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WEC 2020 

The ACO and FIA are about to commit to a set of technical regulations that will see them through the next phase of the World Endurance Championship and Le Mans, but as yet have no idea which is the correct direction in which to head. They have options on the table, some credible, some not.

The options are clear; the FIA is pushing for hypercar, but thus far there are only two potential OEMs interested; Toyota and Aston Martin through the Red Bull Advanced Technologies company that is developing the car. Regarding Plan B, the ACO is torn between Super GTE, and DPi. They have a third option, which is to change only one line in their existing non-hybrid technical regulations: ‘Le Mans Prototype 1: with no Energy Recovery System (ERS) reserved only for privateers.’

The difference in the choices are clear. If hypercar is adopted, the regulations have to allow the Valkyrie to enter the frame, and it generates its power differently to the proposed regulations. It is understood that Toyota has been asked to increase the power of its ICE to 850bhp, and reduce its hybrid impact in order to make balancing the two concepts easier.

This flies in the face of what Toyota agreed in December which formed the draft regulations that were approved by the FIA World Council, but the Japanese manufacturer is keen to race, and has already moved, or removed, red lines that previously were in place, such as accepting balance of performance in the top class.

Will Toyota be part of the 2020 grid?

For Red Bull, there are both financial and technical considerations to take into account. There is limited return on investment, so it would be a vanity project for the company, and an expensive one at that. That is not to say it is impossible, but it is a stumbling block. Technically there is the engine performance, but there are also arguments over aero that need to be agreed.

The Super GTE is, in my opinion, the worst of all worlds. For those who want to see such cars running at the front of the grid, you are years too late. The time to make this decision was before the LMP2 cars entered their phase in 2017, and with the number of manufacturers limited to four, with IMSA adopting this as their top class. To get the GTE cars up to top speed, they would need to chop 25 seconds from the qualifying pace at Le Mans. That would get them to the 3m25-27s bracket, but the LMP2 cars would need to be slowed from their current qualifying time of 3m24s to 3m35 in order to create room for the GT cars to win overall.

This is possible; IMSA has slowed the LMP2 cars that compete in their series, but it has had a pretty catastrophic effect on car numbers in that class, and with new cars interested in the WEC and ELMS messing with the category would be foolhardy.

It makes even less sense when you factor in that that GTE cars will have to go through a development phase that sees safety, suspension, aero and tyres all upgraded to this speed, even if the engines are capable of producing the power. Not to mention brakes, gearboxes. The final nail in that coffin should come from the fact that you will not only not add to your group of cars competing in the WEC, robbing the GTE class to redistribute into the top class, but you will also affect LMP2, LMP3 which is due an upgrade next year, and GTE am. In other words, such a move would adversely affect every category in the ACO’s portfolio, while also messing with IMSA’s structure too.

Accepting DPi does makes sense, but this is also not an easy thing to accept. Firstly, it is still balance of performance in the top class, which is a shame but probably a reality that we have to accept. There would also need to be commitment from manufacturers to build new cars, in order to sustain both the WEC and IMSA. The regulations are stable, and are robust, and would fit with the price bracket for competition and manufacturer interest so coveted by the ACO. But it would take new blood to make it really work. This is, I understand, preferred option number 1.

Today (Thursday, May 16), there is a Technical Working Group meeting in which I suspect Plan B is being discussed. Whether it is adopted or not is another question, but with no public declaration of intent, or commitment, from any manufacturer other than Glickenhaus, ByKolles and Koenigsegg, time has now run out for the French to make their decision.

The easiest solution is, I think, striking from the regulation the stipulation that manufacturers must build hybrids. That would rewards BR, ORECA and Ginetta who have all built cars to the new regulations but which have not had, in my view, a fair crack at the top class due to the dominance of Toyota, and a short life-span. It would still mean that there is a disconnect between IMSA and the ACO, but it would not compromise their relationship in any way. The global formula could then come in 2022, and I think this would be a sensible time-frame.

To do that, though, the ACO has to accept that a manufacturer will not win at Le Mans in 2020, but this will happen anyway. If there is no hypercar, and that decision is not even in the hands of the ACO and FIA, what incentive is there for Toyota to stay? Le Mans has seen privateers win before, and if it accepts that this can happen again, the decision becomes a lot simpler. Or, if you need manufacturers, take DPi. Neither of these options is a disaster.

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