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The ACO has released the regulations framework for the FIA WEC’s LMP1 class from 2020. 

What the ACO and FIA says:

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest and the FIA are working flat out with the manufacturers to bring in new technological developments for the LMP1 Hybrids, the blue-riband category in the Le Mans 24 Hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship. These regulations, which are as innovative as they are original, will come into force in 2020 and offer new development opportunities so that endurance racing remains the leader in the technological domain.

Five major objectives provided the guidelines for the discussions between the ACO, the FIA and the manufacturers: 

· Adapting the technologies to road-going vehicles;

· Cost capping;

· Technological diversity;

· Level playing field in terms of performance;

· Retain the appeal for spectators, sponsors and media thanks to top-level performances undergoing constant improvement.

To answer the requirements of the manufacturers which have currently invested heavily in the development of Hybrid Plug-Ins that enable the vehicle to run on electric power over short distances and then swap to the internal combustion engine for longer distances, a revolutionary set of regulations will come into force in 2020.

It will engender performances and qualities that will be identical to those of the current crop of cars, and maybe even superior, while reducing even further the need for fossil fuels and the emission of toxic gases.

Six main principles will govern these regulations: 

  • Zero emissions and rapid recharging: a new road-going technology will be applied to racing, the plug-in hybrid. The cars will be given a rapid recharge at the same time as they are being refuelled.  

Thanks to this, they must: 

  • Cover the first kilometre after each refuelling stop in full electric mode at a level of performance hitherto unequalled in motor racing,
  • Cross the finishing line in total electric autonomy (the details are being defined).
  • Safety: the monocoque will be adapted according to the modifications initially envisaged for 2018:
  • Imposition of a free volume around the drivers’ helmet
  • More room in the cockpit (1 500 mm) with adjustable pedals
  • The volume for the legs slightly modified to facilitate driver changes
  • Protective foam for the driver’s legs 
  • Stiffer front and rear crash tests of the monocoque and the crushable structures
  • Improved cockpit ergonomics to enhance driver visibility
  • Two energy recovery systems retained still limited to 8MJ (same size as the current ones)
  • Introduction of active aerodynamics with moveable wings (front and rear) to increase the efficiency of the car and compensate for the restrictions on aerodynamic development brought in to reduce costs 
  • Integration of biofuels: increase the integration of other types of more evolved fuels in close collaboration with the suppliers’ strategy
  • Introduction of new energies: in parallel, research work on new energies like hydrogen is continuing with the aim of introducing them at a later date

Cost capping is also a major preoccupation of these regulations. The main aim is to be able to maintain the technological level of endurance at the summit of motor sport while bringing in a major reduction in costs. The FIA and the ACO have taken up the challenge by reducing costs without sacrificing technology and technological diversity. 

The budget now required in order to be competitive in the FIA WEC will now be quite affordable and reasonable for a new manufacturer wishing to join the LMP1 adventure.

The ten main measures aimed at cost reduction:

  • Limitation on the number of bodywork sets: a single bodywork set will be homologated per year and per manufacturer to reduce development costs (free in 2015, 3 in 2016, 2 in 2017)
  • Limitation on testing: another reduction in the number of test days. Teams will have a very limited number of private tests. All the others will be collective sessions organised by the championship promoter,
  • Wind tunnel testing reduced to 600 hours per year compared to 800 at the moment. This reduction will have a very positive impact on the reduction of budgets. The figure of 600 hours represents a good balance as it was shown that limiting this figure even more meant that the manufacturers would invest in simulation tools  (Computational Fluid Dynamics CFD), which goes against the imposed cost reductions, 
  • Development units: a system will be put in place to prevent a manufacturer from being able to build a new car every year.  The regulations will define the features (chassis, engine, hybrid system, bodywork) that the manufacturer will be able to develop between two seasons so choices will have to be made. Thus, the more a feature considered as important by the regulations is developed during the winter break, the fewer possibilities the manufacturer will have to develop others,
  • An undertaking on the stability of regulations for four years minimum that will have a big impact on the costs;
  • Aerodynamic regulations: development possibilities for the car’s underbody will be severely restricted: 
  • Perimeters will be defined to reduce development opportunities in the areas  that currently have a major impact on performance thus leading to heavy investment,
  • Free zones will be allowed to enable manufacturers to innovate but with a big reduction in budgets devoted to these areas.
  • Regulations on brake cooling: at the present moment cooling the brakes is leading to the development of costly technologies which have little interest in terms of technology transfer to road-going vehicles. This does not fit in with the aims set by the ACO and the FIA.
  • Limitation on staff at the races: 50 people per team in the FIA WEC races (currently 65). No limitations imposed for the Le Mans 24 Hours
  • Limitation on the number of components in the power unit per year (battery, internal combustion engine (ICE), energy recovery systems (ERS)), which will allow the passage from 5 to 4 in one or two years
  • Gearboxes limited to two units.

