Why Spa is so crucial to Le Mans for Hypercar teams

Sports Car News

WEC's visit to the iconic Spa-Francorchamps is the last stepping stone on the road to Le Mans. Gary Watkins explains why success here could be crucial to victory at 'The Great Race'

Ferrari Hypercar Spa WEC

Team will utilise Spa data at Le Mans

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Toyota ran away the opening two rounds of the 2023 World Endurance Championship. But that domination came on two circuits — Sebring and the Portimao— have nothing to do with the one on which a certain big race in June takes place. The venue for this weekend’s third round of the series will offer a much clearer picture of the lie of the land for the Le Mans 24 Hours.

The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps isn’t Le Mans, but its performance profile is much closer to the majestic eight-plus mile mix of public road and permanent road course in France than the venues for the opening two WEC rounds. The flat-out blast through Eau Rouge — Motor Sport has been assured by drivers that it is flat for the latest breed of prototype — and up to the braking zone for Les Combes and then the run from Stavelot back to the start/finish straight accurately replicate Le Mans.

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It’s why back in the previous era of LMP1 cars manufacturers would sometimes choose to run in the same aero configuration planned for Le Mans. In 2017 for, example, when Toyota ran three cars at the 24 Hours and at Spa beforehand by way of preparation it chose a split-strategy in the warm-up race. Two LMP1s ran high downforce and one, which turned out to be the quicker on average, low downforce.

There are no such luxuries today, however. The rules for the Le Mans Hypercars and the LMDhs that come together in the Hypercar class allow for only one homologated aero configuration; the move was an integral component in the drive to get cost out of the top category in the WEC. As part of that each design is allowed only adjustable device to balance the car and potentially shed downforce.

That means a car that’s quick through the first and last sectors at Spa should be fast when the WEC field gets to Le Mans in just five weeks’ time for the pre-race test day. Yet there is another reason now why Belgium’s WEC fixture will offer an insight into what might happen at the double-points round in France.

Toyota is on track for a sixth successive Le Mans 24 Hours

After a blistering start to the 2023 WEC season, Toyota is on track for a sixth successive Le Mans 24 Hours victory

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The five Hypercar manufacturers, Toyota, Ferrari, Peugeot, Porsche and Cadillac, and two garagistes, Glickenhaus and Vanwall, will be able to run on the full range of tyres that will be available to them at Le Mans. That follows a request for Michelin, the exclusive rubber supplier in Hypercar, to be able to provide all three specifications of slick tyre to the competitors. Series rules allow Michelin to nominate two of the specs for regular WEC races, but in light of an uncertain weather forecast it requested to be able to bring all three compounds so that it can supply the right tyre for the conditions.

That includes a tyre known as the low-temperature soft, which hasn’t been available so far this year. This compound can act as an intermediate for use in mixed conditions or on a drying track.

Spa is scheduled to produce the first wet running of the 2023 WEC season — the forecast for Friday predicted it would be raining for both final practice and qualifying. That means the teams should run against each other on the single Michelin wet available. It is part of the new range developed in reaction to the ban on pre-heating of rubber for this season.

There may have been a tweak in the tyre regs for this weekend, but the Balance of Performance (BoP) remains unchanged. Under the new BoP system introduced this year, this was the only chance for a revision ahead of Le Mans. Wholesale changes weren’t possible, but the FIA and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest reserved the right to alter the balance between the LMH and LMDh, the so-called ‘platform BoP’.

The new system is based on simulation to determine the potential of each of the seven designs running in Hypercar. The conclusion must be that the FIA and the ACO have decided that Toyota’s rivals running LMDh machinery have yet to reach anything approaching their full potential. They tend to agree with that.

2023 Sebring WEC start

Scuderia has battled Toyota early on, with both teams eying success at Le Mans


Porsche and Cadillac are slowing honing their respective challengers in the heat of competition, just like Ferrari and Peugeot with their LMHs.

But they all know that a lot of work lies ahead of them to close the chasm to Toyota and Spa should give an insight into how steep the climb will be between now and Le Mans.