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DAGYS: What’s Next for the WEC?

John Dagys explores the state of LMP1 following Porsche’s exit…

Photo: Porsche

Friday’s announcement that Porsche will be pulling the plug on its factory LMP1 program at the end of the season has sent shockwaves through the industry, not only as the latest domino to fall in the rapidly-changing motorsports landscape, but also casting questions over the future of the FIA World Endurance Championship’s top class.

Once a flourishing category with involvement from four manufacturers, the WEC is set to be left with only Toyota next year, but only if the Japanese manufacturer maintains its full-season commitment, which is currently through 2019.

With no other LMP1 manufacturers in the immediate pipeline, and a direction from the FIA and ACO not likely to be announced for another five weeks at the next round in Mexico, it leaves more questions than answers for the short-term, in what’s undoubtedly become the most turbulent time yet for the globe-trotting championship. 

What got us to this point of potentially seeing the LMP1 Hybrid concept become extinct overnight?

Rewind the clock to 2015 and a total of 14 LMP1 cars were on the grid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, all but three of them coming from the then-factory outfits run by Porsche, Audi, Toyota and Nissan.

While Nissan’s ill-fated GT-R LM NISMO program lasted all of one race, the WEC enjoyed a titanic three-way manufacturer fight for much of the season, in what will be looked back as the heyday of hybrid prototype racing.

Three months after Porsche’s first victory at Le Mans with its 919 Hybrid, driven by Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg, VW’s dieselgate scandal hit, which ultimately set off a trickle-down effect that resulted in reduced two-car efforts for both Porsche and Audi at Le Mans the following year and Audi’s shock exit altogether at the end of 2016.

A total of six LMP1 cars, including the sole Privateer entry from ByKolles, were on the grid at Le Mans this year, with Porsche barely able to eek out the overall win, over an LMP2 car, after every top-level prototype faced problems in the race.

Amid week-long speculation of Porsche’s potential end-of-season withdrawal, one year early from its contract, it made for a nightmare Le Mans event for series boss Gerard Neveu and ACO President Pierre Fillon, who were left scrambling to assemble a “Plan B” should they face a second loss from the VW Group.

Six weeks later, the WEC’s worst nightmare came true, leaving the once-prospering World Championship with a large hole to fill, and at the top level.

With Peugeot, the ACO’s hopeful savior, unlikely to enter under the proposed 2020 regulations, which calls for a continuation of the hybrid regulations but with new plug-in technology, it leaves the championship with no other manufacturer in the pipeline that could replace Porsche and Audi, at least under the current ruleset.

Neveu, Fillon, as well as FIA Endurance Committee President Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, now face the difficult task of figuring out what’s next for the championship, not only to ensure its short-term survival, but to best position it for the future.

It will undoubtedly result in a quantum shift in its current philosophy, with a move away from the costly hybrid technology, which ultimately drove out two-thirds of the LMP1 grid, as well as the majority of privateer entrants, which was solidly represented prior to the introduction of hybrid regulations in 2014.

A short-term solution could be to allow IMSA’s flourishing DPi formula into the top class, alongside an expected increased entry of LMP1 non-hybrid cars next year, although it’s unlikely that any of the existing DPi manufacturers would commit to a full-season WEC program, at least in 2018.

With the help of a calendar adjustment from IMSA, the likes of Penske-Honda, Joest-Mazda, Wayne Taylor Racing’s Cadillac and the the customer Nissan effort from Tequila Patron ESM could all be swayed to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and would keep mainstream manufacturers in the spotlight at the French endurance classic.

However, with all four efforts being run on U.S. manufacturer dollars, it would not solve the WEC’s issue for the remainder of its season.

It could instead be forced to survive on its crop of European-based LMP1 Privateers, with new cars from Dallara/BR Engineering and Ginetta planned for next year, along with the potential of Perrinn’s new project, which has reportedly sold two cars.

