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Will Hypercar Survive?

The crunch point is looming

It’s been quite a week or two for international endurance racing both on and off track. And there’s quite a ride still to come before anyone can confidently predict where we’ll be in a couple of years to come.

The major outstanding agenda item both literally and figuratively is the future of the premium class in sportscar racing, and whether that will be a solution that sees two different rulesets or a truly global solution.

Let’s address the former first.

The ACO’s ‘Hypercar’ formula is in trouble:

Delays, dilution and prevarication have left us at present with a ruleset that few find appealing it seems.

There have been few red lines applied, and it shows. The discussion process has dragged on, in no small part due to a sea of change in very short order in the timescales, budgets and requirements of major OEM assessment and approval process. This hasn’t been helped by the industry undergoing a period of more rapid change than any point since the introduction of the motor car.

That said there have been too many blind alleys, too many false dawns, and precious little by way of clear statements of progress.

The out-turn, reported with pinpoint accuracy some weeks ago by Gary Watkins at Autosport, is a revised spec of ‘Hypercar’ which attempts to cover all of the available bases, prototype and road car chassis based but has, it seems, as yet not garnered any further confirmed ‘takers’.

As time and discussions have gone on, the spec for the new cars has shifted very significantly to the point where this writer would be comfortable saying that it no longer holds the level of appeal to many competition purists that a ‘halo’ class should. The cars look to be too heavy (1150 kg), not quick enough (3:30 race pace at Le Mans), and with a pace that crucially falls into territory now occupied by the numerically vital LMP2 class.

That means that the current LMP2s would have to be hampered and by a not insignificant chunk. And that is not proving a popular prospect with the currently still increasing group of LMP2 teams!

At present even this proposal has seen no additional public expressions of interest as yet, indeed the delay is now leading to very public expressions of irritation from Toyota, increasingly concerned about a lack of clarity for the future of its programme.

We’ll come back to the background discussions shortly.

Next up, this week is a further meeting of the parties involved in discussions over the new rules as we reach crunch time.

Multiple sources suggest that this meeting will see an insistence from the rule makers that manufacturers show commitment, this in time for any positive news to be released during the week of the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours.

The next date of importance is May 21, this the deadline for entries for the 2019/20 FIA WEC. That’s important principally because the shape of the top class for the following year will affect the ability and confidence levels of teams in the current LMP1 class investing, or re-investing in the top class.

The current non-hybrid cars have a near-certain two-year future, a year as they are at present, and a further year almost certainly grandfathered, and if Hypercar happens, significantly slowed down.

Any delay, or indeed cessation, of Hypercar, likely means a rosier future for the current breed, longer in service, and/or with fewer racing restrictions. Clarity for the all-important privateer backbone is vital as soon as possible.

Will further expressions of immediate interest emerge next week

On the face of things that seems unlikely:

Toyota is ready to go it seems but will definitely NOT extend the life of the current TS050 beyond next season.  The comments from Toyota Gazoo Racing at Spa indicate a significant dip in their confidence levels about the future.

Aston Martin, likely in partnership with Red Bull Racing, looks the next most likely to commit – but the most recent statements from the company directly imply that they would not be early adopters. A combination of inconvenient timing within AML’s model cycles, and a few nasty surprises on the share price front.

McLaren has blown hot and cold for far too long. The reality is that there are concepts in development, but no commercial programme is understood yet to be in play to take them forward. At VERY best that looks like an effort that is not ready to go for the start of the ruleset in 2020/2021.

Ford are proceeding on their “will we, won’t we” DPI, GTE, Hypercar story-go-round with little apparent clear direction determined. The current most likely conclusion is that they will do… Nothing. The current-spec of Gen 2 DPi is seemingly not to its taste and Hypercar may be too little, and too late. Commitment, if it’s coming at all,  seems a lot longer than next week away!

Ferrari? Who knows…

No wonder there is frustration at Toyota, ByKolles and at Glickenhaus, do they go with a prototype-based programme, or a GT based solution (which Toyota certainly won’t).

And what of the covering fire provided by the additional storylines around ‘GTE +’? 

Whilst this is an avenue that one or two current manufacturers are keen to push, it is, frankly, at best, a last gasp at getting some manufacturers to commit early to hypercar, a package of measures suggested as being capable of enhancing current GTEs to be capable of hypercar pace.

It is far from having “support from the majority of current GTE manufacturers”, this prospect has been dismissed by the vast majority of those close to the process that DSC has approached, certainly in the manner in which it has been presented publicly.

Which leaves us where?

For the most likely answer, we need to dive deep into what the much vaunted ‘Plan B’ might be. Marshall Pruett’s story two weeks ago   for is the most likely answer, courtesy of some fine investigative work into the content and timeframes attached to at least one mysterious meeting in the US recently between IMSA and ACO officials.

Is DPi Gen 2 being targeted as a potential global solution if, as currently seems likely, Hypercar stalls?

And if it is what will likely have to occur to make that a success?

Is the FIA WEC at risk? How many manufacturers would need to be attracted in order to sustain global competition, rather than the continental product currently fielded by IMSA? And what are the immediate prospects of attracting more teams and OEMs to such a formula?

Add into that the fact that DPi in IMSA competition, whilst spoken of frequently in terms of wild success, has yet to show that it can sustain the fine balance between close competition and a variety of successful teams, a balance vital to ensuring that those all-important OEMs stick around for the long run!

The results at Mid-Ohio will have helped, but with Cadillac still reaping the prime results of the blue riband events seemingly at will, there are potential problems to be addressed there too!

Add in too that the proposed direction for the Gen2 DPi formula has not, for now at least, met with universal approval from the major aspirant players!

What, When, and Who? They are the questions that are of prime importance, and they need answers soon!