The start of the 2019/20 FIA World Endurance Championship opener is just weeks away, but the countdown to the 2020/21 season – the first for the new Le Mans Hypercar Prototype regulations – has also begun.
Toyota and Aston Martin are the two big players in the midst of tireless work behind the scenes to get ready for the debut of their challengers in Year 1 of the new regulations. But there’s more to the new rules than just the prospect of a titanic battle between Toyota and Aston Martin. And since the day the regulations were confirmed at Le Mans, there’s been plenty of reaction to sort through.
The natural place to start is the state of the other major OEMs still showing interest in the regulations.
Ferrari? Well the attempt to appease the Italian marque by shoehorning GTE Plus into the new set of rules didn’t work, so it remains to be seen what level of interest it has. What about Ford? The Blue Oval looks to have its heart set on IMSA and a DPi program now its GTE Pro program has come to an end, following the confirmation that the ACO’s DPi ‘Plan B’ is a non-starter.
And then there’s Bentley. While director of motorsport Brian Gush told RACER recently that the former Le Mans-winning brand hasn’t been involved in the technical working groups, it still, unsurprisingly, has a desire to be back racing at Le Mans. It hasn’t been involved in prototype racing since its move to designing, building and racing GT3 cars, but it must not be forgotten that it did come very close to a DPi program: it had an engine mule and completed an aero study before its plans fell apart.
“Le Mans is always a great place with a great spirit,” Gush told RACER. “We’re always interested in the new regulations, we’re following them closely. If there was half a chance to come back, we would.
“I’ll be listening with interest. You will need to see a number of manufacturers get on board before we get more momentum. I’m interested in what the organizers have to say before I can form any opinions.”
Alpine also declared interest at Le Mans; Signatech Alpine team manager Phillipe Sinault telling the public at Scrutineering that the French brand was more than just interested in a ‘Hypercar’ program. He did, however, backpeddle somewhat when approached by RACER later in the week.
“I want to explain that of course, for Alpine, I would love to see us race in the top class and go for overall race wins once more,” he said. “It is not surprising that any manufacturer, or that Nico [Lapierre] (who also spoke out about Alpine’s LMP1 hopes), would want the same thing. But the reality is that we have not even started making the decision-making process.”
Porsche and McLaren, on the other hand, remain rather more serious prospects. Porsche has stated to RACER that if the costing fits there’s “no reason” for it not to come back, although it has kept quiet since the ACO conference; it’s focus instead upon the upcoming launch of its new GTE challenger next month.
McLaren, meanwhile, has again stressed its interest to the media. Before the Le Mans 24 Hours kicked off, Zak Brown and Gil de Ferran said that with the rules finalised and announced, now is the time for it to make a decision on a hypercar program. If the marque does come, it won’t be until Year 2 of the rules at the earliest, and with an effort run by McLaren Racing with support from Automotive, rather the customer racing arm that currently handles the GT3 and GT4 programs.
“We really have to be deciding this by the end of the summer latest in order to be ready for 2021 and do the job properly,” said de Ferran. “That means we absolutely need to have a clear road car plan by then.
“It’s never easy to pull together a whole team of people. There are a lot of operational considerations, like personnel and so on, that we have to take into account. Also, in the Formula 1 world, we are going (in 2021) to have a whole new world in terms of the regulations, so there might be an opportunity to deploy people within McLaren in a different way. It is always a challenge to put a good race team together, but if we do it, we will try to do it in the right way as it would be a full commitment for a long period of time.”
Brown added that McLaren has been involved in discussions all the way, so it can confidently plan to deliver a program should it get the green light internally. Right now, no decisions have been made as to whether it would be a full works effort, semi-works, a customer effort, or indeed a combination of the three.
It has made real strides towards a program, though. McLaren is known to have undertaken an extensive engine program, believed to involve a development of its current turbo road car technology.
“It’s not like we haven’t been working on it,” Brown said. “We now know who is playing, how they are playing, and now we can finalize what our plans could look like, and then ultimately bring them forward for discussion.
“With DPi, or as [IMSA] would call it, DPi 2.0, they are working on these rules. We currently don’t know what the future holds for DPi. I would say that the hypercar rules versus the current DPi rules… well, Hypercar fits more in line with what appeals to us to go racing, but we are waiting to find out what is DPi 2.0 look like moving forward.
“We want to race against our competition, so it’s great that Aston’s in. Hopefully we will see the Porsches, the Ferraris, the Lamborghinis. It’s great that Toyota’s in. They are a great racing entity. We want to race against as many of our competitors as possible.”