Global disharmony as IMSA and WEC endurance series are split

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American brands resist the WEC’s overtures as budgets threaten endurance racing rules alignment

IMSA LMP2 rules have resulted in full grids

The DPi rules, based around spec LMP2 chassis, are a hit with manufacturers in America. The WEC’s new rules aren’t proving so popular Photo: LAT

The hopes of having the same machinery competing for outright victory in the 24-hour classics at Le Mans and Daytona have faded after American brands hit out at the proposed budgets for the FIA World Endurance Championship’s new 2020/21 hypercar regulations, calling them too expensive.

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the organiser of Le Mans and the promoter of the World Endurance Championship, wanted the new hypercar concept class due to come into force for the 2020/21 season to be adopted by the IMSA SportsCar Championship in North America as a replacement for its Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class. However, plans have hit the skids over cost forecasts.

The plan appeared to be attainable given the WEC’s accord with IMSA, which has more or less survived the 2014 US sports car merger – when the American Le Mans Series and Rolex Sports Car Series combined into the current IMSA SportsCar Championship.

The shared regulations would likely have resulted in the twice-around-the-clock fixture at the self-styled ‘World Center of Racing’ becoming a world championship round once again. The last time that happened was when Daytona opened the 1981 World Sports Car Championship. But it could have created a significant pool of manufacturers ready to cross codes and compete in the major enduros of the two series. A common set of rules would have allowed WEC competitor Toyota to return to a race it won in 1993, while IMSA DPi participants Cadillac, Acura and Mazda would have had the chance to compete at Le Mans.

 

What went wrong?

IMSA always insisted that it was in favour of a common set of regulations for the top class of the two series, but it raised doubts that the hypercar concept rules could replace its DPi category on its announcement at Le Mans back in June. It suggested that there was still some way to go in terms of cost reduction to make the category attractive to its manufacturers. A further downscaling of the budgets involved announced by the ACO and the WEC in October appears not to have gone far enough.

The initial budget target for a two-car WEC assault when the new rules come into force for the second season running to the new winter series format in 2020/21 was €25-30 million. IMSA suggested that such a figure was significantly north of what Cadillac et al are spending on their IMSA DPi programmes, which are based around off-the-shelf LMP2 machinery. That was a major reason why the group working on the new hypercar rules strove to reduce the figure further to €20m.

IMSA boss Scott Atherton has had to concede that his manufacturers still don’t have an appetite for the new category, or rather the costs it will entail.

“If they were saying, ‘yeah, we’re all in with the WEC commitment and we’re ready to commit to IMSA for our championship — same car, same technology’ — we’d sign up for it, but right now that’s not the case,” he says. “Unfortunately, as we speak today, we’re not getting positive feedback from our existing manufacturers and those that have expressed an interest for the future.”

Honda Performance Development, which drives the Acura programme with Penske Racing in North America, is certainly not offering positive feedback. Vice-president Steve Eriksen believes that the budgets for the hypercar rules remain too high for the manufacturers racing in the DPi category in North America.

“There has to be a doubt about the scope of the cost reduction and that the figures quoted will match up,” he says. “Even at the lower figure, the number is too high for the economic times we find ourselves in.

“It is not feasible for us to develop our own car. We’ve done that in the past [with a series of LMP2 and LMP1 cars] and we know what it costs. The DPi concept is entirely different. You are taking a chassis that has already been developed and doing a bit of aero work. Then you have to come up with an engine, which in our case has already been developed out of a production engine. So you are cutting costs left, right and centre.

Honda Performance Development's Acura cars

Honda Performance Development (HPD), which runs Acura’s race team, is a critic of new hypercar rules Photo: LAT

Eriksen believes that starting out with a common monocoque and crash structure would have been a more workable way forward. He also suggests that the front-axle hybrid system that will be mandatory on the new breed of hypercar prototypes is also unnecessarily expensive.

“Our halo cars are all hybrids – it fits with our brand technology,” he says. “But it would need to be something more modest.”

 

The implications

The failure to create a common platform can only make the hypercar rules less attractive to manufacturers looking to amortise costs.

Ford, one of the six OEMs around the table thrashing out details of the rules, has always made it clear that it is only interested in a global category. It stressed that it would develop a new car only if it had multiple applications, in the same way as the Ford GT that’s racing in both the WEC and IMSA.

Porsche, an observer rather than a full participant in the early rules discussions, has expressed a similar sentiment. The German manufacturer, it should be stressed, was never a candidate to be an early adopter and make a swift return to the prototype ranks so soon after drawing a line under its successful 919 programme at the end of 2017.

How many manufacturers can be ready for the September 2020 start of the hypercar category isn’t clear. The regulations are due to be published this month, which means time is short for any prospective entrants. McLaren, which is one of the half dozen involved in writing the rules, has already stated that it is unlikely to be ready for season one.

The failure to create a global platform isn’t a nail in the coffin of the hypercar concept, but it could ensure that a relaunch category conceived in a hurry will endure significant growing pains.

 

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