Racing in multiple classes, prototypes and production-based GT cars share the track in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
LE MANS PROTOTYPE 1 (LMP1)
Big speed. Bigger power. That’s the FIA WEC’s headlining LMP1 class. Unlike the series’ GT cars that are born on the assembly line then transformed into production-based racers, the ‘Le Mans Prototype 1’ contenders are made by hand and – no kidding – baked in giant ovens called autoclaves.
Fashioned from carbon fiber, Kevlar, and other composite materials, the safety cell that houses the drivers, plus the aerodynamic bodywork that forms the outer skin and many other key components, started out as sheets of cloth before being shaped and baked into 200mph guided missiles.
Behind the cockpit you’ll find an array of incredibly diverse engines. Audi, ABOVE, uses a turbocharged diesel V6, Porsche goes for a potent V4 turbo, and Toyota has had great success with its lightweight, naturally-aspirated V8.
But it doesn’t end there. The “HY: on the side of these cars is for Hybrid, and that’s where they leave everything else behind. All three manufacturers harvest, then release stored energy to the front wheels of their cars, which provides incredible acceleration and cornering capabilities. They aren’t as fast as Formula 1 cars, but they aren’t far off…
Like every WEC class, a rotation of two or three drivers is required to share the six hours of competition behind the steering wheel. But with the exhilarating pace of LMP1, they’ll still be exhausted from their evening’s work.
LE MANS PROTOTYPE 2 (LMP2)
Le Mans Prototype 2 is sportscar racing’s version of college football. It’s the training ground for the next crop of superstars who’ll drive for the giant LMP1 programs, and while their cars aren’t nearly as powerful as the LMP1s, LMP2 drivers use every ounce of talent and aggression to catch an auto manufacturer’s eye.
The same style of carbon-fiber construction found in LMP1 is used in LMP2 for safety purposes, and on the engine front, twin-turbo V6s from Honda and V8s from Nissan are the most popular choices.
To keep class costs from spiralling, the retail price of an LMP2 car is strictly controlled. A race-ready closed-roof car, minus engine, cannot exceed 450,000 euros ($510,000).
Racing with approximately 450hp on tap, LMP2s are like perpetual motion machines around COTA. They carry exceptional speed through the corners, and with so many young and hungry drivers out to prove a point, the race within a race among these smaller prototypes can be just as thrilling to watch as the high-tech exotica in LMP1.
Understanding all of the otherworldly attributes of LMP1s and LMP2s isn’t required with LMGTE-Pro and LMGTE-Am.
Take some of the most expensive exotic supercars, then fit them with steel safety cages and massive fenders to cover the huge tires and brakes. Add enormous rear wings to glue them to the track, dress them in wild colors, and send them into battle. LMGTE-Pro is a stage for auto manufacturers to race the most extreme versions of the cars they sell at dealerships around the world.
Engine capacity is pegged at 5.5 liters for naturally-aspirated cars and 4 liters for turbocharged models, with air restrictors limiting maximum power to around 500hp.
It’s factory against factory as some of the oldest rivalries in all of motor racing will play out in Texas. To prove their respective concepts and designs on punishing tracks like COTA and others on the WEC’s globetrotting tour, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche assemble teams with the best professional drivers and engineers.
Every manufacturer will tell you racing improves the breed, but in LMGTE-Pro it’s more than a publicity stunt. Speed found on the track makes its way to the showroom floor.
For more on the WEC at
Circuit Of The Americas, check out
the bonus 20-page supplement in the
September 2015 issue of RACER magazine.
On sale now.