How the new Hypercar rules will either make or break Le Mans
With the ACO and FIA introducing the new Hypercar class and ditching the long lived LMP formula brings a number of situations and possible issues. The LMP formula lived for a bit over 20 years, longer than any other top class in motorsports. With all manufacturers, except Toyota, pulling out of LMP1 there is really no choice but to ditch the formula all together. The LMP1 rules have favored hybrid powered cars ever since their introduction. This has prevented non-hybrid cars from being able to compete, which has kept the cost of running a top team in the LMP1 class astronomically high. But back when the LMP formula was new 20 years ago, the rules were still formatted in a way that smaller teams could win. A more level playing field, and how it evolves, is going to be key to the new Hypercar class.
The new rules remind everybody of the old GT1 class from the '90s. The new class shares a lot with the old GT1 class. Using racing versions of the latest and greatest road cars to hold epic battles on track to prove which one is best. Seeing an AMG Project One, Aston Martin Valkyrie, Porsche 918, and a McLaren Senna or Speedtail duking it out to prove who builds the greatest road car of our time. But that does not seem to be what will happen, at least not yet. With only Aston Martin and Toyota signing up, the class does not seem to have the backing from as many manufacturers as we would hope.
Part of the rules might also lead the new Hypercar class down the same path as the old GT1 class. The FIA is allowing prototypes to race in the new class. There will supposedly be strict balance of performance to prevent the prototypes from outclassing the road cars. But as we have seen many times in the past, it is far better to run a prototype than a road car because there is far more design freedom with a ground up prototype than an existing platform that is based on a road car. This was shown as the GT1 class progressed and companies like Porsche and Mercedes built prototype spin offs of road cars, like the 911 GT1 and CLK-GTR. Toyota is opting to run a prototype since they don't have a road car that could run in the new class. This could lead Toyota to having a big advantage over Aston Martin. Aston Martin is running the Valkyrie though, which is one of Adrian Newey's radical designs. But at this moment we don't know for sure how the Valkyrie will stack up, as we have not seen the racing version or Toyota's prototype.
Another big thing about the new rules is cost. Yes it is quite a boring topic, but it has a big effect on who decides to race and how many series adopt the new class. Manufacturers will be much more interested in racing if the rules are adopted by other top racing series. One big series is IMSA. Currently the price cap is too high for IMSA to be interested in adopting the rules. This prevents WEC from getting more manufacturers in the form of Acura, GM, Honda, and Mazda. If the costs were reduced enough, IMSA could adopt these new rules to replace the DPi class. Both IMSA and WEC could benefit from this as teams could build a car and run it in both series. Much like what teams would do with the top class cars up until 2011. As many teams would run in ALMS with LMP1 cars, Group C chassis cars in IMSA GTP, GT1 and WSC cars in USRRC and IMSA, the list goes on and on.
The new Hypercar class has the potential to create some of the best racing we have seen in a long time. If the FIA can figure out how to get more manufacturers involved and keep the performance of the competing cars even between road cars and prototypes, this could be an amazing class that will last for a long time. I would love to see a three way battle between an AMG Project One, McLaren Speedtail, and Aston Martin Valkyrie at Le Mans. Bringing back the glory and entertainment of GT1, without bring back the issues that led to the end of GT1 will lead to the success of the Hypercar class and allow it to last, hopefully as long as LMP1 lasted.