Despite the fact that we have another full season of FIA WEC action to come before the eagerly anticipated 2020/21 season, the first for the new ‘Hypercar Prototype’ regulations, it really isn’t that far away.
So far we have two big players signed up for the new formula, Toyota Gazoo Racing and Aston Martin Racing. Behind the scenes both marques are hard at work to ensure they can have cars on the grid, tested, for the opening round of that season.
But that’s not the full story for ‘Hypercar Prototype’. There are still other parties with significant interest, and, lest we forget, two privateer teams that have already bought in.
Is it there yet? No, there is still plenty to prove. So much has to come together in order for this new ruleset to gain traction and remain healthy for the duration of the FIA and ACO’s proposed timeline before we reach hydrogen power (2023/24) and even DPi Gen II (2022).
But there are potential stakeholders circling, and now we have two major manufacturers involved, the time has finally arrived where it’s reasonable to expect others to start taking the plunge.
Will an outsider create a new-look ‘big three’?
Since the departure of Audi and Porsche in LMP1, the drive has been to get multiple manufacturers on board to race full-time in the FIA WEC’s top class. We have one new signee in Aston Martin to join the longstanding Toyota effort. Will anyone else actually come forward though?
There are plenty on the fence.
What do we know about Ferrari? The attempt to appease the Italian marque by shoe-horning GTE Plus into the new set of rules didn’t come to pass in the formation of the regulations, so it remains to be seen what level of interest it has going forward.
And Ford? It appears the chances of it joining the ‘Hypercar Prototype’ pack are slim to none now, DSC understanding that it ha its heart set on IMSA and a soon to-be-confirmed DPi programme now its GTE Pro programme is no more. The confirmation that the ACO’s DPi ‘Plan B’, creating a global formula, isn’t going to happen, appears to have ended any hope of Ford returning to the full FIA WEC any time soon as a factory.
A marque that often hasn’t been mentioned, but is still very much a prospect is Bentley.
Brian Gush spoke to DSC in the fringe of the ACO press conference, confirming that the former Le Mans-winning brand hasn’t been involved in the technical working groups, but that it still, unsurprisingly, has a desire to be back racing at Le Mans. It hasn’t been involved in prototype racing since its move to designing, building and racing GT3 cars, it must not be forgotten that it did come very close to a DPi programme, it had an engine mule and completed an aero study before its plans fell victim to post ‘Dieselgate’ VAG politics.
“Le Mans is always a great place with a great spirit,” Gush said. “We’re always interested in the new regulations, we’re following them closely. If there was half a chance to come back we would.
“I’ll be listening with interest. You will need to see a number of manufacturers get on board before we get more momentum. I’m interested in what the organisers have to say before I can form any opinions.”
Alpine was present too at Le Mans, of course, and turned heads when Phillipe Sinault, the team manager said during Scrutineering to the public that Alpine was more than just interested in ‘Hypercar’. He did, however, back-pedal on that later in the week when DSC approached him for further comment.
“I want to explain that of course, for Alpine, I would love to see us race in the top class and go for overall race wins once more. It is not surprising that any manufacturer, or that Nico [Lapierre], would want the same thing.
“But the reality is that we have not even started making the decision-making process.
“We have three key aims at the moment, and they do not include Alpine in P1. The first is that we are here to win Le Mans this weekend and the second is that we also want to win the WEC P2 Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships. The third is that we want to have a competitive car in WEC P2 next season, because we have already announced that we will be back.”
Alpine has already ticked off two items on that list since that conversation. But activasting a major global brand, in particular one that has its hands full with a currently underperforming F1 programme, is quite another matter!
McLaren, Porsche, should still be considered serious players
Ford, Ferrari, Bentley, Alpine and throw in Koenigsegg (why not, they’ve had a look too), all have something in common: a WEC programme at present, is more of a longshot. Porsche and McLaren on the other hand, remain rather more serious prospects.
