toyota jumped into the game.
Dodge Viper was one of the 'cheaper' GT2 cars. Image from Sportsracers.co.uk
This has increased the running costs of the series to skyrocket, meaning the privateers had no place to stand against manufacturers. Thankfully, a new GT2 category has been created, which meant privateers could still compete with a relatively low budget. Although the problem of the cost increase was successfully tackled, there was a growing problem in the GT1 class.
The 1995 Le Mans winning F1 GTR. Image from Youtube
Although Porsche built a road-legal 962 called the Dauer 962 to win Le Mans, until 1995, the GT1 class seemed like normal GT racing. In 1995 McLaren won Le Mans with their highly efficient F1 GTR, but Ferrari’s F40 LM, Nissan’s GT-R LM, and Venturi’s 600SLM also fared well, and there was some serious competition going on. However, it became worse as Porsche and Mercedes jumped in again.
Well... You at least look like an elongated 911... Image from Motor1.com
These manufacturers were eager to dominate the GT1 class, they decided to look for loopholes. The first was Porsche, who just basically rebuilt an improved Porsche 962 with a 993 front end, and soon Mercedes walked in with its CLK GTR, which resembled nothing of the normal CLK. These two purpose-built racers easily outpaced racers from other marques while still complying with the homologation regulations. McLaren tried to compete against these two Frankenstein racers with their F1 GTR, but they eventually had to throw the towel.
Hello, I am CLK GTR. What? I don't look like a CLK? How dare you! Image from Ultimatecarpages.com
The CLK GTR dominated every single race of the 1998 season, although Porsche struck back with their highly modified 911 GT1-98. In 1999, Porsche withdrew from GT1 along with numerous other manufacturers who thought that the GT1 class has turned into a meaningless battle. Therefore, the GT1 class quietly faded into history, which was later replaced by the LMGTP, and eventually the LMP classes.
I doubt that's gonna be road legal... Image from Toyota Gazoo Racing
2. Okay, I get it. But how does this relate to Toyota’s GRSS and WEC?
Although the CLK GTR and the 911 GT1 were the most famous for using the loopholes of the regulation, there was an even more extreme case of ‘legal cheating’. And as you expected, it was Toyota. Toyota’s choice of weapon for the GT1 class was the GT One. Although the name lacks creativity, the car itself was testing the limits of ‘creative interpretation of rules’.
Excuse me? How does this thing has a license plate? Image from Ultimatecarpage.com
Firstly, the GT One was even more purpose-built than the CLK GTR and the 911 GT1. The CLK GTR and the 911 GT1 at least resembled the road cars in some way, but there GT One resembled nothing in the Toyota lineup. It still looks like an LMP car despite being built back in the days. Still, they had to produce a homologation version of it, and instead of selling it to a customer, Toyota Team Europe sold it to Toyota Japan, which was just pretty much in-house trading, unlike the other two marques. This allowed the roadgoing GT-One to be almost identical to the race version, meaning they did not have to worry about comfort and all those subtle stuff.
Image from Supercars.net
Secondly, the GT One had to have a suitcase-sized area in the car, as it still had its roots based on GT cars. But the car was extremely race-focused, meaning they could not find a way to make extra room for the suitcase. Instead, they decided to ‘legally cheat’ and stated that their fuel tank was the size of a suitcase when empty. Of course, the inspectors were like “Noooooooo…. This isn’t what I meant”, but they had no choice but to allow the GT One to race.
Now, the ‘infamous’ Toyota racing team is building a new car for the WEC Hypercar class, and in contrary to Aston Martin’s Valkyrie based race car, they are building a whole new prototype racer. Therefore, it merely means that Toyota can build whatever they want from a blank sheet of paper, while in contrast, Aston Martin will face some fundamental limits during the process.
Image from Flickr
Furthermore, the homologation rules of the WEC Hypercar class is even less harsh compared to the old GT1; the companies do not need to have homologation versions in their first year of racing. Therefore, Toyota can still do their fancy party trick of ‘in-house trading’, meaning they will not have to worry about homologation.
A potential contender eh? Image from McLaren
The WEC Hypercar class’s original purpose was to draw manufacturers and their supercars into WEC. However, if Toyota’s purpose-built prototype proves to be far more effective than the road-car based racers, the WEC Hypercar class could end up being a battle of factory-built prototypes unlike what the FIA originally imagined. Also, when considering the fact that WEC wants to draw more privateer teams into the Hypercar class by allowing companies to sell their race cars, this whole prototype war will make privateers impossible to enter the Hypercar category.
I'm drooling over this... Image from Ultimatecarpage.com
3. Is there a way to make sure it doesn’t end up like the old GT1?
Well, it’s simple. Just increase the number of required homologation vehicles regardless of whether it is a prototype or road car-based racer. This will force manufacturers to not go too far from their original vehicles as it did back in the days. Although this might end up increasing the overall cost of the program, in the long term, it will help maintain the power balance between marques and therefore prevent factory-scale development wars costing an astronomical amount of investment.
When a lot of homologation vehicles are required, it is way more advantageous for companies who build their race cars based on road-going supercars as it costs less than building a totally new vehicle. Furthermore, when there is even more incentive of having a road car based example on the track(obviously advertising and brand image), companies will eventually try to participate with race versions of road cars instead of building prototypes.
Okay, those are not going to be covered by my insurance... Image from Flickr
Although some might argue that the production of homologation vehicles will only worsen the financial burdens of the manufacturers, limited-edition hypercars often sell like hotcakes despite their huge price tag. Therefore, it would not be impossible for manufacturers to actually pay back their development costs.
4. I heard Peugeot’s joining the Hypercar class in 2022. What will they opt for?
It is likely that Peugeot will be developing a prototype. Peugeot never raced with their road-going vehicles in endurance racing, and they do not have a hypercar that is suitable for WEC’s Hypercar class. Furthermore, they teamed up with Rebellion, which focuses on prototype racing, meaning the chances of Peugeot developing a new hypercar is extremely low.
Image from Aston Martin
At the end of the day…
Of course, all of these questions become meaningless if the Valkyrie simply obliterates the GRSS on the track. Still, to be honest, the chances are extremely low, in my opinion. The GRSS has a hybrid system in its front axle, while the Valkyrie only relies on its NA V12. Toyota has already shown great performance with its hybrid TS050s compared to petrol-powered Rebellions and Ginettas in the 18-19 season and is still crushing the Ginettas in terms of pace despite added ballasts.
Image from ACO
Still, the WEC Hypercar rules allow the hybrid boost to be used above the speeds of 120km/h, which means the GRSS would not be able to have the corner exiting advantage the TS050 had, but the hybrid boost will be useful in the straights for overtaking. When considering the fact that quite a lot of WEC’s racetracks are high-speed race tracks (La Sarthe, Spa Francorchamps, Fuji, and so on), the hybrid system will definitely be an advantage over the old school Aston.
Regardless of all these variables, the 2020-2021 season is still yet to come, and there is still time for some minor changes that can improve the category and WEC itself. Until then, all we can do is just relax and enjoy the LMP1 cars. To admit, I have hated these LMP1 cars, but I feel I might be missing them when the Hypercar class turns into a prototype battle…