International news

DRS wings set for Le Mans

Privateers to get aero advantage to close gap to works LMP1 cars | BY Gary Watkins

LMP1 privateers will be allowed a drag reduction system in 2018. Its introduction is among a raft of measures designed to bring the independents closer to the factories in the World Endurance Championship over the next two years. 

A rear DRS wing will follow an initial batch of rule changes for non-hybrid P1 cars in 2017. These include new aerodynamic freedoms, a weight reduction and the removal of restrictions on engine development. The moves are designed to reduce the gap between the manufacturer P1 entries and the privateers, which has grown during the hybrid era. The average lap-time deficit in a six-hour race has grown from 2.5sec in 2011 to 7.5sec last season. 

The introduction of active aerodynamics had been discussed for 2017, but the FIA and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which jointly write the P1 rule book, have decided against rushing it through. ACO sporting director Vincent Beaumesnil explained that details had yet to be worked out. 

“There are many rules that need to be written because clearly there are many safety aspects that need to be considered,” he said. “We know that we want to do it because it offers a cheap performance gain, but exactly how we do it still needs to be worked out.”

A front DRS system – working on the internal wings under the nose – was to be part of the plan, but Beaumesnil stated that this was no longer on the table. 

“The technical people at the FIA and the ACO are saying that it would be too complex,” he said. “For the moment we are only working on rear DRS.”

Changes for 2017

Aerodynamic rule changes for privateers next year will allow for a wider and deeper – and therefore more efficient – rear wing and a 50mm extension of the front dive planes. The new engine rules for 2017 will remove the limitation on the number of powerplants, currently five, used by each car over a season.
The capacity limit of 5.5 litres for the engines in non-hybrid cars will also be removed. The minimum weight of the cars will also drop from 858 to 838kg.

Bart Hayden, boss of leading privateer Rebellion Racing, welcomed the moves. “They couldn’t have done more for next year, because DRS needs to be studied hard before it is introduced,” he said. “It is difficult to pluck a lap time gain out of the air for next year, but with the right amount of wind-tunnel work there could be two and a half seconds there.”

US prototypes for Le Mans?

The idea of allowing cars built to the Daytona Prototype International rules for next year’s IMSA SportsCar Championship to race with the P1 privateers at Le Mans is gaining ground. IMSA boss Scott Atherton, who was present at this year’s 24 Hours, explained that discussions have started on the subject after it was first floated by ACO president Pierre Fillon in March. 

“We believe there is an opportunity for a DPi to compete as a privateer P1 at Le Mans and it doesn’t seem to be a bridge too far,” he said. “Nothing is finalised and the technical people from both sides still need to get together.”

The first idea was that DPi cars, to be based on the new-for-2017 LMP2 generation, would be able to race in P2 at Le Mans with engines developed for America but without their bespoke bodywork. This has been canned as IMSA allows free engine electronics rather than mandating the Cosworth management system of the Gibson V8 to be used in P2 in WEC and the European Le Mans Series. The compromise is to allow DPis to race in P1. 

Chassis life extended

Existing privateers Rebellion and ByKolles will be able to run their existing R-One and CLM P1/01 chassis into 2019. Their chassis are built to the same rules that will come into force for LMP2 next season, which would allow the four constructors granted licences for the new category – ORECA, Ligier/Onroak, Dallara and Riley/Multimatic – also to produce P1 cars. 

That means that privateers will not have to build new cars for 2018. The latest P1 chassis rules, incorporating cockpit safety upgrades, will apply initially only to the manufacturers. 

New aero rules for factories

New aerodynamic rules are being introduced to slow manufacturer hybrid LMP1 cars for next year, to the tune of four seconds at Le Mans. These will play a role in bringing the factories and privateers together, but the primary motivation is to keep a cap on speeds. 

“The number one reason is safety,” said Beaumesnil. “We need to control the performance of these cars, which have more downforce than a Formula 1 car, in the fast corners.”

The height of the front splitter will be increased by 15mm and the depth of the rear diffuser reduced by 50mm. This will also make the cars less prone to take off in the event of a sideways moment.