The 24 Hours of Le Mans, FIA World Endurance Championship and, possibly, IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, could take a page from the 1990s when the next set of top-tier prototype regulations are finalized.
Extremely early discussions on the replacement for the current LMP1 class in 2020 have included questions as to whether the ‘silhouettes’ fielded by Porsche with its 911 GT1 from 1996 [pictured above in 1997], and Mercedes, with its 1997 CLK GTRs and the acrobatic 1999 CLRs [below], would bridge an interesting visual gap between GT cars and prototypes.
A move towards something that mirrors IMSA’s P2-based Daytona Prototype internationals could also come to pass, and there’s always a chance the 2020 prototypes will look identical to the current P1 and P2 cars in action this weekend at the WEC finale in Bahrain.
The gamut of possibilities, from retro to status quo, will continue to be developed by ACO technical director Vincent Beaumesnil and his Le Mans-based team, along with the ACO’s partners at the WEC in Paris and IMSA in Daytona Beach.
“It is only the beginning of these discussions, and too early to make any statements,” the Frenchman told RACER. “We are looking at where we are and where we might go. The opportunity to evaluate bodywork that looks more like road cars—you have to explore this.
“This idea seems to be something people like. We will take this under consideration, but we are not at the state to explain what will happen. You have so many ways to make this look, and we have to take time to explore it properly. Any possibility of which style will be [chosen] is too premature to say.”
The crushing costs to field the ACO’s LMP1-Hybrid prototypes have led to the hasty rethink on where international prototype racing should be taken when the existing cars are retired after the combined 2018/2019 ‘super season.’
A DPi-style compromise, where the hundreds of millions currently required for manufacturers to play with hybrid P1s becomes tens of millions – or less – is where the ACO/FIA/IMSA trio is most likely headed.
“We have two challenges we face,” Beaumesnil continued. “The first is to make the next two seasons strong. We do not have all the entries for [the combined 2018-2019 ‘super season’] but we know there are projects on the way and we are very optimistic. And then we have to build the future. We are too far from any decision [on 2020 regulations] but want to have an image of what to evaluate. The real work to decide on what we will do in the future will start in the coming weeks. Everything we have discussed so far has been informal. This is where we are.”
If the ACO ratifies a GT- or DPi-style look as the new global prototype standard with the WEC and IMSA, and provided the cost to build and field those cars is within reason, there could be some brands in the WEC’s manufacturer-rich GTE category, and IMSA’s complementary GT Le Mans class, that reevaluate their GT programs.
Working from the same premise that it’s too early to make any declarative statements, Beaumesnil did concede that when it comes to restoring the health of its leading prototype class, depleting the GTE/GTLM ranks to do so is not what he wants to see.
“If there is any [2020 prototype] growth, it should not be from the GTE category,” he said. “We do not want to reduce GTE, of course.”
Stay tuned for more details on the next-generation prototypes after all parties, including numerous auto manufacturers, weigh in and reach a common direction for future prototypes.
“The bodywork of an LMP1 car can be so many different options in this next stage,” Beaumesnil said. “It could be like a GT, could be like a LMP1, and this has been evaluated at all times, even 10 years ago. At this stage, we are open.”