Despite likely being a slim field at the sharp end of the grid, with little to no OEM involvement, it would serve as a stop-gap measure prior to a potential increased manufacturer presence the following year, whether through a DPi-like formula or something entirely different altogether.

Upstaged LMP2 cars, potentially with all-pro driver lineups, could also fill the gap in the short-term, although may not be as desirable due to its largely spec nature, particularly after ORECA’s dominant run at Le Mans and all cars running the same Gibson-tuned V8 powerplant.

The WEC’s growing level of GTE manufacturer involvement, however, could save the day on multiple fronts.

With four manufacturers already registered, and a fifth in BMW arriving next year, GTE could take center stage, in fulfilling the FIA’s manufacturer requirement to retain the championship’s world status.

While a knee-jerk decision to eliminate all prototypes and quickly evolve the championship into a GT-only series would not likely be the ideal solution, putting a larger focus on the manufacturers that have remained, and prospered in the WEC, is vital for the future.

The likely introduction of GTE qualifying races, which has been in the works since the start of this year, would be a good first step, but the perception of prototypes, albeit privateer-run entries, winning overall, would still dilute the overall message.

No doubt, it will be tough times ahead for the WEC, as it attempts to find its new identity, and rather quickly, in order to ensure its survival in the ever-changing sport. 

Whether Porsche’s withdrawal will act as the final domino remains to be seen, but it has no doubt sent an impactful message to the sport, in that a change is needed at the top level, and quickly.

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. Richard Reeves

    July 28, 2017 at 7:25 am

    This commentary correctly describes the rock. But here’s the hard place: the cost-cutting shift away from hybrid/electric rapidly condemns this series (or any others such as IMSA) to irrelevancy. While WEC et al. commit to ICE-powered cars, roadcar manufactuers are rushing in the direction of hybrid and fully electric vehicles. Instead of such racing series leading the way to roadcar development, they’re falling further and further behind the curve. They’re becoming rolling dinosaurs. It would not surprise me if the EU banned such forms of racing within the next 10 years.

    I believe the way out is for these series to promote and reward the production of cost-capped economical (perhaps single axle) hybrid power. Surely this is not outside the technological grasp of manufacturers (and private engine builders) as they already do this for their road cars. A trivial example, and I’m sure I’ll get skewered for this but…I drive a six and a half year-old two-seater hybrid Honda. It has 70,000+ miles on it and I’ve yet to have a single mechanical issue with it. The car cost under $25,000 when new. True, it is not a race car and, true, it is low on power (though quick). But I think it serves to make a point.

    I believe the short to medium-term future for sports car racing is affordable, reliable hybrid power. Anything else smacks of wishful thinking and an unwillingness to embrace the present, let alone the future. Adapt or die, as they say.

    • NaBUru38

      July 28, 2017 at 8:35 am

      How about creating a GT1 class featuring peoduction-based hybrids, like the i8, LaFerrari, 918, P1 and NSX?

    • N8

      July 28, 2017 at 8:44 am

      Whether the technology is relevant or not depends who’s participating. ByKolles and Rebellion aren’t looking for an R&D platform. They just want to race.

      I do agree that simple KERS systems should be mainstream enough now to begin to become a more standard part of motor racing, particularly endurance. I saw my first hybrid prototype in ALMS 8 years ago at Lime Rock. It was technology not so different from your CR-Z. I thought by now, there would at very least be hybrid sub-championships like Prius Cup or Telsa Challenge or something. Instead, it’s either space-age technology, or none at all. It’s a missed opportunity to promote actual road technology IMO. Hybrids are everywhere you look, but aside form 20 F1 cars and 4 LMP1’s, no one is racing them. Crazy.

    • Mike

      July 28, 2017 at 11:44 am

      Two problems with that line of thinking:

      1) > It would not surprise me if the EU banned such forms of racing within the next 10 years.

      Never going to happen. There are way too many facilities and jobs that depend on it.

