Get ready for a quieter Le Mans

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Sports car fans will witness the next generation of LMP1 prototypes racing in full-electric mode from 2020. A new zero-emissions rule will force the factory cars racing in the World Endurance Championship to complete the first kilometre after every fuel stop without recourse to their internal combustion engines. 

The regulation, announced ahead of this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, will go hand in hand with the introduction of plug-in rapid charging in a move devised to increase the road-relevance of the P1 category. A second requirement of the rule will be that the cars take the chequered flag at each WEC round under electric power. 

The introduction of zero-emissions running for 2020 effectively replaces a planned increase in the scope of the hybrid systems that have been part of LMP1 since the rebirth of the WEC in 2012. The original idea had been to increase the number of systems allowed from two to three and the amount of energy that could be deployed from eight to 10 megajoules. Plans for the introduction of this rule in 2018 were put on hold last November in the wake of Audi’s withdrawal from the WEC and the prototype arena after 18 seasons.

The FIA and WEC promoter and Le Mans organiser the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which jointly wrote the P1 rulebook, believe that the new rule
is more in step with trends in the automotive industry. They have worked with existing P1 participants Porsche and Toyota, as well as prospective entrant Peugeot, in working out the framework of the regulations.

“It is the conviction of the manufacturers that plug-in hybrids are what they will be selling in five years,” said FIA Endurance Commission president Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones. “More and more cities are closing their roads to cars that are not zero emissions, so this rule gives a new dimension to our regulations.”

It is the intention of the rulemakers that the cars will be able to maintain their regular performance in all-electric mode through the mandated one-kilometre zone. 

“We did not come up with this figure of one kilometre randomly,” said FIA technical director Bernard Niclot. “Our simulations suggest that to be at full performance for one kilometre – and that is what we want – you will need 8MJ.”

The distance that the cars will have to complete on their batteries at the end of the race has yet to be defined. 

MOVABLE AERODYNAMICS

Movable or active aerodynamics are the second major innovation in the rules package announced for 2020, which remains in draft form. It is a key component of a drive to reduce costs in an effort to attract a new manufacturer into the P1 division. 

The regulation limiting the number of bodywork configurations allowed in P1 first introduced last season will be extended. A single body configuration will be permissible in 2020, with the rule makers believing that active aero will allow it to be tuned to both Le Mans and the Formula 1 circuits that make up the balance of the WEC schedule. 

“To manage the compromise between top speed and downforce you have to come up with very complicated solutions with passive aerodynamics that cost a huge amount to develop,” said Niclot. “With our solution, we believe you can achieve a high level of performance with lower development costs.”

The rules will allow for movable aerofoil profiles in both the rear wing and the front flaps under the nose, which were introduced for the 2014 season. It is likely that a certain number of fixed positions will be mandated, but the details have yet to be determined. 

The rules on aerodynamics will also include a reduction in the number of hours each manufacturer can spend in the wind tunnel each calendar year. This year’s limit of 800 hours will be reduced to 600. The rule makers have opted against more severe restrictions to avoid costly investment in computational fluid dynamics.

TOKEN SYSTEM

Major limitations will be placed on car and engine development between seasons with the introduction of a token system not dissimilar to that previously employed in Formula 1 for engines. The rule makers want to stop the manufacturers effectively building new cars each season around their existing monocoques. 

“What we are saying is that you will not be able to develop and make changes to the full car between seasons,” explained ACO sporting director Vincent Beaumesnil. “This will have a huge impact on the cost. We will define a weighting for each parameter of the car, give different values to different parts. 

“Every part will have a number of units and you will have a total number of units to use over the winter. If you change a high-value unit such as the engine, for example, you will have fewer units for development in other areas of the car.”

NEW TESTING LIMITS

The WEC will follow the lead of F1 and organise collective tests in the name of cost reduction. F1 this year has limited its teams to eight days pre-season and four during the campaign, but Beaumesnil suggested that the WEC rules would be less draconian. 

“I don’t think we will ever go as low as F1, because our manufacturers have to validate the reliability of their cars for a 24-hour race,” he said. “We have already been reducing this number and this year the figure is 40 days. 

“We have a target of 30 days with some collective tests where the costs of the track and the logistics are shared.”

Beaumesnil explained that the reduction in testing could come into force as early as next year. 

“It is something we are working on now and maybe we will try to do it for next season,” he said.

There is a series of other new rules designed to reduced budgets. The number of personnel that each factory team is allowed to take to WEC events will be cut from 65 to 50. 

And four rather than five engines will be allowed to each car over the course of the season. 

SAFETY RULES

New safety survival cell rules, originally set for 2018, will come into force in 2020. More space around the driver’s head will result in bigger cockpits.

The driver will also sit more upright in the car. This follows research into
the effects of the seating angle in
back injuries. 

HOW MUCH WILL IT SAVE?

The manufacturers and the rule makers are refusing to say what a WEC budget might be in 2020. But series boss Gerard Neveu has been more gung-ho. 

He suggested that a figure under €100 million is achievable, which contrasts with the €130 million that Porsche is believed to spend. 

“Budgets will absolutely be reduced,” he said. “It will be less than €100 million and you will still have the ability to compete for wins.

“We will have smaller budgets and a new connection between racing and the market place. There is no reason not to be confident that a new manufacturer will join us in the future.”

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