The clock is ticking, and the start of the 2020/21 season continues to edge closer. It’s becoming increasingly harder for a factory team to commit to the FIA/ACO’s new ‘Hypercar’ rules for year one and develop a car in time, especially as the regulations are still yet to be finalized.
Is there interest in ‘Hypercar’ still? Yes. And that’s the frustration. Both Aston Martin and Toyota Gazoo Racing, who are two of a number of parties still evaluating their participation, still feel unable to formally green-light programs at present. No other mainstream marques have yet committed, and the finer points of the regulations continue to be tweaked week on week through technical working group meetings.
“We are fully engaged in the discussion; we are very interested in the potential,” Aston Martin Racing President Dave King stressed to RACER. “But we obviously can’t commit to a formula that we don’t yet have a clear definition for.”
For Aston Martin, the latest change to the formula – in which the FIA permits race versions of road-going hypercars in addition to prototypes styled as hypercars – may fit its current image. At this year’s Geneva Show the brand showed off a range of four mid-engined hypercar/supercars for the future, but the same questions, and frustrations, remain.
“We were very proud to show the four cars (Valkyrie, Valkyrie AMR Pro, AM-RB 003 and Vanquish Vision Concept); it is a new direction and that is clearly a major factor behind our interest,” he continued. “Again though, we really cannot make decisions without fully understanding what is, and isn’t in the regulations.
“The timeframes are challenging, and only get more so as time goes on. If we decide to do it, there are really two options: be early adopters and frame the reference points, or wait and see where the performance emerges from others.”
It’s the same story at Toyota. The Japanese marque is still very much in the room after spending a lot of time working with the organizers in helping shape the rules. The belief that the next set of regulations can be a success is still there, but doubts are beginning to creep in.
“We need a final situation, otherwise it would be too late for us to commit to anything beyond June 2020,” TGR’s Vice President Rob Leupen told RACER. “I’m in good faith, especially on Pascal (Vasselon)’s side, that a lot of talks are ongoing. I think the FIA and ACO will come up with something solid for the long-term future.
“We’ve been deeply involved in the regulations, but since last year a lot has changed. I can’t confirm that we are very happy about this, but the more the merrier. We don’t want to drive alone, like we do today, we want a balanced race series. We want real competition with privateers and manufacturers.”
For Toyota, racing a prototype is its preference, though it doesn’t have objections to competing against teams running race-prepared versions of hypercars. Balancing the two may prove to be tough, but that’s an issue for down the line. Right now, having a grid of cars to balance in the first place is still the number one priority for the ACO and FIA as the 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ draws to a close in the coming months.
Reports elsewhere of Toyota not being part of the discussions to change the rules to include actual hypercars in the regulations appear to be correct, though Leupen says Toyota isn’t fazed by that decision.
“I don’t think we have to be in that room, it’s not our place,” he said. “If they are able to come up with a solution where both a road car and prototype can go together, however, they are balanced, we don’t care too much. We want competition. We would like to field a prototype, not a road car. We are hopeful, but concerned.”
So that leaves us with tomorrow’s media briefing in Florida. What will emerge from it is unclear; clarity at this point should be the order of the day, though. With big names like Ferrari, McLaren, Toyota and Aston Martin still all in the mix, there is potential for this new formula to work down the line. The question is, can it all come together in a condensed time frame and send the WEC on an upswing after months of uncertainty?