FIA World Endurance Championship teams are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach towards the new top-level prototype regulations that are set to be defined soon.
A technical working group meeting is being held tomorrow amid encroaching deadlines for the formula that is set to replace the current LMP1 category at the start of the 2020-21 season.
Toyota recently expressed its frustration at a lack of official action since the Japanese manufacturer was made to stall on committing to a program with a hypercar-styled prototype, after production-based hypercars were added to the mix two months ago.
Senior figures from several teams, including current LMP1 entrant Rebellion Racing and GTE-Pro constructor Aston Martin, have suggested that their next moves will be based on the outcome of impending talks.
No constructors beyond Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus and ByKolles have made a firm commitment to the new top class.
Rebellion team principal Bart Hayden told Sportscar365 that the Anglo-Swiss squad is waiting to “take its cues” from the result of this week’s discussions.
Rebellion registered an early interest in the Hypercar class when it was revealed at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, while its racing parter ORECA has conducted preliminary studies into the possibility of a program.
“As time goes on with things coming and going and changing, we’re getting ever closer to the next deadline,” said Hayden.
“It’s going to have to crystallize fairly soon. We’ll take our cues from that.
“I can understand why things can change and why people’s views are altering a little bit because it’s not an easy thing to see which direction it should really go in, what is the one thing that makes it stand out for endurance [racing].
“If you’re going to have a mix of privateers and manufacturers in the top category, it’s got to be at a level which a privateer can compete at.
“It’s a real difficult equation to balance, and I don’t have the magic solution or the answer for that. We’re more watching and seeing how it develops than positively driving it forward.”
Aston Open to “Any of the Proposed Classes”
Aston Martin Racing president David King said the British manufacturer is ready to enter any of the regulations that have been floated during the last year.
Aston and McLaren were central to the push for the rules change that saw production-based cars added to the rulebook alongside production-styled prototypes in March.
“There’s a lot of speculation, fact, gossip and fiction, and there’s a lot of good people trying really hard to come up with an optimum strategy for the top level of sports car racing,” King told Sportscar365.
“We’ve been a part of those discussions; we’ve made that clear. We’ve got cars that can compete in any of the proposed, rumoured, discussed classes.
“That’s the long-term pedigree that is coming through, the fact we committed to come back into GT racing in 2005 and we’ve stuck with it through thick and thin.
“I think the industry knows it’s a concern that the regs have to be finalized, so people know what they’re designing cars for and committing budgets to.
“But there’s nothing that says you have to be there in the first year. So if the timescales don’t work and nobody can be there for the first year, then they can be there for the second year.”
King acknowledged the existence of the proposed GTE Plus breakaway concept that has been pushed by a group of manufacturers in recent weeks, but said that Aston Martin plans to “carry on racing in GTE long-term”.
BMW Team MTEK team principal Ernest Knoors, however, believes a GTE Plus formula based around souped-up GTE machinery would guarantee a multi-manufacturer presence in the top class.
BMW’s status in the FIA World Endurance Championship beyond the 2018-19 season is currently up in the air, while its motorsport director Jens Marquardt previously ruled out a Hypercar program under the initial version of the rulebook.
But Knoors, whose MTEK team holds an exclusive contract to run the BMW M8 GTE in the WEC, said the idea of GTE Plus is “logical” because it would retain many elements of an existing formula.
“Willingly, you can do a lot of things. There is enough, let’s say, technical possibilities to do it,” he told Sportscar365.
“The thought is also logical, if you look at manufacturer involvement, you [already] have a category where you have quite a wide range of manufacturers involved.
“It makes sense, but this is down to the ACO and FIA. They have to in the end make their choices so they can attract the most manufacturers.
“The fact that they’ve attracted six manufacturers in this category means that it is interesting for the manufacturers. You see there is a logical step.”
Knoors added that, theoretically, existing GTE manufacturers would be able to upgrade their cars to fit a GTE Plus technical rulebook, although this remains a fringe idea heading into Thursday’s meeting.
“It’s not something that you do overnight,” he said. “If you could do it cost-effectively in a limited time period, I think you could have a fair go at it.”
Hayden, whose team is second to Toyota in the 2018-19 LMP1 championship, believes the new top-level formula will be “tricky” to position in the current motorsport landscape, regardless of the definition that the ACO, FIA and manufacturers settle on.
“Which way would I like to see it go? I think whichever direction it goes it’s going to be competing against many factors,” he said.
“It’s going to be competing against a platform in the USA which is obviously successful. It’s going to be competing with manufacturers that are currently invested in the GTE class, and it’s also competing against the likes of Formula E where you’ve got a big manufacturer presence.
“Positioning the unique selling point for the WEC or for the top category at Le Mans is a tricky one.”