2021 sports cars season review

Boardroom discussions have been seismic, says Gary Watkins. Already, all eyes are on 2023

Night photo at Le Mans start finish straight in 2021

Toyota's early dominance in Hypercars will be seriously tested when the likes of Ferrari, Audi and BMW arrive

Another season, and another Toyota double at the Le Mans 24 Hours and in the World Endurance Championship. Yet a continuation of the Japanese steamroller in the face of limited opposition — brand new car or no — probably isn’t what sports car aficionados will remember from the 12 months just gone. The 2021 season was ground zero for a new era, one that back in January we were suggesting could turn out to be something special. Come the end of the year, we could make such bold predictions with certainty.

That’s surely what 2021 will be remembered for: a string of announcements confirming that we are in for a golden era when the new world order proper starts in 2023. That’s when the Le Mans Hypercars, such as Toyota’s new-for-2021 GR010 Hybrid, will be joined on the grid in the WEC by LMDh prototypes. At the same time, the LMHs will be able to race in North America against the LMDhs in the IMSA SportsCar Championship.

Foremost was the news from Ferrari that it will be making a return to the very pinnacle of sports car racing after an absence of half a century. It revealed that it is developing an LMH for ’23 and will bid to add to its tally of nine outright Le Mans victories.

Cadillac Hypercar

Cadillac announced it will have its own LMDh car for Le Mans and the IMSA sports car championship

The confirmation wasn’t entirely unexpected. The Italian manufacturer had been a participant in the rule-making discussions since 2018 when the FIA and WEC promoter and Le Mans organiser the Automobile Club de l’Ouest started looking beyond LMP1 and its high budgets.

But despite its participation in the talks there were always doubts that Ferrari was truly interested in being part of what is to come. That’s why confirmation was big, big news.

The run of announcements in 2021 didn’t start with Ferrari’s. In January, Acura followed up on Audi and Porsche’s confirmation of LMDh projects at the end of 2020 with news of one of its own.

Next was BMW, which told us in June that it will joining the party in ’23. For the moment, it is insisting its programme is focused on IMSA, though there was talk in its launch statement of “challenging for overall victory at the most iconic endurance races in the world”. That hints at wider aspirations.

Ferrari 312PB at the Targa Florio 1972

2023 will be Ferrari’s first campaign for Le Mans victory outright since 1973 with the Ferrari 312 PB; this 312 PB is at the Targa Florio, 1972

Then came Cadillac, like Acura, a lead player in IMSA’s Daytona Prototype international class. It didn’t just announce that it will be back in IMSA with an LMDh, it committed to racing in the WEC as well. Alpine, flying the French flag in Formula 1, quickly followed, though it won’t be arriving in the WEC until ’24.

There’s no doubt that 2021 was an important year for sports car racing. Not for what happened on the track, but behind closed doors in the boardrooms of the big marques.

To come in ’22
Toyota beware, as Peugeot joins the Hypercar grid