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Life After The 919 Hybrid, Part 2: Where Do We Go From Here?

Possible solutions to secure the future of the WEC and sportscars

In the first part of this comment piece we looked at the immediate fall-out from Porsche’s announcement of their withdrawal from the LMP1 class of the FIA WEC after the 2017 season, a year earlier than initially planned.

We concluded our earlier piece by posing a pair of questions around the issues at present facing the sharp end of the endurance prototype product. Those were: How quickly can a move towards all-electric or alternative ‘clean’ tech happen and what do we do right now?

The answer to the former question now seems set to fall-out from the successes or otherwise of Formula E and its drive forward with new tech.

The availability, performance and reliability of the next generation of EVs will, inevitably, see the manufacturers looking for both diversity, and opportunities to show that their products will go faster or for longer, than their opposition. Formula E is unlikely to be even a medium-term catch-all solution for that.

Endurance racing clearly offers that option, but that is not a solution to the here and now.

Which brings us to the second question: What do we do right now?

What is required immediately is a root and branch examination of the realities involved, and the opportunities.

The FIA WEC is already considering a radical revamp of the way in which the GTE World Championship is presented. And correctly so, with qualifying races tailored for TV looking likely to get the green light for 2018 as the Championship’s remaining manufacturer product gets some well deserved attention.

With new cars en route, and additional manufacturers waiting in the wings, the packaging of that product is going to be key to retaining some manufacturer glitz in the short-term.

The FIA WEC is already considering a radical revamp of the way in which the GTE World Championship is presented, and correctly so

The new-for-2017 LMP2 category provides both opportunity, and some challenges. The ACO designed its cost-capped junior LMP formula as a firmly Pro-Am affair, and many teams have embraced it for its performance vs value for money, and the opportunity it offers for a shop window for young talent.

That latter point though may become a little diluted with a paucity of places for fast young drivers to graduate onto. There are, quite simply, no available places to be promoted up through the ranks now.

The IMSA DPi concept, LMP2 chassis equipped with factory engines and custom bodywork will be presented by many as an alternative. It would mean abandoning the LMP1 concept completely and going where the manufacturers are currently biting, it would  be a truly tricky fix to balance DPi with, and around, Privateer LMP1, and factory teams are unlikely to relish being beaten for pace by a privateer car 9 times a year!  And the ACO are, still now, reassuring the exiting and incoming LMP1 Privateer manufacturers that they stand four square behind that concept.

The ACO too is a major stumbling block to Dpi, they remain unconvinced, for a variety of reasons, some with more validity than others.

Whilst DPi fundamentally fails to address the ACO’s wish to push the technology envelope, it undoubtedly scores highly on the front of giving manufacturer teams a more accessible route towards the front of the grid in North America.

It fails one test comprehensively though, the difficult to defend ‘not invented here’ check, but there is an alternative.

With multiple programmes of a range of credibility for new LMP1 non-Hybrid cars under development, there are prospects for grids of fast and exciting new machines in 2018 and beyond.

Dallara with SMP Racing say we’ll see its new LMP1 coupe in October for the first time, Ginetta is pushing hard for sales for their Mechachrome-engined LMP1, again likely to be seen publicly for the first time in October and the open-source Perrinn LMP1 has had real interest from a customer too.  Some of the other established chassis manufacturers are watching this potential emergent marketplace extremely closely.

All of that though, is for fully privateer efforts, albeit with the potential for a manufacturer provided, or at least badged, engine.

It’s time though to deal with reality rather than idealism.

If the DPi concept, based on a propriety LMP2 underpinnings has proved a success, then why would a similar concept, based on a number of possible LMP1 chassis not do the same on a global front?

It might not stop some of the current major players from looking elsewhere. But, there’s no reason to think that the effective hard stop to development costs might not help to attract those that have been looking enviously from afar and hoping for a way in.

In the wake of the withdrawal of Audi Sport’s long-standing programme last year, I asked a question of the head of the FIA Endurance Commission, Sir Lindsey Owen-Jones: “Had an error been made not giving aspirant manufacturers an easier route into prototype racing than has been offered by the LMP1 H regulations?”

The answer, after brief consideration, was that this might very well have been a correct observation.

There is then an opportunity to put that right immediately.

Allow factory engines, factory aero and full factory badging on a range of LMP1 chassis. Allow those teams to enter the 2018 FIA WEC from the start with a non-factory-badged car, a Ginetta for instance, potentially debuting a new car at Le Mans next year.

Take the hit that parking the tech-based formula might require, allow them to measure their efforts against Toyota, and ensure that any privateers get a fair crack of the whip too.

If the 2020 regs survive the maelstrom, if Toyota can be persuaded to return, and are joined by Peugeot, and, who knows, in a year or two down the line by one of the new boys, attracted by the package and the technical hard reset that entirely new tech provides, then it would be mission accomplished.

We could have a WEC, and Le Mans, reminiscent of the old days of customer R8s or a single factory vs plucky Pescarolo

Watching cars with new tech overhaul the efforts of the older-tech bunch would merely underline the point that new clean tech has real performance potential; more than a Hybrid beating another hybrid ever would. And, into the bargain, as the automotive industry runs headlong into a new era pursued by the flaming torch and pitchforks of class action lawyers, the sights and sounds of old school motorsport gets a final and glorious hurrah, everyone’s a winner!

In the meantime, whilst that gets sorted out we could have a WEC, and Le Mans, reminiscent of the old days, where customer R8s or a single factory faced off against plucky Pescarolo.

And if that happens, then we can, and will, party like it’s 2006!