As we approach the 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours it seems the right time to take stock of how things are developing with an exciting emerging picture for sportscar racing worldwide with new rules, new cars, and new racing opportunities on the horizon.
This promises a very significant boost to full season top-class numbers for both the FIA WEC and IMSA’s WeatherTech Sportscar Championship from 2023 – and the potential for even more significant growth in the entries for the blue riband events for both Championships as manufacturers and privateers take advantage of the soon to be full ‘converged’ new classes.
For both WEC and IMSA full-season entries in double-figures are already certain, and looking set to be significantly into double figures as the interest still continues an upward growth track. For Le Mans and the Rolex 24 the numbers could be very significant indeed with manufacturer numbers getting towards double figures across the rulesets.
First a quick word about the terminology here.
‘Hypercar’ is the chosen name for the FIA WEC’s new top class – it embraces both the LMH (Le Mans Hypercar) rules cars and the LMDH (Le Mans Daytona Hypercar (ACO) or Hybrid (IMSA) rules cars.
Those cars will race together in one ‘converged’ single class in the FIA WEC and at the Le Mans 24 Hours from 2023 and, subject to a finalised set of commercial and sporting regulations, in the the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship too.
Already racing are the LMH cars from Toyota Gazoo Racing and Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus with the class completed this season by a ‘grandfathered’ LMP1 car, power and aero restricted and with added weight, to balance its performance to the incoming cars.
Here’s where things stand with the class in 2021:
Toyota Gazoo Racing
The Toyota factory effort fields a pair of all-new GR010 Hybrids in the full FIA WEC, the cars have a Toyota-developed, production-based hybrid drive system allowing part-time four wheel drive.
The programme is a long-term commitment from the brand. Senior managers have also expressed interest in adding some of the premium IMSA endurance races to their programme from 2023.
Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus
Privately funded by the Glickenhaus family the new-for 2021 SCG 007s raced at Portimao (1 car) and Monza (2 cars) with no current plans to race at the season-ending double-header at Bahrain.
Plans for 2022 and beyond are not yet defined though Jim Glickenhaus has said that he is seeking commercial backing and further car sales to secure what he hopes is a longer-term future for the programme.
Alpine Endurance Team
The single-car grandfathered LMP1, an ex Rebellion R13 Gibson now dubbed the Alpine A480, had one job, to capture the imagination of the Renault board over the potential for a future hypercar programme, this the plan of Philippe Sinault, owner of Signatech, the team operating the car, together with a faithful band of commercial backers.
All the signs are that this approach has been successful, the looks set to be an indiction at Le mans at the very least of a future programme for the brand, whether that be with an LMH or LMDH car is not known, but if a commitment is confirmed there looks to be a strong likelihood that the A480 might be given a second year on the fringes of the rulebook before a new car is ready.
2022 sees the arrival of Peugeot’s hybrid 9X8 Hypercar, with its debut race not yet confirmed the new car has already caused a stir with radical styling and an aero solution that sees the car without a rear wing. The chassis is to be built by Ligier to Peugeot designs.
The Peugeot is built to LMH rules and is the brand’s first WEC effort, look out too for the potential for an additional, badge-engineered programme in IMSA with another Stellantis brand (see Dodge below).
Ferrari have committed to a two-car, full-season effort in the 2023 FIA WEC with a new clean-sheet LMH rules Hypercar, set to be a hybrid-drive vehicle, operated on the factory’s behalf by AF Corse and designed in-house, Ferrari targeting a mid-2022 test programme.
There is understood to be strong interest in adding at least a limited IMSA programme.
No word yet on whether or when customer cars might be offered.
2023 sees the arrival of the first LMDH cars into competition with Porsche already publicly committed to two car efforts both in the WEC and IMSA, Penske will be the service provider for both programmes.
The Porsche will be based on a Multimatic chassis and powered by a production-based 4 litre twin turbo V8 used in a variety of models including the Porsche Panamera and Cayenne.
Customer cars will be offered with multiple teams interested for both WEC and IMSA programmes. Customer cars will be available for 2023 but in greater numbers from 2024.
Based around the same chassis and powertrain as the Porsche a similar joint WEC/ IMSA programme is expected with customer cars also envisaged from the returning endurance racing giants.
No decision has been announced with regard to the service providers for the campaigns but in IMSA, Andretti are understood to be in strong contention with the shape of the programme still being finalised whilst there is understood to be fierce competition for the service provider contract in the FIA WEC.
An early announcement of commitment believed to be with an Oreca chassis, and currently slated for IMSA only under the Acura brand.
Whilst Acuras current DPi teams have expressed keenness to contest Le Mans in the LMDH era, no firm plan has been announced.
Interest from at least three European-based entities in a Honda-badged semi-factory effort is known to have been in play but there are no firm plans in place as yet.
