On January 24, the
(governing body/owner of Le Mans and the Promoter of the
(governing body of the Daytona 24 and the WeatherTech sports car series in North America) announced that the top class of each series would be racing against each other starting with the 2021-22
season and the 2022
season. Meaning the 2022 24 Hours of Le Mans would be open to the top class of both series.
This is a REALLY BIG DEAL in sports car racing and it will probably have some knock-on effects in other racing series. But as always, there are details to work out and likely consequences to be dealt with. In our usual fashion, we’ll discuss this in a question and answer format. If you have more questions, you can either ask them in the comments or look for a thread under Professional Motorsports on vtec.net.
What exactly was announced?
The ACO and IMSA announced that the top class of the WEC and the IMSA series would be “converged”. That is, that the classes could be run together at any race that either series sanctions. This starts from the first race of the WEC 2021-22 season (September of 2021) and the first race of the 2022 IMSA season (January 2022).
What Classes are we talking about here?
For the ACO/ WEC we are talking about the Hypercar class that is being developed now and is scheduled to debut in September of 2020. The Hypercar class will itself includes 2 divisions: racing versions of road-going “Hypercars”, the best example of which is the coming Aston Martin Valkyrie. At this point, Aston Martin is the only brand that has announced the use of a racing version of a road-going car.
The other option for the Hypercar class is a LMP1-based purpose built racing car. Toyota is doing this. Peugeot has announced its intention to participate, but we’ll talk about that later.
American boutique manufacturer Glickenhaus has announced that it will participate. And its car appears to be race-specific, like the Toyota. However, Glickenhaus has announced it will produce a small run of these Hypercars that are street legal. So I am not sure what category that falls into.
The IMSA class will be called LMDh (which just dances off the tongue, doesn’t it?). It will be a direct replacement for the existing DPi class with the addition of a required small 50-ish HP spec KERS hybrid unit (selected by IMSA ). The cars will be based on the next generation LMP2 chassis from one of 4 race chassis manufacturers (Oreca, Ligier, Dallara, and Multimatic) with brand-specific modifications to the bodywork. For reference, the existing Acura ARX-05 run by Acura Team Penske is an Oreca 07 LMP2 Chassis with an Acura engine and Acura-specific bodywork.
Hybrids are NOT required for Hypercar. They are required for LMDh. More on this below.
Which Manufacturers will be competing in the new classes?
Hypercar has gotten commitments from Toyota, Aston Martin, Peugeot and Glickenhaus. However, there are indications that Peugeot will compete with an LMDh car instead of a bespoke Hypercar.
LMDh is new, so no one has committed yet. But it’s pretty easy to draw up list of suspects:
• Honda/Acura has been happy with DPi and both
and Roger Penske have made no secret of their desire to run at Le Mans with a chance to win overall, although it’s not a slam dunk.
has also been pushing for a hybrid element for DPi 2.0.
• Mazda has been happy with IMSA , but it’s not really pleased with the hybrid requirement. I see Mazda going with an LMDh car.
• GM feels the same way Mazda does; however, it has options besides an LMDh.
• Nissan is OUT .
• Mercedes, Porsche, BMW , McLaren, Audi, Ford and a few more have publicly discussed competing in the top class of sports cars as long as there was the ability to participate in IMSA races and WEC races with the same cars. For them, it is put-up-or-shut-up time. They got their wish, now we’ll see who puts up the money.
Will the costs to compete be the same between the classes?
Heavens, no. LMDh is likely to be MUCH less expensive than Hypercar, especially the Toyota and the Valkyrie. Probably something like half as much, at a minimum.
For example: running an existing DPi car costs about $6 million a season for a well-funded Cadillac team (Cadillac teams are not factory-supported to any significant extent). The factory teams spend more, but probably not a lot more. The cost of the cars are estimated to be well less than $1M each. The hybrids are not likely to be very much more expensive, maybe $75,000 to $100,000.
Word is that buying a Valkyrie and running it will cost two or three times what a DPi costs; let alone developing your own car from scratch.
This is why Peugeot is likely to shelve its announced plans for a Hypercar and switch to a LMDh instead. Similarly, all the manufacturers that have been waiting on the sidelines are more likely to compete with a LMDh than a Hypercar, especially if there is no competitive advantage to a Hypercar.
So, if there are 20 cars in the top class at Le Mans in 2022, odds are there will be no more than 6 Hypercars, with the other 14 being LMDh cars.
What’s to keep the top manufacturer’s from cherry-picking the top races?
This is where there is legitimate concern from race and series organizers. Nothing was said about this at Daytona, but I expect there to be a simple rule enacted:
If a manufacturer wants to compete at Le Mans (and they all do), then that manufacturer must run at least one car for a full season in either IMSA or the WEC . Similarly, if a manufacturer wants to compete in any of the big IMSA races (Daytona, Sebring, Petite Le Mans or Watkins Glen), they will have to maintain a full-season entry in either IMSA or the WEC . So to compete in any of the top races, a manufacturer will have to compete in either IMSA or WEC (I don’t think anyone will do both, unless they have customers buying their cars for the series the manufacturer does not join.
