The brutal speeds on display from Audi, Porsche, and Toyota at Silverstone, Spa, and now Le Mans have managed to thrill fans and induce a heightened level of concern from the men in charge of the LMP1-Hybrid rules.
The year-to-year increase has seen lap times fall by more than five seconds at the first two rounds, and provided qualifying at Le Mans takes place in dry conditions, a similar decrease in lap time could push pole position into record-breaking territory. The remarkable leap in speeds on the straights and in the corners has inspired the ACO and FIA to look at ways to curb the rampant pace in LMP1-H before it gets out of hand.
“We are debating energy reduction at the moment because the cars are getting faster and faster,” Audi Sport head of technology Jorg Zander told Marshall Pruett.
“We’ve had something like 5.5 seconds lap time improvement in Spa over 2014. It is definitely at the boundaries. I really think that is what the boundary has to be, because in some ways, we cannot exceed the level of safety we can create for cars travelling at these speeds.”
Zander, along with representatives from the other LMP1-H manufacturers, has been working with the rule makers to get ahead of the explosive speeds before they become a problem. Marshall also spoke with key officials from the ACO and FIA, who confirmed some form of speed cap is in development for 2016. It’s unclear whether the final changes would slow the LMP1-H field, or simply keep them from surpassing their present pace. It is known, however, that lap times in the 3 min 20 sec range have become an informal benchmark limit for outright performance at Le Mans.
“We work together in the one forum with the Technical Working Group, and whenever we get together, we talk to each other and try to find good solutions for making the cars interesting for the future but without allowing the speed to become unreasonable,” he said. “In some ways, we’re trying to not manipulate the cars but improve them and have a handle on this.”
At the speeds the LMP1-H cars are now achieving, limited human reaction times in the faster sections have become a genuine concern.
“You know that cars achieve a certain cornering speed where it’s really difficult for the driver to act in case something happens, so you have to do something — make some changes — to make sure at least there is a chance to get out of it in one piece,” Zander said. “Certainly here at Le Mans, we achieve top speeds beyond 330 kph, it’s definitely something that needs to be looked into. You get cornering speeds of 280 plus kph, and it’s the corners where the danger is present.”
The options available to the ACO and FIA for speed reduction include turning down engine and hybrid power, cutting downforce, and reducing tyre widths. It’s believed the preferred method being championed is further restricting fuel flow, which would drive horsepower figures down.