Well… here we are. Just two years removed from the WEC 2015 season which promised four full-fledged LMP1 Hybrid programs with Toyota, Porsche, Audi, and Nissan we are down to MAYBE one for a so-called, “super season,” (essentially a season and a half).
Just how in the hell did we get here?
Pictured: A Porsche 919 rides off into the sunset. 2017 will be the Manufacturers last year of participation in the WEC leaving only Toyota as the only Hybrid team for the foreseeable future.
Prior to this season, a very perceptive writer, *cough eh hem, suggested a scenario where one of the two remaining Hybrid programs could come to an end at the end of 2017. In the same article, we speculated on the possibility for additional manufacturers joining the WEC soon, with the upcoming 2019/2020 regulation changes, it now appears a savior program rejoining for the ‘18/’19 season is highly unlikely.
Pictured: The failed Nissan GTR-LM in testing. Nissan attempted to zig while the others zagged by opting for a front wheel drive car. Under the reg’s and weight requirements the car was unable to handle the suspension loads. The team was also never able to come to grips with their Hybrid drive. After only competing in 1 race, the team folded up shop. The unique cars were decommissioned, a shame of a fate for such an original idea.
Therein lies one of the main deterrents to LMP1-H, the complexity of the reg’s. Porsche, Audi and Toyota annual budgets are estimated near or above $200 million dollars. Insane for an eight or nine race championship where only one race, sadly, even makes the sports page in newspapers around the world.
That is a massive amount of money to throw at a program that half the time results in heartbreak and negative attention. See: Toyota Le Mans 2017, Toyota Le Mans 2016, Toyota Le Mans 2014, Toyota Le Mans 1999…. You get the picture.
One of the race broadcasters at this year’s Le Mans when the final Toyota broke wondered out loud why on earth would a world-renowned manufacturer invest time and resources into a program that has a high possibility of becoming an embarrassment?
The answer… it’s the thrill!
There is something primal about hearing the wail of 1000 Bhp cars blast down a straight and the pops from the exhaust in breaking that bring out a visceral thrill in humans. Something these board room executives want a taste of in their life. Something they can say they are a part of — other than pushing papers.
It is time this element of racing is brought back.
Sure, hybrid tech is the future of automobile transportation and Le Mans has arguably been on the forefront of road relevancy among racing events for decades, but there is a new series syphoning manufacturers seeking to explore electric drive tech.
Audi, Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes, and possibly more are opting for Formula E over LMP1 programs and it is easy to see why. The series offers massive exposure at a significantly lower cost.
The FIA and ACO need to differentiate from Formula E and Formula 1 if they hope to capture and attract competitors.
Pictured: 2007 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP. The French marque last race in 2011 just before the inaugural WEC season. Peugeot currently represent the best hope of a new LMP1 manufacturer.
Peugeot seem to have the right idea. Simplified reg’s with more of an emphasis on weight reduction and aero while keeping a small element of hybrid power.
The problem facing the WEC is Toyota is the only LMP1-H program remaining. Which is up in the air, at best. Prominent figures for the Japanese team have more than hinted their future in the series depends heavily on the future regulations and the continued emphasis on hybrid power.
Is Toyota holding the FIA/ACO hostage with the future reg’s?
Possibly. It sure sounds like it. It is not worth keeping one manufacturer in the hopes of another joining at the risk of forgoing new reg’s designed to attract more factory racing programs.
The series itself is great. Multi-class racing offers some of the best action Motorsports fans can find. If you have a good product, people will watch, and more importantly, manufacturers will come race.
Pictured: Multimatic-Riley based Mazda DPi. Now ran by Joest, the former Audi team. Further evidence once European based squads are being lured by the product of IMSA’s DPi category.
As evidenced by IMSA’s DPi class, a formula exists out there for prototype racing that will attract marques numbering to a count not seen on a Le Mans grid since the 90’s. There is no reason keep rules to join the Le Mans playground so exclusive.
The FIA has been hinting recently that IMSA’s DPi formula can possibly be applied to future LMP1 non-hybrid entries. A tantalizing prospect. If employed this could flood the category with entrants.
Pictured: A sight becoming unfamiliar to the WEC, this is what a new prototype looks like. Acura’s DPi is set to race in IMSA’s 2018 season. Juan Pablo Montoya is the most notable driver committed to the Penske ran team. with four multi-car DPi teams for 2018, IMSA has overtaken the WEC as the premire endurance racing series.
Here is our final message to the ACO: Open up the reg’s so we all benefit, so this great form of racing can become a more prominent series. It is time to bring back the prestige to Le Mans.