2021 Le Mans Hypercar Regulations explained
Last weekend saw the end of an era. The #7 Toyota TS050 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobyashi and José Maria Lopez took the final win, and the championship, in the Hybrid LMP1 era of the WEC.
These rolling laboratories have produced some of the most technologically impressive cars in motorsport history. They’ve also produced epic on-track battling to boot, but rising costs have decimated their appeal to manufacturers.
This issue had been known for some time, so since 2018, the replacement to the class, now known as Le Mans Hypercar, has been in development with a single key goal: Get the manufactures back to sportscar racing.
The Story So Far
The Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) regulations have had quite a turbulent development since they were announced to replace LMP1 in 2018.
Pressure from manufacturers led the regulations to be adapted to allow racing versions of road legal hypercars, echoing the fire-breathing GT1 cars of the late 1990s.
An announcement at the 24 Hours of Daytona in January saw a small, but incredibly significant change, as convergence with the IMSA Sportscar Championship in America was confirmed.
This will see both power and weight reduced, as well as aerodynamic efficiency restrictions to be put in place to mimic those of the newly announced LMDh regulations.
READ MORE: 2022 IMSA Sportscar Regulations Explained
Then, as if development hadn’t been difficult enough, the global situation made delays to any programs that were underway inevitable.
Therefore, the decision was taken to push back the introduction of the class to 2021, allowing constructors more time to develop their vehicles, after lockdown restrictions were eased.
Chassis and Body
As stated previously, a manufacture wanting to enter the LMH formula has 2 options for constructing a car. As would normally be done for this style of car, bespoke racing prototypes can be produced from a “clean sheet” design, only focussing on the regulations of the racing series.
Alternatively, they can derive a racing version from a road-legal hypercar. There could be some performance differences available by taking this option, particularly in the hybrid system. However, this means that at least 20 road going versions must be produced.
Regardless of the option chosen, these cars will be dimensionally very similar to the LMDh vehicles they will eventually compete alongside in 2022. They will have a total length and width of 5m and 2m respectively, with a 3.15m wheelbase.
All cars will have a minimum weight of 1030kg, regardless whether or not they are using a hybrid system (more on that shortly). Meanwhile, a Balance Of Performance (BOP) formula similar to what is already used in GTE will be applied to all cars in the class. So, up to 50kg of ballast can be added to that at the ACO’s behest.
In terms of aerodynamics, cockpits will be much wider that we are currently used to for an endurance racing prototype. This will bring the aerodynamic performance around the driver to a comparable level between to 2 types of car design, causing them both to look much closer to a conventional 2-seater supercar. Overall aerodynamic performance will also be closely regulated.
Finally active aerodynamics, which were initially to be included as they are so commonly used on road-legal supercars, have now been banned due to cost concerns.
Engine and Hybrid Systems
The headline stat here is a maximum power of 500kW (670bhp). This has been reduced from an initial limit of 585kW (795bhp) in order to allow convergence with the incoming LMDh regulations, as used by IMSA.
Compared to the outgoing LMP1 regulations, there have been significant changes as well. Diesel powered engines are now banned otherwise, engine design is free. This includes the option of using a Wankel rotary engine now being possible.
Hybrid systems meanwhile, are optional, with a maximum output of 200kW (268bhp) and All Wheel Drive allowed. Only the front axle can be powered in a prototype design but, if the manufacturer is producing a production-based vehicle, then the hybrid system has to be identical to the car it is based on.
READ MORE: THE PROBLEM WITH WRC COVERAGE
Cars choosing to use hybrid technology will be subject to a “deployment threshold”. When on slick tyres, the hybrid motors cannot drive the car until it has reached a speed of 120kph (75mph). When on either intermediate or full wet weather tyres, this increases to between 140kph to 160kph (86mph-100mph).
This, in theory, should reduce the advantage the hybrid cars will have over non-hybrids, especially when leaving slow corners. However, it is yet to be seen if this will have an effect on how the different style of cars can get past the slower LMP2 and GTE traffic during a race.
As Toyota as proven this season, that is how they gained their advantage over their privateer competition, rather than raw lap pace.
Currently, there are 4 entries confirmed to the LMH regulations. Toyota and ByKolles will be joined by first time World Endurance Championship competitors Glickenhaus. While Peugeot will return to the championship in 2022 after an 11-year absence.
Aston Martin had initially been planning to enter the series with a car based on their Valkyrie hypercar. However, this operation was postponed soon after convergence was announced and planned to evaluate its options regarding a return to endurance racing.
READ MORE: F1 2020: THE YEAR OF THE HONEYBADGER
With the brand now looking to make a full scale assault on Formula 1, it seems unlikely this project will get back under way.
All these changes will slow the cars down significantly when compared to the old LMP1 cars. The FIA and ACO had targeted a lap time of 3:30 around Le Mans, more than 15 seconds slower than the current qualifying lap record.
The trade off for this is that the regulations have been changed to mainly cut costs, meaning that there is renewed manufacturer interest. This is then coupled with the incoming convergence plans, which should only serve to increase competition in the premier class of endurance racing.