Will Hypercars be limited to the WEC and LMDh to IMSA races?
This was hinted at, but was not specifically stated: I expect the rules to allow either class (Hypercar or LMDh) to compete in either championship ( WEC or IMSA ). Just because your car is an LMDh, that doesn’t mean you are tied to IMSA . In fact, it’s likely Peugeot will build an LMDh and never run it in IMSA . By the same token, it’s possible that an IMSA competitor might choose to build a car to Hypercar specs and then compete in IMSA-only.
Why would anyone build a Hypercar to compete in IMSA?
I’m not saying it’s likely, but here are several scenarios:
1) Maybe a manufacturer doesn’t like the idea of mandatory spec.
hybrid system that is in LMDh and wants to run without one. Both GM and Mazda fall into this category.
2) Perhaps you don’t like the idea of the spec KERS hybrid system on the rear wheels, and want to use something like an MGU-H e-turbo hybrid system, or a KERS system on the front wheels (as Toyota is using on its hypercar), or a MGU-H with a front axle TMU (like the road-going NSX ).
3) Or maybe you don’t like the idea of using one of four racing chassis and want to roll your own chassis.
So for any of these reasons, companies like GM or Honda could choose to do a Hypercar for IMSA .
Is there enough time to do a new Hypercar for Daytona 2022, and wouldn’t it be expensive?
You could probably keep costs and development time down by developing a Hypercar from some existing platform. It would be tough for Mazda, because they don’t have a suitable platform. Which is why I think Mazda will do an LMDh.
But Honda/Acura, Ford and GM all have racing platforms that could be developed into Hypercars, similar to the way Aston Martin is developing the Valkyrie into a Hypercar racer. Which platforms?
• Honda could develop the
GT3 platform with pieces of the production car hybrid system into a Hypercar. It would be easy to see a
GT3 with the
Engine, a e-turbo hybrid system on the engine (as rumored to be on the next
) and the front-axle
system from the production
. Technically, it wouldn’t be rocket science. It would be a question of money and time. One idea could be to develop an
Hypercar to take on Pike’s Peak.
• GM could do something of the same thing with the Corvette C8 GTE car. They could just drop a 800-hp supercharged V8 into the thing, add some wings and be all set.
• Ford could do a flavor of the same thing with the Ford GT, which was developed as a race car from the start. All it needs to be a Hypercar is more horsepower.
Will any of this come to pass? I doubt it. But it’s fun to think about.
Is there any reason Acura would not compete at Le Mans 2022?
Although nothing has been announced, I think it’s incredibly likely that Acura will be competing in the top class at Le Mans in 2022. But there are at least two things that would hold them back:
1) There is a persistent rumor in NASCAR-land that Honda is strongly considering joining
in the 2024 timeframe. This would be incredibly contrary to every racing program American Honda has. But if Honda does choose to compete in
, it would be at the expense of the
and Indycar programs.
2) Le Mans is EXPENSIVE , especially done right (see below). One race could add 30% of the cost to Acura IMSA program. Keep in mind HPD’s budget got cut this year.
Do I think Acura will have a car in the top class at Le Mans 2022? Yes. Is it a slam dunk? No.
What would Acura do to have the best chance to win Le Mans 2022?
Assuming that Acura’s main interest would remain
for commercial reasons, much of its effort would be in North America. But if Honda/Acura made a priority of winning Le Mans, they would have to have a European operation, for two reasons:
1) Logistics. It would not be practical to compete at the Detroit Grand Prix, ship the cars to France for Le Mans and then ship them back for Watkins Glen. It would be better to have cars in Europe for Le Mans and leave the IMSA cars in North America.
2) If there are cars in Europe, why not run them in at least a few WEC races to test the cars under competitive conditions as well as learn the WEC sporting regs. (which are different from IMSA and likely to remain that way).
So I would establish a second team, possibly run by a Honda Indycar team with WEC experience. Last I checked, the only team that fits that description is Ganassi, which ran the Ford GT factory program.
What’s going to happen to GTE-Pro ( ACO ) and GTLM ( IMSA ) classes?
With the introduction of Hypercar and LMDh, it’s hard to see the number of cars in GTE and GTLM going UP , that’s for sure. Current factory programs include Porsche, Aston Martin, BMW , and GM. Those are among the makes expected to jump into LMDh or Hypercar. It’s hard to see them maintaining two factory sports car programs.
Judging by how much talk there has been between the ACO and Stephan Ratel, who developed the FIA GT3 spec, the logical answer may be to replace GTE/ GTLM and allow factories to race all-pro lineups with GT3 cars in place of the GTE and GTLM classes. That would be much less expensive than the GTE/ GTLM cars, and might attract more competitors.
When will we find out more about all this?
The ACO and IMSA are taking this plan to a meeting of the World Motorsport Council for its blessing in the next couple of weeks. If the WMC approves, and even if it doesn’t, IMSA and the ACO will announce more particulars during the week of the IMSA and WEC events at Sebring March 18-to-21.
I would expect a couple of commitments announced at that point. The snowball is rolling down the hill.