After a couple of weeks of rapid-fire announcements and clarifications on the state of future play for the FIA WEC, in particular the future vision of the premier LMP1 class, it seems high time to take a look at how things currently stand in the marketplace.
Porsche we know is about to follow Audi out after the corporate realities of the fallout of the ‘Dieselgate’ saga; the continued flak from ongoing examination of ‘cartel’-like behaviour amongst the major German automotive giants is beginning to bite harder.
Beyond that we await the decisions of Toyota, its first option of a short, possibly three-race, 2018 season now removed by a combination of both the transitional 18-month season and the insistence by the ACO/ WEC that there will be no Le Mans entry for it without a full-season WEC commitment. We will hear its response to that surprise pronouncement next month.
Peugeot has been fence-sitting for so long that there’s no doubt it has splinters in its nether regions. Industry sources have long been briefing that the 2009 Le Mans-winning outfit was negotiating hard for a reset in the regulations to provide both a technological, and fiscal, reset to allow the team to come back in a competitive and affordable manner.
That seems close, with a ‘mild’ hybrid the apparent favoured option, the emphasis for Peugeot’s proposed entry being on big full-time engine power rather than hyper hybrid boost. Industry sources have suggested that such a programme could happen as early as the 2019/2020 season, though there are open questions on the team’s current design, engineering and logistical capacity.
But, once again there are industry factors. PSA, Peugeot’s parent company, is now also under investigation for an emissions scandal, that might bite. Time will tell…
Renault is known to be a major target for the ACO meanwhile, its hybrid tech is mature, and sister company Nissan has plenty of sportscar racing experience in recent years via both its LMP2 engine programme and the failed GTR-LM LMP1 effort.
This push is understood to be distinctly separate to a potential Alpine LMP1 programme, Signatech’s LMP2 effort now time-limited as the Alpine brand is about to become a car-maker once again, a red line for the ACO’s ‘bye’ in allowing the brand to feature in its staunchly privateer class.
If Signatech does manage to find a way forward – likely with an upgraded version of its current ORECA 07-based Alpine A470 chassis and a different engine – it’s unlikely that Renault would consider running alongside the effort in the future. One, other, neither, but not both are the available options here!
It’s fair to say too that the end of Alpine’s ‘window’ in LMP2 seems to have come as something of a surprise to Signatech, which was unable to put together a full-season deal for a second LMP2 effort this season. Unless there’s a plan in motion this should be seen as a long shot for 2018/19.
One effort that seems to be in the bag is the SMP Racing Dallara programme, ART Grand Prix is the team involved in running this effort and though things have not been running smoothly internally with the team, the development of the car is progressing apace with Mikhail Aleshin dropping his Indycar programme to act as lead test driver.
DSC believes the plan is for a two-car full-season effort, that the team will run with AER engines and Michelin tyres. One car at least will be an all-Russian line-up.
Dallara has also been speaking to potential customers for the car though it is not clear whether SMP Racing have exclusivity, and if so for how long. It’s also unclear whether the 18-month ‘Super Season’ might have an effect on any prior agreement on that front.
ByKolles meanwhile, announced that it was dropping away from a full-season programme in 2017, as part of a commitment to prepare its NISMO-engined LMP1 for the 2018 season. The car showed flashes of real potential at Spa, but had major issues elsewhere.
DSC is aware of at least one of the team’s chassis (they have at least two) being offered to another privateer team though there is no confirmation that a sale has occurred. Neither does this mean that ByKolles will not return. The team has been testing in the past days, 2017 driver Oliver Webb tweeting pics from Hungaroring on Monday.
Ginetta’s 2018 LMP1 is a unique offering in this list of prospects. Why? Because it is the only 2018 design that is definitely available for customers.
The design and aero work has been progressing apace and entirely to programme and as we hear more of the plans emerging from the WEC the 2018/19 season and beyond, crystallising the uncertainty that has been thus far a major issue to anyone looking to put together a 2018 programme.
Ginetta though, is in detailed discussions with a number of potential customers both from within the current ‘family’ of ACO Series entrants and beyond. Representatives from both Ginetta and its engine partner Mechachrome were at CoTA this past weekend and were involved in meetings with ACO and WEC officials; and multiple teams too. Things appear to be moving along for the Yorkshire-based marque.
