INSIGHT: A Hypercar / DPi convergence in sight?

Image courtesy Rebellion Racing

INSIGHT: A Hypercar / DPi convergence in sight?

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: A Hypercar / DPi convergence in sight?

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A number of manufacturers are campaigning for the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to agree to a common formula for their respective top classes. Such a rules convergence would mean a manufacturer could build one car and compete in all the big endurance races around the world alongside full-season entries in their chosen championships.

For both the FIA and IMSA, there is a window of opportunity here that cannot be ignored.

Those behind the scenes of sportscar racing’s two major players are currently working overtime to secure their futures. Both are pushing hard to create a stable and sustainable top class, featuring factory programs that generate manufacturer and spectator interest and, of course, stimulate commercial growth.

The FIA WEC now is less than a year away from its bold new Le Mans Hypercar formula hitting the track, with commitments from Toyota, Aston Martin, Glickenhaus and ByKolles for the inaugural season. Beyond that, Peugeot has confirmed that it, too, will join in, but not until 2022 — likely in time for the start of the 2022/23 season. The French automaker may show earlier if development of its Hypercar progresses at a faster pace.

IMSA, meanwhile, is still relying on its LMP2-based, manufacturer-driven DPi category for its headline category, while making moves to shape its DPi 2.0 formula set to debut in 2022. The FIA WEC currently has something that IMSA lacks (publicly at least), and that is factory commitment for its new formula, although of course, IMSA has more time on its side.

Former IMSA president Scott Atherton stressed that IMSA was taking a structured approach to its new formula, with the principal aim of avoiding the mistakes and pitfalls from the gestation period that the WEC suffered with Hypercar, whose proposed regulations changed frequently and were delivered late. That has proven to be a tough task.

With an array of manufacturers working together with IMSA to create a new set of regulations, all pushing their own priorities, creating something to appease everyone is harder than ever. John Doonan, IMSA’s new president, knows this after years spent at the helm of Mazda Motorsport; but his background won’t make the task any easier.

A decision on hybrid powertrains has proven to be a key talking point. Inside sources suggest that electrification has very limited support among current and future DPi manufacturers, but that it also is a ‘go/no-go’ redline for Ford.

The other big sticking point, though, is convergence, which is quickly becoming the burning topic. It has been hinted for months that there may be a solution for both parties, creating a set of regulations that ensures both top classes can compete together in the future. Right now, this feels like less of a pipe dream, and more of a realistic possibility.

This would provide many positives, the obvious one being an open door for manufacturers to build a car that is eligible for all the big races in the USA and abroad. It’s more marketable and, for some marques, is easier to pitch at board level. However, it can only be considered a success if a global platform leaves both the WEC and IMSA with strong, full-season grids. It has to work for both sides.

Will we someday see a head-to-head battle at Le Mans and Daytona between the rival automakers currently competing in the topline IMSA and FIA WEC series? The prospect is mouth-watering. Image by Galstad/LAT

Blue-chip manufacturers are pushing for this — maybe a little more than the sanctioning bodies — but there does appear to be a drive to make it work from all parties involved, including key personnel from the organizing bodies.

RACER spoke to Toyota’s technical director Pascal Vasselon at the TMG headquarters in Cologne, Germany, this week. Despite the fact that Toyota has chosen to produce a hybrid-powered prototype to the Le Mans Hypercar regulations, Vasselon says the automaker is open to a global formula because it would welcome any chance for additional competition. Crucially, he isn’t concerned about the ACO and FIA’s ability to create a Balance of Performance for an expanded list of manufacturers allowing DPi 2.0 and Le Mans Hypercars to race together.

Beyond players like Toyota that are committed, marques on the outside looking in seem supportive, too. Porsche’s head of factory racing, Pascal Zurlinden, told RACER that a global formula could create a pathway for the German marque to return to top-level sportscars.

“If you can build one race car and run both sides of the Atlantic, that’s what we do with the GT,” he pointed out. “So we would just (take) a closer look at the costs. If you can really build one car for locals and race (worldwide), it’s definitely an option. We’ll have to look into it.”

This desire is shared by Ford, which has decided that both a hybrid and a common chassis are the imperatives if it is to return to IMSA and the WEC.

McLaren, too, wants to join in, but its criteria is a little more complex right now: Budgets are “the concern” to Zak Brown, McLaren Racing’s CEO. He feels that with F1 and IndyCar programs already on the books, sportscars must be financially viable if it is to commit.

“Under the rules that exists today, we’re not comfortable we can make that fiscally work,” Brown explained. “IndyCar is a good business; we can make that work — we made that work this year, even with the fiasco of not qualifying for the Indy 500.

“Formula 1, we’re losing lots of money, but (our) sponsorships are going really well and we see the trajectory of F1 becoming sustainable. That’s why we’re now looking at sportscars. If we can see a business model that works, we would enter, but what we’re not going to do is enter any racing series that isn’t fiscally responsible.”

McLaren has a clear vision of how its program would look. It would run a car built to IMSA regulations, with a hybrid system, styled to look like a McLaren Automotive product that doesn’t yet exist. But it would primarily race in the WEC, with bolt-on IMSA endurance races. A full IMSA program is possible, but it would need to be customer-focused or semi-works. It has effectively ruled out developing a Hypercar from scratch like Aston Martin and Toyota because of the cost.

An equally big issue, understandably for Brown, is that there are no finalized IMSA regulations yet. They are not expected until Q1 of 2020 per IMSA’s publicized timetable.

Between now and the release of IMSA DPi 2.0’s regulations, many pieces in the jigsaw must fit together. Thus the time is now to decide on whether a common formula is viable. RACER understands that even now a formal plan is being evaluated by the two sanctioning bodies, and the outcome of the discussions — and all the fallout — will likely define the next five to 10 years of the sport.

“There is a unique opportunity at the end of 2019, the beginning of 2020,” Hugues de Chaunac, the head of ORECA, told RACER. “I am an optimist and I hope that a good compromise will be found.”

Gerard Neveu, the FIA WEC CEO, echoed the comments from de Chaunac and Brown, observing that a common global formula is both “a win for everyone” and, crucially, “as close as it’s ever been.”

“If it’s a personal vision, we hope — and we’re trying to do our best to make sure — that we can join together,” Neveu told RACER. “Last week I was with John (Doonan), Scott (Atherton) and Pierre (Fillon) in Stuttgart for the Porsche Night of Champions. We spent a lot of time discussing it, and we meet very often.

“Our respective technical departments are working very closely together. And we still have exactly the same hope. It’s not the right day to tell you anything because we are still working backstage. But, if it was not (a realistic possibility at this point), we wouldn’t be spending so much time discussing it. So if we’re still around the table, it means that there is probably a possibility — a serious possibility.”

Do both sides feels that there are enough manufacturers to ensure that both championships would be able to build sustainable full-season grids?

“That’s clearly the idea,” Neveu continued. “A few key manufacturers say they are interested to come, but only if (they) have the chance to compete in the two main platforms, in the WEC and IMSA — if there is a chance to race the same car at Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona, for example.

“We know exactly what they want. We know what we have to do. The question now is how to do it. But before we do it, we have to do the work, we have to analyze. And each party is working to protect its own platform.”

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