Sportscar365 is recognizing its top performers and key events from the 2021 sports car racing season. Up next is the story of the year, as selected by website staff.
Story of the Year – LMH/LMDh Platforms Gaining Momentum
The push towards global top class convergence continued this year, and in a big way, with a number of key manufacturer announcements and the debut of the Le Mans Hypercar platform in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Following on from Audi and Porsche’s confirmation in late 2020, Acura announced during the Rolex 24 at Daytona that it would also commit to IMSA and the ACO’s LMDh platform for 2023.
It was followed up by Ferrari announcing plans to build a four-wheel-drive LMH car the following month, in arguably one of the biggest votes of confidence for the category.
An unconventional social media post by then BMW M CEO Markus Flasch confirmed BMW’s LMDh presence in April, while Cadillac and Alpine made commitments in the second half of the year, the latter manufacturer set to debut its LMDh in 2024 in the WEC.
The flurry of manufacturer announcements came amid the on-track debut of the LMH platform with examples from Toyota and Glickenhaus competing in the WEC this year. The Japanese manufacturer swept all six races, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans despite fuel-related issues that put its bid in serious doubt.
Additional LMH examples from both Peugeot and ByKolles are due to join the grid next year, ahead of the highly anticipated start of prototype convergence in 2023 that will see both LMH and LMDh machinery be eligible in the WEC and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
With the prospects of seeing up to ten manufacturers competing at Le Mans in its centenary year, there is plenty to look forward to in the coming months.
***Steps towards a GT3 future in both the WEC and WeatherTech Championship were taken with the announcements of a GT3-based category at Le Mans in August that will come into effect in 2024 along with the launch of GTD Pro by IMSA for the 2022 season. Both categories are set to replace existing GTE-based classes that have been a staple of factory competition in both series and in the case of the WEC and European Le Mans Series, customer racing as well. 2022 is set to be the final year of GTE-Pro competition, with both Porsche and Ferrari set to move their factory programs to the Hypercar class.
***An overhaul in the driver ratings system was announced this year by SRO Motorsports Group, which will likely lead to significant changes in time for the 2023 racing seasons globally. Although yet to be adopted by the FIA, SRO is set to introduce its proposed measures into some of its championships next year, including Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, which will see the formation of a Gold Cup class for the first time.
***While the majority of manufacturer announcements had been tied to the future converged top class, Mazda terminated its DPi program and ruled out any involvement in LMDh for the time being. Announced in February just weeks after the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the news sent shockwaves through the IMSA paddock and led to a farewell season for the Japanese manufacturer in top class competition, capped off by a win in its final outing at Motul Petit Le Mans.
***While racing continued, the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic were still felt in 2021, with the 24 Hours of Le Mans run outside of its traditional June date for the second consecutive year and multiple calendars revised, including in the WEC and WeatherTech Championship. Other series were not as fortunate. The entire GTWC Asia season was canceled again while the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli season finale at Kyalami was postponed to February 2022 after the detection of the omicron COVID-19 variant less than a week before teams were due to be on the ground in South Africa.