      2) > A trivial example, and I’m sure I’ll get skewered for this but…I drive a six and a half year-old two-seater hybrid Honda. It has 70,000+ miles on it and I’ve yet to have a single mechanical issue with it. The car cost under $25,000 when new. True, it is not a race car and, true, it is low on power (though quick). But I think it serves to make a point.

      One of the biggest problems in motor racing is continuing to find people capable of developing from the ground up. A big part of that is having average joe-workable cars, which your econobox is falling further and further away from. The sport will die anyway moving to such regulations because there will be no one interested in cars, capable of wrenching on them, or any sensory experience to excite.

      • Richard Reeves

        July 28, 2017 at 8:01 pm

        Mike, thanks for your semi-thoughtful reply. Naturally, I take exception.
        Re 1a – Many of those factories are in the UK. Perhaps you’ve heard of Brexit? And its disdainful fallout in Europe?
        Re 1b – France and even the UK have announced tentative plans to ban the manufacture of ICE-powered cars within a generation. Continuing to race such beasts into the future is the equivalent of denying biological evolution in favor of perpetuating a Biblical, creationist interpretation of reality.
        Re 2 – You could not have missed my obvious point by a wider margin. I was not saying that my little Honda powerplant should be plopped into an LMP1 chassis; I was saying that powertrain developers should have enough on the ball to be able to build relatively simple hybrid power plants of equivalent or higher HP than current Gibsons, et al. If this is not correct, or feasible, then yes, maybe we should all throw our collective hands up and find a different sport. Of course it’s feasible! It needs a sponsor and a governing body (the FIA, the ACO, IMSA) with the will and the foresight to insist on the obvious. As for the “wrenches”? Huh? Race mechanics will continue to go where the jobs are. Why would a hybrid powerplant be less interesting to a mechanic than a traditional V6 featuring 1990 technology? Or whatever dinosaur non-electric engine you wish to impose on sports car racing into the indefinite future?
        The Future? It is everything you and your fellow troglodytes despise. Bye-bye as I watch you and the others disappear through the limited rear lid of my very quick “econobox.”
        If you’re going to come at me with arguments, make them halfway cogent, OK? Please? Otherwise you’ll embarrass yourself even more. BTW I post my entire real name. What is yours, Mike? Is that real or something you hide behind on the internet?
        Cheers!

      • Thomas

        July 29, 2017 at 12:40 am

        Well said

    • CoolBratwurst

      August 2, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      Adapting may not be what you expect. There is technological development that isn’t along the path of what those-in-the-know would have you believe is our inexorable march to electrified mobility. Watch the solar-to-liquid fuels space. From an infrastructure and environmental view, I’d go this route. Airpumps > than batteries….

  2. Anonymous

    July 28, 2017 at 7:33 am

    I think the last domino will be Toyota!

    But could we solve part of the cost problem by standardising the Hybrid system? Get an external party to build it instead of the manufacturers?

    • Rohan

      July 30, 2017 at 10:00 am

      This might work for privateers, but for factory team who are looking to showcase their own technologies, this might not.
      My take on letting DPi’s join WEC. DPi’s might be a short term solution, but they bring little to no technology advancements to WEC and the ACO has made it clear they want hybrids; “‘What do you feel about hybrid technology?’ It’s impossible to imagine that we’ll cancel hybrid technology in LMP1”.

  3. Blaneysellstrashbags@Ring24

    July 28, 2017 at 7:44 am

    I think Penske had a pretty good idea this was gonna happen. He has said time and time again that he was interested in Le Mans but only if they could compete for the overall win. Now with LMP1 on the brink a shot at an overall win looks much more realistic. Come on ACO lets get the DPi’s in. Heck call them LMPi’s if ya want and even pretend that it was the ACO’s plan all along…take all the credit if that helps ya save face but do what is needed to make it happen

    • Larry

      July 28, 2017 at 8:58 am

      Blaneyblablabla, you DO realize that the DPi is a whole lot slower than the current PRIVATEER NON-HYBRID P1 cars, don’t you?

      They would need a lot more power to compete for the overall against those cars so enough of the “Caddies to LeMans” crap.

