Onto the all-new premier category in the World Endurance Championship, Last Lap’s fourth and final Season 9 class preview looks at LMH.
So this is it. A clean slate and the beginning of a new era, but let’s remember that the Hypercar (both LMH and LMDh) will not be transforming the WEC under any immediate magic spells and rather kick in gradually over the next two or three years.
Le Mans Hypercar has been in the development since 2018 with the ups and downs that one might expect when being tasked with bringing in a new type of top-tier car.
These will be the new ‘poster cars’ of the FIA WEC and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Toyota’s ninth year and second hybrid racer
A mention of Toyota is a given after being part of the championship since 2012. They heard the opportunity of the LMP1-H regulations and sought to return to Le Mans after their underwhelming F1 campaign.
Fast forward nine years, two LMP1 drivers’ and teams’ championships, three Le Mans wins and three evolved models of hybrid LMP1, and their patience has been rewarded. Finally they can start to meet some real competition.
— TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WEC (@TGR_WEC) April 23, 2021
I do not disparage the primary challenge of endurance racing being the objective of reaching the checkered flag, but giving the reigning champions some on-track rivals would be an intriguing test of the abilities of their machinery.
The GR010 Hybrid was unveiled earlier this year in the GAZOO Racing colours with the information of the same driver crews in their #7 and #8 cars.
Having the same drivers is an advantage into this new era because they are all familiar with the inner workings of the championship, the team and its members, and of course have all tasted success with Toyota.
Years of experience has put the team in a knowledgeable position about understanding the different characteristics of a new car, how the Michelin tyres will behave, and how the one-ton-weight will affect the shift of mass during cornering.
Toyota are the ones to watch and may take another set of world championship titles (for teams’ and drivers’), but Glickenhaus’ SCG 007 LMH and Alpine’s A480 might give the Japanese marque a real challenge at their clashing rounds.
And the ultimate test at the Le Mans 24 Hours race comes in August.
Putting theory to paper and distancing performances
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) will be tasked with sticking to their promise of Hypercars being a competitive field for the upcoming years.
A variety of parameters are in play as to how a ‘tailor-made’ Ballance of Performance will be implemented with two unique LMHs and an ex-LMP1.
These include the degradation of tyres between the different powertrain types and configurations, how the nature of the engine’s power curves affect racing, and so on. Luckily, there are only three Hypercars this year and will be an introduction for the ACO to begin their understanding on how they will eventually create a balanced field with the BoP.
The respectable differences between the A480 Gibson, 007 LMH and GR010 Hybrid will make things interesting on a competitive basis even if their lap-times are to be an estimated 10 seconds slower than LMP1-H at Le Mans.
So a lap-time of 3m25-30s (approximately) for LMH will be distanced by the LMP2s which will run at 3m30s (approx.).
The fact that LMP2s are being distanced is part of the preparation to ensure the Hypercars are running at their most competitive without clashing with their category.
Hypercars will be a jostle between three makes and 12 drivers at the most, for now.
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The LMP1(H) ran with a level of competition with the three makes, but no more than two manufacturers joined the top class.
Nissan NISMO’s attempted to be the third back in 2015 was none other than a financial, costly disaster.
The car failed its initial crash tests then came to Le Mans and was unable to deliver the four-figure horsepower it intended. All three of their cars were out of pace throughout the week with nothing to do about the faulty hybrid system, thus only one made it but was even not classified having not covered the distance (by spending much of its time in the garage). So they went to DPi from 2017 to 2019.
But the WEC’s controlled stance on costs and performance has changed the risk for others to make that debuting step today.
Things are already looking up as a small American marque is entering the WEC’s new premier category suggesting that the FIA and ACO’s promises of competition and controlled costs are appealing to everyone.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) March 25, 2021
They have accumulated experience before in the sports car discipline, primarily at their annual visit to the Green Hell. This will be the first step to a world championship platform and bring their all-new SCG 007 LMH as the second all-new Le Mans Hypercar in existence.
However, their impressive line-up of partners and drivers no longer present a rookie team but instead a team with a plucky target to win the Le Mans 24 Hours and the WEC.
Pipo Moteurs, famed for their WRC engines, are behind the 3.5L twin-turbo V8 powertrain and partner with Podium Engineering on the chassis, Sauber on aerodynamics preparations, and bringing back Joest Racing for their knowledge and resources.
I am impressed that Glickenhaus has brought on such major players that will definitely help them progress with the new program, but their roster of drivers are a finishing touch to a promising Hypercar recipe.
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Collectively, the #708 and #709 crews bring experience and knowhow having competed and won multiple Le Mans events over the past years and even decades.
The car will be set to homologation for the next five years which has put a focus on getting it right if they are to stick with a competent basis for the following years.
They are set to race at the 8 Hours of Portimão, 6 Hours of Monza, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It may not be the whole calendar, but there is no need to rush during the calm before the storm of arrivals from 2022 onwards.
LMDh and the years to come
Despite the fact this is looking at Season 9, it is worth recalling that the category needs a few years to gather momentum, just like it was for the early years of LMP1-H.
There have been a number of manufacturers who confirmed their future participation in LMH/LMDh such as Audi, ByKolles, Peugeot, Porsche, and Ferrari. As you read this, there are marques still on the fence yet tempted by Hypercars, such as Alpine.
By 2023, we may have a top tier category at Le Mans running with at least different 13 works entries – already an exciting prospect just thinking about it!
The Le Mans Hypercar will provoke some much needed competition in order to keep things exciting and interesting at the top-tier of endurance racing.
I certainly look forward to how Toyota and Glickenhaus will compare to the ex-LMP1 Alpine at Le Mans, the key victory which will be fiercely desired this year.
Let the Hypercar era commence…