Rebellion Racing team manager Bart Hayden says he’s “skeptical” over the strength of the LMP1 Privateer grid next year, admitting another season of LMP2 would be the “pragmatic” move for the Anglo-Swiss squad.
Questions have not only surrounded the future of manufacturer involvement from Porsche and potentially Toyota, but also the shape of the privateer subclass, which has yet to see significant commitments beyond SMP Racing’s announced Dallara-BR Engineering effort.
While progress continues on Ginetta’s LMP1 non-hybrid car, the British constructor has yet to receive a firm order, while details on Perrinn’s confirmed customer has not been revealed.
It’s forced Hayden to take a wait-and-see approach before committing to a return to the top prototype class.
“Another year of P2 would be a very pragmatic move,” he told Sportscar365. “I think the shape of P1 needs to form a little bit for next year. It’s very unclear.
“If you’re going to be doing P1, you sort of need to be making those decisions now.
“It’s very easy to say you’re going to go and do it. Making it happen takes a lot more. I’m somewhat skeptical of what that grid will look like.
“If it does strengthen up and if it does materialize, I’m sure Rebellion would want to be part of that. But I don’t think we’ll see that strength until 2019.”
Fellow LMP2 entrant Jota Sport is in a similar situation, with the Sam Hignett-led squad, which operates the Jackie Chan DC Racing team, also evaluating options but not yet ready to pull the trigger.
A LMP1 program for DC/Jota, however, could depend on the commitment of a Chinese manufacturer, which the team has been actively pursing in recent months.
“We’re looking at that together and what can and cannot be done,” Hignett told Sportscar365. “But we’re at this transition period with LMP1 and we need to better understand the LMP1 [non-hybrid] regulations and how they’re going to control the customer cars.
“For me reading the regs, they’ll be done on fuel flow. I want to see other people do it first and understand how BoP is going to work.
“And then what happens with the factories? We need them so we hope they’ll stay.
“Then you need to come up with a damn good LMP1 car to beat the ORECA P2 car. It’s got to be a serious bit of kit.
“That’s the other problem; you convince someone to spend a fortune developing an LMP1 car and what if it’s just [barely] quicker than [LMP2]?
“It needs to be a chunk quicker than these to justify [the investment].”
While the Ginetta is the furthest along in its development, Hayden said an upgraded LMP2 car could even be an option.
“[Maybe] you could even do something in a pseudo-DPi fashion, where you put a slightly different engine in the Oreca [LMP2] chassis, for example,” he said.
“Maybe you wouldn’t need to change that much to get another 50 horsepower or something that could put you just a little ahead of the P2 class.”
Despite questions over the number of potential LMP1 non-hybrid entrants next year, ACO Sporting Director Vincent Beaumesnil said he feels “very optimistic” in the sub-class’ future.
“I think what happened at Le Mans gives some ideas to some people,” Beaumesnil told Sportscar365.
“We have decided the rules and they are ongoing. There are new projects that will be on the track next year. It’s a new starting point and I’m very optimistic.
“We know about the Dallara and Ginetta projects, but how many cars will be on the grid, we have different projections.”
One factor on next year’s LMP1 non-hybrid car count, however, could depend on the fate of the two remaining LMP1 manufacturers, with Porsche set to decide later this month whether it will end its factory hybrid program one year early.
Should Porsche’s program come to an end, it could prompt Toyota to exit as well, resulting in the collapse of the LMP1 hybrid class and encouraging privateer teams to step up in order to fight for overall wins.
Hayden admitted it could open up a “huge opportunity” and change their short-term outlook on the class.
“If Porsche and Toyota decides to leave, I guess we’ll probably know that soon, at the end of August maybe, which wouldn’t be overly late for pushing the button,” he said.
“You’ve got cars like the Ginetta which are currently well into development, so it’s not like they would be starting from square-one.
“I guess it would be possible to pick the phone up and speak to the guys at Ginetta and say, ‘Actually, we are interested.'”
However, Hayden said Rebellion wouldn’t want to make the move unless he’s assured others will also come.
“If Porsche and Toyota left and we came in and no one else did, it would be a hollow, hollow victory,” he said. “That’s why it almost needs to develop a bit.”