      • Blaneysellstrashbags@Ring24

        July 28, 2017 at 9:45 am

        I realize the WEC and ACO are in a bind and they are gonna be searching for some answers and DPi’s are one thing that will be looked at. And you mention the LMP1 privateers as in plural. There is only one privateer team and no matter how fast they are they have not exactly been the most reliable car on the WEC grid this year

      • Rus'L

        July 28, 2017 at 12:27 pm

        How much of that “lack” of DPi performance is due to IMSA BOPing the DPi down to the spec LMP2 level? Then, how much difference would a non BOP DPi and a non-hybrid LMP1 car be that could not be dealt with BOPing the LMP1?

        • BlaneySellsTrashBags@TheRing

          July 28, 2017 at 2:52 pm

          Rus’L …you get it…DPi and LMP1 Lites could easily be BoP’ed to create a level playing field. Some folks just simply dont want Dpi’s in the Le Mans field but thats being rather short sighted IMO.

        • Guest

          July 29, 2017 at 2:24 pm

          Caddy, perhaps, the rest of the cars are pretty much at their power limits. The new LMP1 non-hybrids will be much faster.

      • Andres

        July 28, 2017 at 6:15 pm

        Larry, Cadillac in unrestricted form before going to race daytona 24 hours: almost 650HP
        Cadillac after running in Mosport: barely 450HP
        Nissan engine you can find in th BYKolles LMP1-L: barely 500HP
        There you have, unrestricted DPI is more powerful than the privateer LMP1, so then you only need to give them better aero and less weight, then you can race it there, get over it and if you wanna post something, just think about technical stuff clearly

        • kv

          July 29, 2017 at 1:04 pm

          GOING back to Cunningham,Scarab,ALLARD etc,americas hotrod powered v8 defines sportscars in THE AMERICAN psyche,and that WILL NEVER CHANGE!

        • TF110

          July 29, 2017 at 4:59 pm

          Barely 500hp for the Nismo in the CLM? lol, you’re off by at least 100-150hp. It can easily make 700hp too, that’s coming straight from Nissan.

      • Andy Flinn

        July 29, 2017 at 5:35 am

        Larry, there are NO more current PRIVATEER NON-HYBRID P1 cars.

        The ByKolles, the last such car, ran its last race at the Nurburgring.

        • TF110

          July 29, 2017 at 4:58 pm

          Until next year where it will return with a new(ish) car. Don’t leave that out.

          • Andy Flinn

            July 30, 2017 at 2:49 pm

            TF110, the team has already stated that the 2018 ByKolles will not be a new car. Instead, the car will be updated for next year.

      • Rick

        July 30, 2017 at 2:10 pm

        The quickest LMP2 at Lemans was less than one second slower than the LMP1 non-hybrid. The DPi can easily put out a lot more horsepower, and if the LMP2 was not restricted to only the Gibson, it could also be easily powered up. The manufacturers will decide the configuration of the future LMP1 class, and they have clearly told us they are not interested in $100 million plus budgets. They do, however, seem to have an interest in the much more frugal DPi concept.

  4. Doug

    July 28, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Jim, Ed and Scott over at IMSA are shaking their collective heads! I’m sure they told the ACO what they thought would happen.

    Now the have to resist saying “I told you so!” and offer the ACO a solution that allows them to save face!

    • John Ramella

      July 28, 2017 at 12:54 pm

      Who needs who? IMSA is not dependent upon the WEC for anything.

      WEC tried to screw IMSA over DPi and now look what has happened. IMSA should treat the WEC how they deserve to be treated: irrelevant.

      • Blah blah blah

        July 30, 2017 at 10:13 am

        Amen

  5. thomas

    July 28, 2017 at 8:38 am

    You can’t have a scenario where the GT cars take centre stage. Not unless we turn GTE into something akin to the end of GTP which was never the intention. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with privateers winning Le Mans and frankly an ICE formula is more likely to entice supercar brands into the top category than anything hybrid will.

