At first glance the LMP1 entry list for the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship looks paltry. Indeed, the loss of Audi’s two-car programme reduces the manufacturers’ title battle to a head-to-head between Porsche and Toyota. With Porsche still weathering the VW diesel emissions scandal and Toyota warning that toning down regulations may bring an end to their LMP1 programme, the future in LMP1 may not be too rosy. But, looking ahead, is there any reason at all to be confident?
Manufacturers come and go, and it is by no means set in stone that Porsche and Toyota will continue their LMP1 over the long term. In reality, a championship such as the WEC lives and dies by its privateers – the smaller teams who go racing not to sell cars, but for the thrill of going racing. In 2017, ByKolles will be the sole privateer representative in the LMP1 class – albeit powered by the NISMO V8 engine that was originally in the ill-fated Nissan GTR-LM NISMO in 2015.
With LMP2 rules allowing little freedom for development, and teams forced to select one of four approved chassis, the second prototype category arguably does not offer the kind of ruleset motorsport teams with genuine engineering expertise are seeking. Teams such as Manor and SMP Racing have publicly aired their frustrations at the limitations in LMP2, with tight restrictions on component suppliers and other areas of development.
2018, however, could mark the rebirth of the LMP1 privateer class. Earlier this year, Ginetta announced that it would be launching a brand-new LMP1 chassis powered by Mechachrome and available for purchase by any potential P1 entrants. Ginetta has a proven track record in LMP racing, having developed P1 cars in the early 2000s and enjoyed more-recent success with its LMP3 and G57 platforms.
Adrian Reynard has been recruited for the project to head up the aerodynamic development of the car, while Paolo Catone, designer of Peugeot’s 2009 Le Mans-winning 908, is also part of the design team.
The British manufacturer has already confirmed that it will produce ten chassis, which, under current regulations, can only be raced in one series: the WEC. Manor Racing have already confirmed their intention to run a Ginetta in 2018, while Ginetta LMP3 teams ARC Bratislava and PRT Racing are also interested in the concept.
Elsewhere, SMP Racing have teamed up with Dallara to develop a new-for-2018 LMP1 machine. It will be developed in 2017 at the hands of experienced single-seater team ART Grand Prix. SMP Racing recently competed in LMP2 with their own BR01 machine – since outlawed by LMP2 regulations – and notably scored pole position at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and a third-place finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016.
With the ByKolles Racing Team persevering with their LMP1 effort in 2017, the Austrian-entered team may be rewarded with a major step up in the quality of their opposition in 2018. Rebellion Racing, previous P1 privateer competitors who have dropped down from LMP1 to LMP2 and the Oreca 07 for the 2017 season, may very well be tempted back into the LMP1 fold next year, while other professional LMP2 outfits may also look to make the step up if the price is right.
The rumours and speculation are likely to continue throughout 2017, but with Ginetta and SMP Racing confirmed and others such as ByKolles, Rebellion and OAK Racing waiting in the wings, 2018 certainly promises far more variety in the FIA WEC’s top class. And with the recent loss of Audi, and murmurings from Toyota and Porsche, 2018’s new privateer entries may be just the tonic to keep the world’s premiere endurance racing series alive and thriving.
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