Confirmed with a two-car IMSA-only effort with a factory-backed LMDH team from 2023 – the chassis partner is understood to be Dallara, Team RLL are heavily tipped to be the operating partner.
No WEC or Le Mans programme has yet been confirmed but multiple teams interested in semi-factory effort for WEC with at least one team believed to be rather closer to a deal – most likely for two cars.
The “worst kept secret in sportscar racing” is that GM will commit to LMDh with a Dallara based car.
Chip Ganassi Racing are set to be the primary factory effort with programmes in both IMSA and WEC looking likely at present, though the number of cars for each is, as yet, unknown.
Action Express too look set to continue their successful association with the brand and are set to seek an entry for the Le Mans 24 Hours too for the first time in the teams history.
2024 and Beyond
The third VAG brand set to utilise the VAG/ Porsche/ Audi Multimatic twin-turbo V8 package, the engine issued incidentally in the Urus SUV.
2024 is set to be the starting point for a rather more customer-focused effort with the factory backing looking set to head the way of selected current GT3 customer teams with KPax in the US and several others in the European and Asian markets understood to be under consideration.
The effort looks set to have representation in both IMSA and WEC.
After one privately promoted effort fell short of confirmation, the battle is not yet over for what could still become the fourth VAG brand to field a rebodied and rebadged version of the Multimatic/ twin-turbo V8 package. Not possible before 2024, which, coincidentally, is the centenary of the marque’s first Le Mans 24 Hours win.
2024 is the first possible opportunity too for McLaren, whose evaluation (together with Oreca) of an LMDH programme revealed a major hurdle must be dealt with if a programme is to come to fruition.
McLaren Automotive’s current production engines do not fit the current regulations which means McLaren are now in the market for an engine partner (the certainly not LMDH McLaren 720 GTX is pictured below).
No confirmation of any commitment but know to have commissioned an LMDH concept with Oreca, 2024 the earliest possible point at which a confirmed programme could be launched.
Multiple teams are known to be interested in collaborating with Mclaren on any works programme with a decision required by the end of 2021 if a 2024 programme is to be deliverable.
Understood to be the favoured brand for an IMSA-based badge-engineered version of the Peugeot LMH programme, most likely from 2023/24.
The Japanese manufacturer is known to have obtained an LMP2 car from a US team for evaluation of an as-yet undisclosed new programme.
Believed to be the launch factory for the next set of regulations, designed to race in the same performance bracket as the converged LMH/ LMDH cars but powered by hydrogen fuel cell tech with a spec chassis designed by Oreca and Red Bull Advanced Technologies, with a spec engine from Green GT, the factory providing the all-important fuel cell ‘stack’.
Current public plan is for 2024 for the new regulations but the ongoing travel and logistics issues cause buy the COVID pandemic will possibly delay that by at least a year.
The Chinese multi-brand conglomerate have been the most likely new challenger to join the current ‘known knowns’, most possibly with an LMH-rules car, for some time with several brands with potential for a marketing-led push via mainstream motorsport on the ‘possible’ list.
Prime amongst them are Lotus who have successfully launched what is slated to be their final ICE-powered offering, the Emira, and have demonstrated a forthcoming EV-only ‘hypercar’ the Evija.
Lotus are also working in partnership with Alpine to develop their next generation Sportscar beyond the current A110, a car that again is set to see electrification as at least part of the package.
While Lotus is the Geely brand most likely to spearhead any possible future effort on the international front, the companies emerging ‘challenger brands of Polestar and Lynk and Co. could also be looking for further international marketing impact that would be adequately supported by a major motorsport presence.
Strong interest from Ford in LMDH is understood to have evaporated some time ago with no sign currently that the widespread industry adoption of the formula has affected that decision.
An on/off level of interest from Toyota’s luxury brand with an IMSA-based effort has been the subject of rumour and speculation for many months, the more recent plans have focused on a recommitment to GTD with a new GT3-spec model due in 2024 but this is a brand that continues to spark the possibility of a change of heart.
Whether the more recent ability of parent brand Toyota to mount a selective IMSA programme might make a difference to Lexus’s choices remains to be seen.
The Tata-owned brand has been a lurker in this story for some time with the market moves stirring their interest more as time has gone on. The brand has a long recent history of on/off interest in high profile racing efforts with only Formula E having been green-lit in the current era. We’ll file this under a subheading of “Potentially exciting but let’s wait and see!”
In addition, there are other brands, both mainstream and more ’boutique’ that maintain an ongoing interest in the progress of this very new look to top class Sportscar racing. Do not be surprised if more emerge as the levels of confidence in the Balance of Performance process, the real-world pricing, and the racing opportunities crystallise. An exciting time indeed for those who love endurance racing.