Alpine Elf Matmut officially launched their 2021 FIA WEC campaign in Le Mans Hypercars – let’s take a detailed look at their A480 Gibson.

See the other LMH technical profiles so far:

One thing needs to be said right from the beginning. This Alpine A480 Gibson is essentially an ex-Rebellion Racing R13 Gibson LMP1 with an Oreca chassis – ie. not an entirely bespoke Le Mans Hypercar (LMH). But we must call it by that new name.

The Alpine Elf Matmut endurance team officially launched their team on the French manufacturer’s Youtube channel marking a step to LMH after seven years in the LMP2 category.

Predictably, it’s A470 Gibson predecessor was based on the Oreca 07 but re-badged in Alpine form when it was introduced in 2017.

All three drivers, also at the virtual launch, were confirmed earlier this year: André Negrão, Nico Lapierre and Matthieu Vaxivière.

The crew will take the wheel of the #36 Alpine A480 Gibson to all six races of the 2021 Season 9 calendar.

Even if the most dramatic change in the team is the driver line-up, it is worth exploring what performance this ex-LMP1 package has to offer against its rivals.

Powertrain and drivetrain

The Alpine A480 Gibson, unsurprisingly features a 4.5L normally-aspirated Petrol V8 developed by Gibson Technologies – designed to meet the technical specifications of the non-hybrid LMP1s.

It sends approximately 625 bhp (depending on the Balance of Performance measures) at a maximum 8,400 rpm (relative to BoP).

The GL458 engine previously made up to 665 bhp when it had to contend with the TS050 Hybrid, and the two SMP Racing and Dragon Speed BR Engineering (non-hybrid) cars based on a Dallara chassis.

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All of the available power and torque is sent solely to the rear wheels via an Xtrac six-speed sequential and transversely-mounted gearbox; steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters allow the driver to progress through them.

As demonstrated in its track record, the car has a natural top speed advantage over hybrid rivals which could prove in its favour even if it lacks KERS to immediately boost out of the corner exits.

The Cosworth electronics management takes care of the traction control and further systems that help keep the car moving from lights to wipers, to brake-bias adjustments to engine power maps.

A thought may be questioned as to how the ex-LMP1 gets away as an LMH. The solution is the FIA homologation of the car under the Alpine name and the introduction of a BoP.

New to the top category will be a Balance of Performance (BoP) that adjusts the air restrictor on power output and adds weight ballast. This is part of what the WEC claims “guarantees a level-playing field” of LMHs.

The more ideal parameter of BoP adjustment would be the fuel flow rate, since the actual power/torque curves can be shaped and tailored more conveniently in comparison to adjusting the air restrictor. The Toyota’s per lap fuel flow limit and KERS deployment measures would also make the difference.

The FIA WEC aims for a top-level field of competition so a traditional BoP was the obvious solution to a prolonging issue ever since manufacturers and privateers were disappearing from LMP1 – it was never going to be a ‘success handicap’.

Aerodynamics and dimensions

The brakes themselves are ventilated carbon pieces at all four corners of the car, each containing six pistons.

There are two holes under the headlight clusters which feed air onto the brake ducts in order to keep the brake units cooled. The existing Alpine mechanics from the years in LMP2 are familiar about adjusting how open the interior ducting is kept before every outing.

Aerodynamics differ greatly between the ex-LMP1, that we should now call a LMH, and the designs from Glickenhaus and Toyota GAZOO Racing.

We have the opportunity to compare old vs new, in a sense.

The newer LMHs have a wider body shape featuring a shorter (in height) but wider duct-opening at the front. This provides extra cooling to the components kept at the front end of the car and crucial in the case of Toyota’s KERS system.

The LMP1 design follows the traditional Le Mans Prototype shape that will continue to be mirrored in its smaller LMP2 and LMP3 siblings; a flat nose and a smooth, sculpted body shape.

A shark fin towers vertically at the back almost as tall as the A480 itself, completed by the rear wing that spans the A480’s width. The R13 LMP1 design language in essence.

A480 Gibson Dimensions
Length 4,645 mm
Width 1,995 mm
Height 1,045 mm
Front Track 1,560 mm
Rear Track 1,550 mm
Wheelbase 2,905 mm
Fuel Capacity 75 Litres
Weight
Around 900 kg (depending on BoP)

Design and appearance

As hinted before, the aerodynamics, the carbon fibre & honeycomb body-shell structure, and the carbon kevlar bodywork were made to non-hybrid LMP1 regulations.

There are no differences compared to the previous Rebellion R13 but it is clear that the design of Alpine’s choice features the low-downforce Le Mans body-style.

This ensures the team are not compromised for a shot at the Le Mans 24 Hours win whilst being aerodynamically compatible for the other five races.

The imbedded Getty Image below at the Lone Star Le Mans, 2020, shows the high-downforce kit at the last race it was seen during Season 8.

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Unlike the WEC LMP1 era, LMH entries are only allowed/required to build one aerodynamic bodywork shell for the entire season.

Typically, the high-downforce bodywork kits were designed to tackle 80% of the tracks on the calendar from Silverstone to Fuji, or Shanghai to Bahrain etc.

The low-downforce LMP1 kits were for the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the exception of its traditional pior round at another low-downforce venue, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. In truth, the difference is quite little but the advantage is an opportunity not to be missed.

As far as the livery goes, it is clear that Alpine have brought on the blue, black, white and red colour combination that appeared on their A521 Formula 1 car.

The revised racing look is more bold and refreshing in comparison to the previous Alpine liveries and will help establish the brand’s motorsport identity over the next decade.

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So, Alpine’s A480 Gibson LMH will certainly be the final season this car will be allowed to compete considering the underpinnings are getting onto three years old.

It will emerge later in the year whether Alpine intends to continue onwards with a bespoke LMH project. Or maybe an LMDh from 2022?

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