INSIGHT: Why are the Hypercar rules taking so long to lock down?

Image by Aston Martin

INSIGHT: Why are the Hypercar rules taking so long to lock down?

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Why are the Hypercar rules taking so long to lock down?

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It’s come in starts and stops, and with an increasing call for clarity from teams and manufacturers, the ACO and FIA World Endurance Championship expect to release the final regulations for their 2020 Hypercar class “in the coming weeks,” according to WEC president Gerard Neveu.

The ACO/WEC’s replacement for its current LMP1 category is meant to compete for the first time somewhere around September of 2020 when a new ‘Super Season’ begins. Despite revealing something close to final rules late last year, the Hypercar concept has been subject to an ongoing evolution that has prevented a fixed set of regulations being given to global auto manufacturers and smaller specialist constructors.

And the long roll-out means all parties are struggling with a decision on whether or not to take part in the category.

ACO technical director Vincent Beaumesnil, who cited “McLaren, Aston Martin, and Ferrari” as the three brands driving the rule changes, said some manufacturers who reviewed the first version of 2020 regulations called for “blockages” to be removed in order to increase their likelihood of participating. As a result, the Hypercar regulations remain in a state of flux as manufacturer needs shape the direction of the class.

“At this moment, it feels like it’s a long time and it’s a frustrating position,” Neveu acknowledged. “This is now on the final straight to come out. We would prefer to have this announcement last December, but it’s in the final straight.”

Without giving specifics, Neveu also confirmed the ACO/WEC has a “Plan B” if there are further delays in releasing the 2020 regulations by late March or early April. Whether Plan B involves pushing Hypercar’s launch to 2021 or beyond is unknown.

“In case [there’s a delay], there’s always a Plan B,” he said. “That would be depending [on] what happens and what is the final announcement. We cannot speak on that because definitely we are working on Plan A. But if something happens, there’s always Plan B.”

Of particular interest on the ACO/WEC front, the latest rule concessions will allow auto manufacturers to race production-based Hypercars against purebred, Hypercar-styled prototypes built by specialist LMP1 constructors. Adding to the allowances, the ACO/WEC will move away from the previous mandate calling for all Hypercars to use hybrid-electric power units as a complement to the primary internal combustion engines.

The Hypercar formula could tempt Ferrari back to the outright fight at Le Mans for the first time since the early 1970s, but there are a lot of hurdles to jump first. Image by LAT.

From Friday’s meeting in a small press briefing at Sebring, Beaumesnil confirmed hybrid systems will be optional. Where this change holds significance is found in another revelation from the ACO/WEC, that Balance of Performance will be introduced in Hypercar, replacing the current Equivalence of Technology system found in LMP1. BoP and EoT differ greatly.

EoT, which has been in place for more than a decade with LMP1, gives manufacturers a list of options to choose while considering the size of engines, vehicle weight, and other key items that have given a platform for turbodiesels, gas-powered engines, and hybrid systems all to be used without penalizing one manufacturer for making better choices than the others.

Although EoT has been used like BoP since Audi and Porsche withdrew from LMP1-Hybrid and the ACO/WEC opted to balance the Toyota TS050s against non-hybrid LMP1s, traditional BoP does not reward vehicular superiority. Instead, BoP seeks to balance different types of cars – slowing the fast or speeding up the slow – in search of parity.

Working as EoT is intended, the best car will win, and without the series’ hand being felt through manipulating performance levels. BoP is the exact opposite.

The acknowledged need to use BoP with Hypercar suggests the complexities ahead for the ACO/WEC technical staff are formidable. Considering the current struggles experienced by the ACO/FIA attempting to level the playing field between hybrid and non-hybrid LMP1s built to the same chassis standards, doubling the challenge for 2020 is an interesting decision.
With something akin to a current LMP1 wearing bodywork that makes it look like a Hypercar pitted against a true road-based Hypercar outfitted with the necessary safety and performance upgrades to compete at Le Mans and other WEC destinations – plus the option that will see some of those models running with or without hybrid systems, and the inevitable mix of turbocharging and naturally-aspirated engines factored in – Beaumesnil and his team have accepted a seemingly impossible task: balancing disparate road and racing concepts featuring dissimilar technologies.

Another revelation from the Sebring meeting, which could add another layer of BoP policing to manage, was Neveu’s suggestion the ACO/WEC would be open to having IMSA’s next-generation DPis compete against Hypercars. While the DPi formula was being fashioned ahead of its 2017 launch, the ACO/WEC said it would welcome IMSA’s custom LMP2-based DPis to race at Le Mans, but slowly moved away from that idea as stiffer regulations were proposed that made fielding a DPi at the world’s biggest endurance race impossible.

IMSA, which will park its current DPis at the end of 2021 and move to a second-generation DPi formula for 2022, is not expected to adopt the Hypercar regulations. Although the split in prototype philosophies was expected to keep Hypercars and DPis from sharing the same track, Neveu said it would be wrong to make that assumption.

“Clearly the wish, from both sides since the beginning, [is] if we can find with each other, similar performance levels with the top categories,” he said. “It would be very helpful from the visibility and the stories and the future together. There is permanent dialogue and discussion both ways. We know the [next DPi] evolution is for January 2022. The fact is, if we can find a way to rejoin someday, this is what we are looking for. There is always a discussion going on.”

Neveu pointed to the lap times produced by Hypercar 2020 and DPi 2022 as the driver for the topic. At Sebring, LMP1-Hybrids are more than five seconds faster than DPis. With the stated intent to slow the speed of Hypercars by a considerable margin, and the anticipated inclusion of modest hybrid systems to future DPis, the American and European formulas could hit similar performance targets.

“Why not? Very frankly, if it is possible to do it, why not?” Neveu added. “We can have different names, different stories, but if the performance is similar, if it’s the same level of performance, if they can race together, then that’s another story.”

Like many things with Hypercar 2020, the links between spoken intent and verified direction await discovery

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