  6. Taylor

    July 28, 2017 at 8:41 am

    John correctly distinguishes between what DPi would do for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and what it would do for the WEC in the short term. DPi is the best stop gap for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but that comes at the expense of the rest of the WEC calendar (save for Austin?). I think that the flagship race needs manufacturer involvement in the top class and DPi is the best way to do that in the short term.

    Eliminating the prototypes would not be wise for the WEC but would increase entries in IMSA.

  7. TM

    July 28, 2017 at 8:47 am

    For the 2nd year in a row, the headline story in sports car racing is about a manufacturer leaving the sport and not the compelling action and drama on the track at the Le Mans 24.

  8. Marco

    July 28, 2017 at 9:20 am

    ‘Crisis still in full effect, shareholders determine the strategy’.
    I don’t see anything wrong with WEC ‘surviving’ for a few years with a non-hybrid LMP1 field. We’ve got the potential of Dallara/BR, Ginetta, Perrinn coming in. And Rebellion have alway’s stated a likely return if the competition was there. Al this ‘could’ result in a 10-13 LMP1 field for the following year(s). Long time since the Class was that ‘healthy’. The 2020 Rules package was never gonna be cost-reductive in the eyes of most logical thinking people, but more importantly in the eyes of the shareholders, to stop pulling the plug. Regarding the coming Toyota decision, wait and see i guess. Just wonder, after all the comments on ByKolles on their sole duration in WEC, how people would react in this case if Toyota was to continue(solely). Endurance alway’s had it’s up and down years through time. It’s still around!

    • N8

      July 28, 2017 at 9:32 am

      If Toyota wants to stay, does accommodating them hold you back from turning LMP1 into something with a more promising future?

      • NASCAR/DPs Suck

        July 28, 2017 at 1:44 pm

        Great question, because Toyota shouldn’t be punished for staying in the championship but you have to perhaps make changes based on the changing landscape. I think they’ll win the LM24 next year and then pull out.

  9. dkm455

    July 28, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    When you boil it all down there’s only one prototype sportscar racing series that’s actually attracting manufacturers – IMSA. The question is whether or not the ACO and FIA, proud organizations that they are, will admit their vision of prototype racing is not shared by the big OEMs at the moment and embrace the form that is actually growing.

    The DPi’s are currently artificially limited from a performance standpoint to keep the WEC LMP2 cars competitive. Loosen the restrictions and the DPi cars will be plenty fast, and I have no doubt the likes of GM, Nissan, Honda and Mazda will be more than competitive with the other LMP1 privateers if they show up.

    • Steven

      July 28, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      The Rebellion put the Oreca 07 on the pole at Sebring and that was before the BoP was kicking in. They were still dealing with the gremlins of the car early but all the top teams figured it out. Don’t be too surprised if Rebellion dominates Petit as they will be using an all pro lineup unlike PR1 and JDC.

      • kv

        July 29, 2017 at 12:56 pm

        STEVEN,YOU MAY HAVE MADE A PROPHETIC STATEMENT !REAL SPORTSCAR FANS WILL PREVAIL IN THIS DEBATE !

      • dkm455

        July 30, 2017 at 11:15 am

        Rebellion may or may not do well at Petit – we’ll see. But what we do know is the Caddy’s have been hit hard by BOP – by some reports losing as much as 150 hp. The Nissan/ESM team is also showing good speed as they develop the car.

        My point is the DPi cars can generate plenty of speed if left to their own devices, and they bring the all-important manufacturer connection to prototype racing.

        And most importantly – they exist now. How many LMP1 privateers are confirmed for next year?

  10. Nick1

    July 28, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Why not instead of DPI, select manufacturers with LMP1 construction capabilities, then allow manufacturers to modify and badge those cars

  11. Steven

    July 28, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Bring back the ILMC. Combine a schedule containing IMSA, ELMS, and AsiaLMS rounds. Le Mans should be a non-points race as it should be a stand-alone event.

