A big talking point in WEC circles before and during this season has been the LMP1 class Equivalence of Technology (EoT) formula, which has the stated aim of producing competitive racing between the Toyota hybrid factory cars and non-hybrid privateer runners.
After the opening round of the 2018/19 WEC season and prior to the Le Mans Test Day, changes were made to the EoT for the non-hybrid runners, and there’s been plenty of commentary from both inside and outside the paddock about their consequences. Will Toyota have more of an advantage at Le Mans than it did at Spa? And if so, is it fair to the privateer teams in the field?
At its core, EoT shouldn’t be BoP (Balance of Performance) with a different name. BoP’s aim is to create parity between GT cars with different technical features, such as engine type (turbo and normally aspirated), as well as engine placement (front, middle and rear).
EoT, on the other hand, is meant to ensure that privateer teams can compete with hybrid-powered factory cars, using very different technology.
The big difference is that BoP balances GTE chassis that are all developed to a common set of regulations to ensure that the lap times produced are as close as possible, while LMP EoT is balancing two sets of cars that have been designed to almost totally different rulebooks — hybrid and non-hybrid — and with far more variables, particularly concerning fuel efficiency, to give them a chance to compete together.
Since the preseason Prologue test at Paul Ricard — where Toyota was accused by some of trying to bait the privateer teams into showing their hand early — there have been multiple EoT changes, seemingly giving the privateer teams even less of a chance to compete head-to-head. The non-hybrids will have to spend more time refueling, and pit more often at Le Mans (due to a lap cap per fuel stint), and that’s before getting into whether or not they could keep up with the hybrid-powered, more developed Toyotas on raw pace anyway.
The potential exists, through the rulebook, for LMP1 privateer cars to run faster than the hybrids at Le Mans, especially as the ACO has categorically stated that the drivers will not have to lift and coast in a straight line to save fuel like the factory Toyota drivers. But at the moment, we just don’t know how the privateer cars will fare against the hybrids at Le Mans, and we won’t know until race week.
Thus, the sheer quantity of unknowns and complexity of the topic has left many observers with a range of questions:
Should privateer teams which spend a fraction of the money be able to compete with Toyota, which has invested so much not only in the sport, but in developing its current car over the past six years?
Should the whole class be balanced to allow privateer teams a realistic chance of a win on pace, using less sophisticated technology, to make it more of a spectacle?
How can we know at this stage just how much of an advantage Toyota will have, when you consider the lack of data the FIA and ACO have on the privateer cars, which are getting quicker and quicker all the time through the early stages of their developmental curve?
And more importantly, do the ACO feel the need to hand Toyota the best chance of winning Le Mans to keep them loyal, especially with the announcement of the 2020/21 regulations looming along with the need for early commitment from OEMs to secure the future?
The truth is, with such a complex subject, all are sensible queries. And with that in mind, and with the noise level from members of the public and WEC paddock increasing, the ACO’s technical delegate Thierry Bouvet has responded.
Bouvet said the rulemakers were expecting to make EoT changes like the ones we’ve seen long before the cars hit the track.
“Last winter, we set up a working group of members of the FIA, the ACO and LMP1 engine and chassis constructors to define the outline,” he said. “We had all the data on the Toyota TS050 Hybrid prototype. The non-hybrids were at the production stage, so the constructors supplied simulations, which obviously meant that changes to the EoT could not be ruled out. Everyone was aware of that.
“The WEC Prologue and the first round at Spa provided precious feedback. Bearing in mind that the non-hybrids are still in the development phase and therefore have plenty of potential for improvement, we have already made some alterations. Our role is to ensure fair competition. The allowances for non-hybrids are intended to make up for a handicap compared to a hybrid car, not to give them an unfair advantage. It’s a balancing act, but there are means. In the same way, hybrid technology must remain relevant. At Le Mans, a hybrid does a lap more per stint than a non-hybrid.”
For the Test Day the non-hybrids have had their fuel flow rate reduced to 108 kg/h rather than the 110 kg/h with which they raced with at Spa. Meanwhile, the flow for the hybrid cars will stay the same, at 80 kg/h.
Bouvet said the change is due to the nature of the La Sarthe circuit, which sees the hybrid cars at a disadvantage due to the multiple long straights, forcing them to go to greater lengths to save fuel and fall within the their fuel allowances per lap.
“When the EoT was created for the 2014 championship, to keep consistency of the hybrid usage with the other car systems, the hybrid coefficient was multiplied by 55 percent per kilometer at the shorter circuits compared with Le Mans (where the long straights alter the balance). That rule therefore applied at Spa.
“Relative performance of hybrids and non-hybrids differs between Spa and Le Mans. Hybrids are at a relative disadvantage at Le Mans,” he explained.
“We used the data collected during the first two outings to adjust EoT for Le Mans and to close the gap between private and factory teams. Again, between Spa and Le Mans Test Day, the privateers will have progressed. The ACO and FIA specialists will continue analyzing data during and after the Test Day.”
The big issue here is that even with reassurances, the cynics among us will still see any advantage Toyota has as artificial and unfair at this stage, especially if the privateers are unable to compete come race time.
It’s encouraging, though, to see the ACO, and Bouvet, attempting to explain the process and justify the decisions made.
But will the race in two weeks’ time produce the close racing that the rulemakers tell us they are aiming for, or will Toyota dominate this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours?
At this point it’s highly likely to be the latter. And if Toyota does dominate, was it inevitable? Should we expect small privateers to be able to do battle with mighty factories anyway?
It’s real world politics on show in motorsport: big business versus the entrepreneurs, and whatever answer the 24 hours of racing produces, some won’t be happy.