Toyota Gazoo Racing is hoping to continue racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship, extending its long-term commitment to the championship past the upcoming 2020 top class regulation cycle.
At the 6 Hours of Fuji, the Japanese team’s technical director Pascal Vasselon expressed positivity toward the new ‘hypercar’ regs, which are set to be ratified in December by the World Motorsport Council. The new rules will see the WEC’s premier class evolve from its current form to hybrid-powered prototypes featuring hypercar styling cues.
Toyota has been a constant player in the FIA/ACO technical working group, and is edging closer to green-lighting a program which would see its program — which started back in the WEC’s inaugural season in 2012 — continue to move forward.
“We have been very much involved with the discussions, from the very start,” Vasselon said. “We have promoted many of the concepts that are now in place in the regulations and believe that, for the first time, a technical regulation has been designed to attract take-up, by manufacturers — and we hope privateers too — with a principle to isolate the main performance aspects of the car and to provide limits to those factors.”
It’s the FIA/ACO’s push to keep the performance levels in check that may prove to be key for the new formula’s success after an all-important initial flurry of manufacturer commitments for the first season.
During the golden years of the LMP1 Hybrid competition with Audi, Porsche and Toyota trading blows, the performance levels went on a near-vertical curve, making the task of playing catch up with a brand-new program from an aspirant factory team particularly daunting. (Nissan’s ill-fated effort certainly didn’t help that cause.)
Going forward though, there’s a real drive to ensure that after Year 1, prospective manufacturers should be able to join in and be competitive quickly. This could prove essential, with the clock ticking for the fence-sitters looking to put something together.
“These limits have been designed to be relatively easy to achieve, and that’s where the cost savings are,” Vasselon explained. “To put a figure on it is very difficult because you will always find people who will spend more money than the others.
“But, to give an example, the maximum engine power will be 520 kW (700hp). This has to be obtained with a BSFC (Brake Specific Fuel Consumption, a measure of fuel efficiency) of 230, which is easy to achieve so it will not be necessary to spend a lot of money to get an engine capable of providing a reliable 520 kW.
“It will be possible to buy that kind of engine off the shelf (as a production engine). I’m sure some will want to spend more but it’s pointless.
“With aero it is the same – the new regulations set a level of aero efficiency of ‘4’, the current car is at 6.5. Again it is relatively simple to achieve the level that will be mandated in the new regulations with a couple of good guys. Of course, you can have 20 people working on it, but it will not buy you an advantage.
“That is the clever – and unique – part of these new rules, you will be able to be competitive in each area of the car without spending a lot of money. Absolutely, there should be little or no performance gain year on year – the regulations have been written to concentrate on close competition and not to allow big performance gains.
“That should allow teams, if they want to, to run a little late and still catch the train! With the current cars that would have been very difficult without huge budgets. We were finding around two seconds (per lap) every year, that was a very big task for a new entrant.”
For privateers, too, joining the new-look category should be possible, and not too expensive, Vasselon feels. This is due to the price cap on hybrid systems, which must be made available to customers, allowing teams with a smaller-budget to get a program together, with no need to spend big on developing a bespoke system.
“This is the first time ever that private teams will be able to purchase all of the elements of a hybrid prototype program, off the shelf, and then be ultimately competitive,” he added. “They will genuinely have that opportunity, with no performance gap between their cars to the factory teams. We have always pushed for the technology to be of the highest level but we have to accept that for the moment the first priority is to bring more competitors to the championship. We have said repeatedly that we are here for the long term.”