Porsche has stated to DSC that if the costing fits there’s “no reason” for it not to come back, though it has kept quiet since the ACO conference, its focus on the upcoming launch of its new GTE challenger next month at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
McLaren meanwhile, has again stressed its interest to the media. It would seem McLaren is the only prospective manufacturer now that has made significant strides towards a programme, beyond an internal evaluation. It is known to have undertaken an extensive engine programme, believed to involve a development of its current turbo road car technology.
Before the Le Mans 24 Hours kicked off, CEO Zak Brown and Gil De Ferran said that now is the time for it to make a decision on ‘hypercar’ with the rules finalised and announced.
If the marque does come, it wouldn’t be until Year 2 of the ruleset at the earliest, with an effort run by McLaren Racing with support from Automotive, not, with the customer racing arm (run by Dan Walmsley) that now handles the GT3 and GT4 programmes.
“We really have to be deciding this by the end of the summer latest in order to be ready for 2021 and do the job properly,” said De Ferran. “That means we absolutely need to have a clear road car plan by then.
“It’s never easy to pull together a whole team of people. There are a lot of operational considerations like personnel and so on that we have to take into account. Also in the Formula 1 world, we are going (in 2021) to have a whole new world in terms of the regulations so there might be an opportunity to deploy people within McLaren in a different way. But it is always a challenge to put a good race team together but if we do it, we will try to do it in the right way as it would be a full commitment for a long period of time.”
Brown added that they have been involved in discussions all the way, so they can confidently plan to deliver a programme should it get the green light internally. Right now, no decisions have been made as to whether it would be a fully works effort, semi-works, a customer effort, or indeed a combination of the three.
“Ultimately, we can go along with Mike to the Board with a plan,” he said. “Now that we have that, we are going to be able to move quicker. It’s not like yesterday was a surprise or not like we haven’t be working on it. We now know who is playing, how they are playing and now we can finalise what our plans could look like and then ultimately bring them forward for discussion.
“With DPI or as they would call it DPI 2.0, they are working on these rules. We currently don’t know what the future holds for DPI. I would say that the hypercar rules presented yesterday versus the current DPI rules… well Hypercar fits more in line with what appeals to us to go racing but we are waiting to find out what is DPI 2.0 look like moving forward.
“We want to race against our competition so it’s great that Aston’s in. Hopefully we will see the Porsches, the Ferraris, the Lamborghinis. It’s great that Toyota’s in. They are a great racing entity. We want to race against as many of our competitors as possible in the market base.”
ByKolles & Glickenhaus are still very much committed
The remaining prospects all come from either the privateer ranks or racing constructors.
ByKolles and Glickenhaus have both stressed since the ACO Press Conference that they are still committed and will be on the grid for Year 1.
The former is pushing hard, taking a break from full-time WEC action next season to focus on its hypercar effort and while the latter is rapidly expanding with the development of new road and race cars progressing apace ahead of next year.
Glickenhaus’ WEC project is progressing. Speaking to DSC, Jim Glickenhaus explained that the WEC programme will, like Toyota, utilise a hybrid-powered prototype, with a twist. Glickenhaus will be producing a road-going version of its race car, the 007.
It will likely be a two-car effort for the WEC, though the team is in talks with customers with the intention to add to its commitment.
“We will be testing the car early next year,” he said to DSC, the full conversation of which, can be read here.
“We’ve engineered it completely. Our only question is what the ICE unit will be. Initially we were thinking in keeping with our GM deal, was that we’d use that architecture, but yesterday we were approached by a very famous major OEM (though DSC believes more than one OEM is in the mix) which was interested in having us use their engines for Le Mans, so we’re investigating that.
“That’s not a lock, but the statistics would stay the same. It’d be a 600 horsepower ICE with a 150 hp KERS system.
“We’re actually talking to customers, we may get more than two cars. The WEC and ACO estimated a cost for the customer and we think we can sell a customer car for less than they estimated it would cost. These things always come back to haunt you, but I’ll tell you because we’re open.
