International racing

Teams split on WEC future

More powerful hybrid systems, and potentially more of them… The scope for green technology within the World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class is set to be extended.
The question is when.

That is still a matter of debate between the manufacturers and the reason why the so-called road map laying out the future direction of the rules into the next decade has been delayed. The three manufacturers competing regularly in P1 agree that the technology should be allowed to evolve, but they disagree on the timing.

Audi and Porsche are in one camp; Toyota in the other. The two German marques want new rules on energy retrieval and deployment to coincide with new monocoque safety regulations that should come into force in 2018 (already a one-year delay). Their Japanese rival, however, suggests that would be too early and potentially threatening to the health of the category.

“Technology is the DNA of the WEC, and we have to make sure that we develop that value further,” says Christopher Reinke, Audi’s head of LMP1. “We should allow a further step to advance the technology further in 2018.”

Alex Hitzinger, LMP1 technical director at Porsche, has a similar opinion. “You can’t sell the idea of a new monocoque to the public,” he says. “But a bigger hybrid system, and potentially a third system, is sexy.”

Toyota’s opposition

Toyota believes 2018 would be too early for increasing the scope of regulations, introduced last year, that place an emphasis on energy retrieval and limit the fuel that can be used each lap. It goes further, suggesting it could be disastrous for the WEC.

“We don’t see why it is a must to combine new monocoques with bigger hybrid systems,” says Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon. “We feel it is too early to move forward. If in F1 someone suggested another big step so soon, everyone would say they were crazy. Maybe we don’t realise that an F1-type crisis for us is not so far away.”

The likelihood is that a new megajoule category will be added to the top of the existing four-class structure when the rules evolve. That almost certainly means a new top class that would allow for 10MJ of retrieved energy to be returned to the track over an 8.47-mile lap of Le Mans.

The manufacturers would bid to achieve that figure with a mixture of the technology already used in P1, although they will probably be allowed three hybrid systems rather than today’s two.

“The only proven systems at the moment are kinetic-energy recovery [as used by all three teams] and those driven by exhaust gases [as used by Porsche],” says Vasselon. “Others might be out there, but they aren’t proven.”

The road map

There were plans for the road map to be laid out in October, but the fundamental disagreement between the manufacturers precluded that. The rule makers, the FIA and Le Mans organiser the Automobile Club de l’Ouest will say only that it remains a work in progress.

The road map is also scheduled to resolve the future for LMP1 beyond 2018.

BMW has been linked to a project to bring a hydrogen fuel cell car to the 24 Hours, perhaps initially via the Garage 56 slot reserved for cars showcasing new technology. The German firm has denied it will return to Le Mans any time in the near future, but the rumours won’t go away and there could be room in the rules for such a powerplant.

“In the longer term we are open to new fuels,” says ACO sporting manager Vincent Beaumesnil. “The values of the ACO mean we need to be aware of other energy sources.”

What’s new for 2016?

Slower cars, for a start. A cut in the fuel allocation was always on the cards for season three of the latest P1 regulations, and the rule makers have decided to invoke the maximum possible reduction.

The ACO and the FIA opted for the maximum decrease – discussed with the manufacturers during the formulation of the rules – in an attempt to reduce speeds and increase lap times, most pertinently at Le Mans. That figure is 10MJ measured over a lap of Le Mans, which equates to slightly more than seven per cent. That means a similar reduction in horsepower from the cars’ internal combustion engines, which in turn will affect cornering speeds.

“You will reduce engine power in the same proportion that you reduce fuel flow,” says Vasselon. “And when you reduce engine power you have to reduce drag, and when you reduce drag, you reduce downforce. It will slow the cars in the corners, because the amount of power you have drives the aero targets.”

The ACO has a ballpark lap time of 3min 20sec that it doesn’t want to see exceeded on a regular basis. Pole this year was 3min 16.887sec and the fastest race lap was a 3min 19.4sec. The manufacturers believe the fuel reduction would result in a four-second increase in lap times if applied to this year’s car, but admit that continued development will inevitably recover some of the time lost.

There is another new rule, which for next year applies only to Le Mans.

A maximum power discharge of 300kW from hybrid systems has been imposed on grounds of safety linked to the Circuit de la Sarthe’s grade 2 FIA categorisation. It will have a negligible impact on lap time because the straights at Le Mans are long, but it would have an effect should it be imposed, as planned from 2017, at the Formula 1-spec circuits that make up the rest of the WEC schedule.

Diesel scandal implications

What the emissions scandal will mean to the WEC and the two German marques can only be guesswork at this stage and will ultimately depend on the financial penalties imposed on the VW Group, of which both Audi and Porsche are a part.

The contrasting fortunes of executives with influence on such decisions give few indications about VW’s motor sport future. Wolfgang Hatz, who can be described as the architect of Porsche’s return to top-line sports car racing courtesy of his role as research and development boss, has been suspended because he was also head of engine and transmission development at VW. But then former Porsche boss Matthias Müller, who signed off that return, has now become VW chairman and is a known motor sport enthusiast. 

Andrew Frankel’s view, p52

Obituary – David Hunt

The younger brother of 1976 world champion James, former racer David Hunt has died at the age of 55. After competing in karts, Hunt became a front-runner in junior FF1600 racing in the early 1980s and subsequently graduated to British F3, in which he recorded frequent top-six finishes. In 1988 he stepped up to FIA F3000 with Roger Cowman Racing, but it was a low-budget effort and merely qualifying for events was an achievement. He retired from driving at the end of that year, went on to build up a successful business and bought the assets of Team Lotus when it folded in 1994. It was always his intention to restore the marque to F1 on his own terms, but that dream would prove elusive – despite several close calls.