Monday’s Equivalence of Technology bulletin released by the ACO and FIA heralds sweeping changes for process by which the LMP1 class is governed next season. It has been formed with the intent of closing the performance gap between the hybrid and non-hybrid cars, and removes the artificial restrictions put in place by the regulations, which further hampered the privateer runners.
What are the key points? Well, there won’t be any time advantage in the pits for Toyota, and the stint lengths will now be equal for all cars. A ‘success handicap’ has also been put in place to ensure that one team, or in this case, car, doesn’t run away with the title race.
Under the new system, each individual car will be penalized gradually as it scores points throughout the season. The Toyotas have also been issued an increase in the base weight of its TS050 HYBRIDs, which won all but one of the WEC races last season. (The only race it didn’t finish 1-2 in was the 6 Hours of Silverstone, where both were excluded post-race).
Will this be enough to make the racing in LMP1 closer and produce different winners? ACO sporting director Vincent Beaumesnil is optimistic.
“Yes, (I am confident it will be enough),” he told RACER. “It’s not easy to compete with Toyota, and not only because of the technical regulations. They have a strong driver line-up, are strong on strategy and an ability to adapt to changing circumstances during the race, so they have a very high-level package. The other teams are very good and have made huge progress, so I think that this alignment of these parameters gives the other teams a chance to win.
“The starting EoT is clearly rebalancing the field in favor of the non-hybrid cars, but even if Toyota does well in the opening races, they will be affected in their performance so other cars can be dominant in the following races. That’s the way it has been designed.”
How will the success penalties work? Is it just ballast? The honest answer is that the ACO doesn’t know yet. The overarching idea has been agreed in principle by all three full-season teams (Toyota, Rebellion and Team LNT), now the fine details need to be worked out.
“We have defined that each point in the championship would interact with the performance of each car by a value, which we are still finalizing,” Beaumesnil explained.
“Then how do we affect the performance? It can be weight, power, hybrid boost for Toyota. This is what the technical teams are working on now, to define exactly the sensitivity of each car and decide which parameters will be used. We have approved the principal: championship points will re-balance the cars.
“It’s how it is defined, and everyone has evaluated and simulated this system, and it clearly, with what we can evaluate, is expected to produce different winners over the course of the season.”
It is also important to note that there will be a specific EoT for Le Mans, which Beaumesnil says is to prevent teams from intentionally performing poorly to ensure they aren’t slowed as much as their competitors for the biggest race of the season.
“Le Mans is the only race where we feel people could make strategies to be very slow and not score points in the previous races so that they can be competitive at Le Mans,” he said. “We don’t want to have this. At Le Mans, we have a lot of experience with the cars, we have seen at Le Mans that we are able to have Rebellion and SMP as competitive as Toyota on single-lap pace and on pure potential.
“We have also realigned the fuel autonomy and the number of laps per stint, etc. This will be at Le Mans, and the proper EoT of each car will be defined based on the experience we have during the season. I’m very confident that Le Mans will be very good.”
On the face of it, this all appears to be a stride in the right direction. Most observers appear to be in full support of such changes to the way in which LMP1 is governed, especially as the old system’s flaws were on full display and produced one-sided racing last season.
The issue now is whether or not the privateers are up to the task in fighting with the automotive giant at the other end of the pit lane. Even if the cars are relatively equal on performance, and also in regulation terms, Toyota has the most resources, has completed the most testing, has won the most, is campaigning the most accomplished car and has made further developments to its package in the short off-season. Nobody would be surprised if Toyota’s tour-de-force continued.
With SMP Racing now gone (after a performance at Le Mans which marked tremendous progress; its fastest AER-powered BR1 going toe-to-toe with Toyota on single-lap pace) a rapidly-forming Team LNT effort and what looks to be a scaled-back program from Rebellion are left to take up the fight. (DragonSpeed and ByKolles are also omissions from the full-season entry, but neither proved to be contenders for ‘best of the rest’ honors during the ‘Super Season’.) Interestingly, even with a depleted class this season, Vincent Beaumesnil essentially shrugged off the notion that these EoT developments may prove to have been introduced too late.
Team LNT’s Ginetta G60-LT-P1s have real potential. With the most recent AER P60C engine (which SMP used at Le Mans) installed in the rear of its chassis, the performance levels should be strong. The car has an aero package that has received high praise from those that have tested the car in recent months, and the new powerplant has proven to be both reliable and fast.
The unknown is what the effort will look like when the WEC travels to beyond Silverstone and beyond. LNT’s return to top-level sports cars will prove popular with fans, but there’s still plenty of work to do if it is to deliver on the promise its package has shown in pre-season testing.
Putting together competitive driver line-ups and commercial deals that ensure those behind the scenes running the cars are both experienced and well-resourced will require a lot more work. Ginetta CEO Lawrence Tomlinson appears to be motivated to take up this task though, especially now that the metaphorical shackles have been taken off the privateer pack and the extent of commercial opportunities that a three-car Le Mans effort in 2020 present are becoming clearer.
“I was at the meeting to discuss EoT (this week) and Team LNT could have had a vote to veto it if we’d wanted to,” he explained to RACER. “But I think it’s a great idea, I think Toyota brought it to the table, which was very good of them. Everyone realizes that we want to see a race in the top class – it’s good for the sport.
“Our target first is clearly to be quicker than Rebellion and then Toyota, that’s why we’re here. It’s not a simple task. But our chassis is really good, it’s a good package mated with the AER. We’re not a million miles away from Toyota.
“There’s a lot of time to come from the Ginetta. And because we’ve got two LMP1 entries, there is a potential for a third car at Le Mans – another team could do Le Mans with quick drivers; three is better than two, and we have another chassis sat at the workshop at home.”
But the high confidence levels in the EoT for the season are not shared by everyone. Bruno Senna, one of Rebellion Racing’s more experienced drivers, still feels the jury is out on the 2019/20 EoT developments.
“It’s hard to tell (whether we can be confident at his stage); Toyota has an updated package with its car – it is going to be faster, they won’t be standing still,” he said to RACER. “It’s really difficult to predict EoT. We know for sure that at some tracks Toyota has a huge advantage like at Sebring, and no EoT will make enough of a difference unless you cripple the cars. At some tracks we might be closer, but at others we might be still far away.
“There’s a point where this (success handicap) could also become a little dangerous. If you add too much weight to the cars for instance, you might cook the brakes and force the car to go beyond its capabilities. But if that’s their intention, and if Toyota is willing to play fair with less advantages in the pit stops to make the racing closer, maybe it will be OK.”
If Rebellion does just take on the season with a single car, and if its development program slows to a walking pace, keeping up with Toyota’s updated cars, and indeed any challenge from Team LNT, will be tough no matter how hard the competition is strangled by the ‘success handicap’. The EoT can be altered should the privateers fall too far behind. It’s not the intention, but Beaumesnil made the point that it can be adjusted at any time if the ACO feels that “something is wrong”.
With the 2019 Prologue in the books, we now look ahead to Silverstone next month. There, we should have some answers to the more complex questions. For now though, there’s at least some reason to believe LMP1 will be more competitive in 2019/20.