    ILMC was a huge success when they raced at Petit in 2011 and brought over a lot of international teams that would have never come over. Of course, the ACO ran that instead of the deadbeats of the FIA.

  12. John

    July 28, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    Carlos Tavares and Akio Toyoda are the ones sitting in the catbird seat.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t see the ACO swallowing its pride and reversing course on DPi, and even then, not without placing some speed bump in the way for such entrants to overcome.

    Sports car racing is about Le Mans, Sebring, and the other tent-pole events. Personally, I won’t shed a tear for the WEC, even more so because it’s an FIA series. Now all that’s left is for the ACO/FIA relationship to sour again. But, the LM24 will carry on, which is all I need.

    It’s the ebb and flow of sports car racing.

    Rinse, recycle, repeat.

  13. JG

    July 29, 2017 at 3:06 am

    With the move to more hybrid and eventually all electric, plus some really ugly cars resulting from aero rules changes, I would prefer to see the classic group C series get full factory backing and have all those cars racing in the WEC. So what if ICE engines get banned for the general population, the comparatively tiny number of racing cars are not going to contribute meaningfully in any shape or form to global warming, so they can be given an exception. Since we are in a world where racing technology has far surpassed human limits if left unrestricted and lap times are strictly limited, the battle of regulations versus technology is becoming pointless. For example, we have the technology to make a 1990 Sauber C11 run a sub-3:10 at Le Mans while still using the original chassis and bodywork. Easily. Why not have cars that look and sound great if they can be just as fast if not faster than LMP-1H?

    • Helmut

      July 29, 2017 at 8:18 am

      Because manufacturers want to promote current fake technology.

      But I agree with you, it would be very interesting to see “improved” versions of the Group C cars.

      • kv

        July 29, 2017 at 12:52 pm

        THE DPi is a vast improvement over the Group C CARS OF THE90s !

  14. ohgoodgrief

    July 31, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    Some of you guys can keep dreaming that the precious Caddies could run with the P1-L cars all you want, but you are dreaming.

    Yeah, there might be one car next year, but there may be more and if Toyota leaves as well, there will be more.

    So keep smoking whatever it is you are smoking. Must be good stuff.

  15. ohgoodgrief

    July 31, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    As for those that think the Caddy is so restricted while the Nissan is not need to go back and check at Sebring during practice before any BOP was applied to the Caddies.

    The Nissan dusted everyone, including the Caddies, but they were running more boost than allowed. When they cut back their boost to the levels IMSA mandates, they were slower, but noooooooooo, it’s only the Caddies that are being slowed down. Get a clue and a grip.

    And reeves, what a pompous blowhard you are.

  16. Stan Hall

    August 2, 2017 at 8:33 am

    A properly engineered and run non-hybrid LMP1 car (unlike the Kolles) could have been as fast as the hybrid cars at Le Mans this year. The non hybrid P1 cars have 100+ more hp than P2, and their minimum weight is 100kg less. The pole sitting ORECA P2 car did a 3’25 in qualifying. Just add 100hp and take away 100kg and what lap time will you get? In the teens for sure, and probably close to the pole sitting Porsche, if the FIA/AC ever allowed that to happen of course. A DPi car could not get close to this without some major re-engineering.

    • dkm455

      August 2, 2017 at 10:12 am

      100 more hp shouldn’t be a problem for the Cadillac 6.2 and the Nissan. Might be a stretch for the Mazda, and not sure about the Honda. The weight is a different issue, of course. Losing 100kg will be tough, although trimming some weight should be possible. Most of the cars should be underweight a bit and rely on ballast to make the minimum, but 100kg is a lot.

      Still, there are manufacturer-backed protos in existence that could run at LeMans next year if the ACO would allow it. Most of them with a season of development on them. New LMP1 privateers, if they show, will undoubtedly have issues in first year so while a DPi may not be the outright fastest in the race they would stand a good chance of finishing well.

      IF the ACO allows it.

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