Is the future bright for LMP1?

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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.

SMP Rac­ing build its own LMP1 car for 2018.

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.



Images © WEC-Mag­a­zin