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Voices On Hypercar: Part 5, Pierre Nicolet (Ligier Automotive)

Ligier looking for a chance to be involved in DPi II and WEC Hypercar in the future

The fifth part of DSC’s Voices On Hypercar Series, (you can read the other four below), features Pierre Nicolet, the Deputy General Manager of Everspeed, Ligier Automotive’s holding company.

PART 1 (TOYOTA) | PART 2 (ASTON MARTIN) | PART 3 (IMSA) | PART 4 (ACO)

While Ligier is not one of the major automotive manufacturers regularly mentioned as a player in the FIA WEC’s forthcoming 2020 ‘Hypercar’ formula, there is of course the potential for it to be involved as either a factory or as a partner to a manufacturer wishing to enter the ranks in a similar way to its project with Nissan and CORE (formerly ESM) in IMSA’s DPi class.

So DSC sat down with Nicolet to get Ligier’s perspective. DSC asked what Ligier’s current thoughts are on the evolving (and near final) ruleset, and whether or not it expects to have any active involvement in the foreseeable future. That, in turn, prompted a discussion about DPi and Ligier’s planning ahead of the second generation that’s on the horizon and slated for 2022.

Let’s start by talking about Ligier’s thoughts on the current state of the ACO and FIA’s ‘Hypercar’ concept. Where does Ligier stand?

“We are always interested in a new category, with new regulations. We have all the design resources, development resources, to put a new car together for a customer. What is holding us back is the lack of enquiries and a lack of options in our pursuit to find customers to run beside us to start on such a programme.”

So Ligier wouldn’t run in the ‘Hypercar’ ruleset as a factory?

“We remain a small constructor, and the means to put in place a programme on our own are above our means at the moment. It will come down to finding either an OEM or a private customer that wants to do it.

“It doesn’t have to be a Ligier hypercar, it can be whatever a customer or OEM wants it to be. We’ve designed LMP1 cars in the past, our design team has been hired to take on projects like this, like Olivier Jansonnie from Peugeot Sport. But in the end, we need a customer based programme to launch a ‘Hypercar’ project.

“Maybe we will get one? We are working on such.”

Are you then currently involved in discussions with an OEM?

“We are always in discussions, but for us, it seems unrealistic to be ready in 2020. For the others, it may not be the case.

“We have the means, the resources to design cars and implement such a programme in house, but the business model for us is either OEM or customer base because it’s a lot of investment to do. If you want to be competitive, which is the only goal, it’s not possible to do it by ourselves.”

We are always in discussions, but for us it seems unrealistic to be ready in 2020

We’ve spoken to bigger OEMs about how they view these regulations, but you come from an interesting second angle as a smaller constructor. Are you happy with the direction these regulations have taken and the potential opportunity that it has created?

“We will be happy if there are a lot of OEMs involved. If the grid is full we will be happy. We just want sportscars and Le Mans prototypes to still be relevant. 2018’s ELMS LMP2 class was a milestone we hadn’t crossed before, so we need it to continue on an upward curve.

“But it’s hard to satisfy all parties with something like this. I am very happy I’m not in the ACO and FIA’s shoes right now. Their intentions are right, and we will follow the trend and try and work to get to a position to design, produce and develop a hypercar at some stage, whatever the regulations end up as.

“For us, we need to look at opportunities for Ligier in the next three to five years. The chance to contend for an overall win at Le Mans is part of our will and strategy for the next five years. But at this stage, we need involvement from OEMs to be achievable.

“We are involved in technical working groups, we participate, and we’ll see how it goes.”

The chance to contend for an overall win at Le Mans is part of our will and strategy for the next five years

In the next five years, we also have DPi Gen II. And you’re already involved in that formula with Nissan. What’s your interest level like on that formula now and going forward, and is it impacting your drive to be involved in ‘Hypercar’?

“I think everybody is studying right now, and at this stage, it’s too early to say anything. It’s for 2022, and there’s a lot of discussions to come between now and DPi 2.0. We are all very pleased with the way they are approaching the formula, with customers and manufacturers, getting everyone involved in the process.

“We are a private constructor but we have to take into consideration that OEMs have different interests to us, so it’s a balance. It’s a tricky situation for IMSA and ACO to define what’s coming after each generation of cars. We will do what we can to be part of both IMSA and ACO’s series.”

Is there still interest in the current set of DPi regulations? Is there any chance we see more players come into DPi before 2022 or has it peaked?

“We are pushing for DPi like ‘Hypercar’, but it’s fair to say that among the four constructors, Multimatic, Dallara, ORECA and Ligier is the underdog. We are facing companies with 40 years of experience, and what we have demonstrated with the Nissan DPi is that we can design a competitive car, that can beat Penske, Cadillac. But when it comes down to OEM decisions to invest in programmes when you put your name at risk, you are facing a lack of history for us, compared to the other constructors. To that extent, we will value the trust of any OEMs to be associated with Ligier and invest alongside their commitment to continue designing winning cars, in DPi or Hypercar.  

We are in discussions but nothing is undergoing to present a new DPi for Ligier for next year

“We are in discussions but nothing is undergoing to present a new DPi for Ligier for next year. Our current package is very competitive, it’s one of the best options on the market.

“If you want to be supported by Ligier we would take good care of either a team or manufacturer. We want customers to join us on this journey. We always look to build with teams and OEMs a long term relationship and experience a unique journey in motorsport, just like we did with ESM in IMSA in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

“Every programme is important, but P217 and DPi are obviously important this year, as it is the 50th anniversary of the Ligier brand. We hope to keep succeeding with CORE to show what the Nissan DPi is capable of.”