The emergence of potential efforts from the existing LMP2 chassis manufacturers add further complexity to the picture.
ORECA’s position’s on this has been confused in recent weeks, not because the company isn’t clear over its options, but because the messages from the rule makers have been, at times, far from clear.
The FIA Endurance Commission appeared to have come out in favour of a potential mild upgrade of a current LMP2 car finding a home in ‘new’ LMP1
The FIA Endurance Commission appears to have come out in favour of a potential mild upgrade of a current LMP2 car finding a home in ‘new’ LMP1, one major sticking point being the current 100mm overhang on the P2 car that renders it ineligible for the current LMP1 regs.
ACO technical sources though have apparently counted out that option effectively forcing the current LMP2 chassis manufacturers into a decision where its current products would have to be comprehensively redesigned.
The ORECA 07 as it currently stands is also overweight for LMP1 by c.100kgs, though around half of that is accounted for by ballast, the remainder would have to be found in a redesign, lighter components etc.
One knowledgeable paddock source offered the analysis that the potential cost difference between the two options may be more than fivefold, pushing an effectively ‘all new aside from monocoque’ option into a seven euro figures bracket even considering an already purchased LMP2 chassis. ORECA has not confirmed those figures
Ligier meanwhile is focused on its LMP2 JS P217 ‘joker’ upgrade for 2018. Jacques Nicolet told DSC at CoTA that any question over LMP1 would have to wait until they knew “What is LMP1?”, effectively the same point made by ORECA, that without technical regulations it would be impossible to determine what could be done to upgrade an existing LMP2 chassis, rather than present an all-new proposal.
The latter is believed to be highly unlikely in the short-term from an outfit working hard to service its LMP2, DPi (current and potential future) and LMP3 customers (the 100th sale of an LMP3 imminent) plus increasing success in the single seater market via its Crawford marque in North America. Crawford being the exclusive brand of chassis for F4 in North America and also now for the forthcoming F3 USA series, the Crawford-chassis powered by an HPD engine.
Then there’s the potential prospect of some form of factory backed/branded non-hybrid LMP1, a prospect freed up in the latest iteration of the unified class proposals. DSC is aware of at least three proposals in this bracket involving at least two chassis options. All are some way from confirmation, though all are understood still to be live prospects to some degree at least.
On the customer engine front meanwhile Gibson meanwhile is known to have undertaken an LMP1 engine evaluation in the wake of deciding to withdraw from the LMP2 chassis license process around two years ago.
The engine evaluation still remains broadly valid though. Gibson, much like everyone else, needs far more detail of the regulations before locking in any real programme though. It does however, remain read, willing and able to respond if the opportunity emerges to be part of an emergent programme for a team (or teams, or for a chassis manufacturer).
In addition, Judd made it clear some time go that it too would have an LMP1 engine offering if customers emerged.
One additional factor here though is the revelation via ACO technical sources that there will NOT be a ‘balance of performance’ between alternative engine choices in the turbo or normally aspirated areas; there will be one fuel flow allowance for each. “LMP1 is NOT a balance of performance formula” is the current line from those looking into what comes next!
The clock is ticking ever more loudly and clarity of regulations is now an imperative if a significant field of LMP1s is to become a short-term reality
Multiple team sources are offering the opinion that there is real difficulty in tackling the combined challenges of preparing for a very different 2018/19 season with already new machinery (all of the LMP2s are effectively less than a year old), coupled with a lack of ultimate clarity on the detailed regulations (and therefore their available choices).
All in all the picture emerges of a rapid move towards a clear picture, but a picture that is not clear enough yet to enable teams to confidently make meaningful decisions. The clock is ticking ever more loudly and clarity of regulations is now an imperative if a significant field of LMP1s is to become a short-term reality.
Much of the talk at present is of the “not counting out” variety, with plenty of “perhaps more likely in 2019/20” into the mix too. The potential though for a real shot at a Le Mans victory in either 2018 or 2019 (or indeed both!) is still powerful enough to push outline consideration into active evaluation.
In terms of the available prospects, they can effectively be condensed down to three available groups: factory interest, current sportscar team interest, and others. There are a number in each group that are looking at the potential that the current situation offers.
Do not count out some surprises in the weeks and months to come!