“I don’t know that we’ll be able to do it, but our hope is that we could offer a customer car that would be raceable for five years, at a base price of approximately two million dollars, and a similar amount for a full spares package, and it would be a very durable, raceable car.”
Glickenhaus hopes to have its 007 testing early next year ahead of the season, an ambitious timeline when you consider the size of the operation.
As part of its expansion, it in the process of moving its road car production facility to the old Highcroft Racing base in Danbury, Connecticut. This allows it to keep its race car HQ, which will be pushing hard to produce the new 004 (a GT2 spec car, convertible to a GT3 car) and the 007 over the next year, separate.
What about the likes of ORECA and Ligier?
Current LMP2 constructors ORECA and Ligier are known to be looking at options to partner with a manufacturer for a programme, in a similar fashion to its DPi involvement. There is of course, also the potential for both to explore options to partner up with privateers to produce cars.
Back at Le Mans, ORECA’s Hughes de Chaunac told DSC that the French constructor is pushing hard to find a way into ‘Hypercar Prototype’.
“We have started working on several car [design] options,” de Chaunac said. “Our engineers need to increase the pace now and start talking with one or more manufacturers. Whether it is a French manufacturer or not is not critical. Our objective is September / October 2020 but [ORECA being ready] could happen later on. Our hard deadline, in any case, is Le Mans 2021.
“Our biggest challenge, in the end, will be time management. We are really short on time and we need to be fast, creative and innovative. This is a new way of addressing this [new] set of regulations as there is a BOP now. In essence, there is no longer a point in developing something very complex.
“We don’t have many details about the BOP, yet it is is a process through which teams are able to enter and remain in a series. The advantage of the BOP is that it prevents people from spending high sums of money as you aren’t able to enjoy the benefits of over-developing a car anymore. The inconvenience is obviously that people always want the fastest car to win and this will skew it. This is driven by budgets.
“With a low budget, you can convince OEMs to join the competition now. You no longer need to spend a lot of money.
“ORECA is currently looking at partnering with an OEM. There are several discussions ongoing. It is also great to have the option to go hybrid or non-hybrid. That is something we pushed for. We will be able to accommodate both options. It seems that new manufacturers will opt for a non-hybrid approach in order to compete inside the window of the BOP.”
The current P1s will be grandfathered initially, is that enough to keep teams coming back?
In what has been a tricky period commercially for LMP1 privateers, there’s unlikely to be any rapid decision-making made by the current privateer pack beyond ByKolles.
After next season, reassurances will need to be made about BoP, how slowing down the current cars to put them into the ‘Hypercar’ performance window will work and, whether or not ‘Hypercar’ programmes of their own are commercially viable.
There have been false starts with LMP1 privateer, in particular over the performance gap between privateer and factory entries in recent seasons.
The existing teams (SMP and Rebellion), and constructors (Dallara, Ginetta and ORECA), are going to want to see real evidence that the suggested budgets are attainable, but more particularly that the balance of performance process can deliver true competition between factory and non-factory cars, before committing.
As for LMP1’s being grandfathered, Vincent Beaumesnil, Sporting Director of the ACO, said at Sebring that it was envisaged that during Year 1 for the ‘Hypercar’ regulations would also see the opportunity for the current LMP1 non-hybrids to be grandfathered.
“We have done this in the past with every major rules transition,” he said.
There is no confirmation as to whether that would last more than a single season.
Whether or not SMP, Team LNT or Rebellion continue beyond next season, the well of privateer teams isn’t dry. There is an understanding that at least one privateer team will run Aston Martin Valkyries as part of the brand’s commitment to Year 1 of the new formula of ‘at least two’ cars.
With just Toyota, Glickenhaus, Aston Martin and ByKolles declared for Year 1, all it would take to make it a strong, healthy field is one more big player for Year 2 to make this new formula a success.