With these completely new regulations the ACO and the FIA wish to promote innovative technology in harmony with the expectations of the manufacturers by giving them the WEC and the Le Mans 24 Hours as development laboratories. 

My thoughts.

These aren’t bad ideas by the ACO and FIA going forwards. It has become more obvious since Audi’s withdrawal that whilst the 2014-2019 regulation set has been spectacular and a golden era for top-flight sportscar racing. LMP1 can’t realistically continue on the current path with just four factory hybrid cars in operation for the majority of the season. In addition to the continuous and often refuted rumours from some corners of the world that one of the two current LMP1 manufacturers could quit at any moment.

It needs to cut costs to be viable but it is a tightrope for the series. LMP1 has, unlike F1, correctly marketed and embraced new propulsion technologies, so well in fact that it has become part of the DNA of the series and therefore needs to stay central to the LMP1 regulations in the future. At the same time cost saving has to come from somewhere and it appears that is with the aero development. 

Now if you look at a 2012 LMP1 car, either the Toyota TS030 or the Audi R18 then look at the 2017 Porsche 919 Hybrid or Toyota TS050 it is clear that aero development has been huge, particularly since the development of the 2014 regulations so it isn’t a surprise that this has become a target for the FIA/ACO’s cost reduction proposals. My only worry on the cost reduction proposals is we’ve seen this show before, in F1. These are not all that different cost reduction proposals to the proposals laid out and enacted upon in F1 over the past decade.

Limitation on staff numbers at races, limitation on certain development areas, limitation on the number of components in a given season, testing limitations. These are F1’s proposals rebranded and whilst the WEC may find them easier to enact. The ultimate end point of cost cutting, as required as it may be has left F1 a poorer series and I fear it will do the same to WEC.

On a brighter note though, the idea of active aerodynamics in a top-flight race series is an exciting development. The development of biofuels and the exploration of future hydrogen technology being incorporated have carried across from the delayed (Because of Audi’s withdrawal) 2018 LMP1 regulation set. 

The rapid recharge plug-in hybrid part of this regulation set is a pretty bold step by the FIA and ACO. It sounds a bit odd on paper to me but I do have faith in the series that they can sell this to us. Whilst F1 failed in selling Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) to the public, FIA WEC and Le Mans succeeded and thrived as a result. Maybe it can repeat that with Plug-In Hybrids? It is the right environment within motorsport for certain to develop this type of technology further within, and as previously mentioned this type of development is core to the DNA of LMP1 now.

I’m glad to see the FIA WEC releasing a clear plan with the release of the 2020 LMP1 regulation framework. I’ll miss the era we’ve just been through and will enjoy it through to 2019 but LMP1 has seemed all at sea since the withdrawal of Audi so it is good to have the plans out there for 2020, to try and re-inspire confidence by the fans and the racing world in LMP1. Will it work? Will it attract more manufacturers back? I’m not entirely convinced it will but something had to give, that much I am convinced about.

If these plans do not work. Does Dpi (Daytona Prototype International) become the platform for manufacturers in international prototype sportscar racing? Time will tell all.

 
 

 

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  • jakobusvdl

    Interesting post thanks Tom.
    I assume that the ACO and FIA will have already been talking with the manufacturers and privateers who have been involved in WEC, or who might be interested in getting involved, and that these regulations are designed to be attractive to them and drawing a bigger field than the current regulations.
    As part of technological diversity, I wonder if variations of the current F1 hybrids will be allowed (it would be good if Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda could recover some of the cost they’ve invested so far).
    The 5 objectives seem a reasonable approach, covering cost, technology and ‘the show’, the link to road going hybrid technology makes a lot of sense.
    Judging by the size of the Le Mans field LMP2 is an ‘affordable’ prototype series for privateers, I presume the aim will be that LMP1 is not a huge step in cost above that, but still with a significant performance step.
    Active aero could be amazing…..

    • Tom Firth

      Yes, this is effectively the same kind of discussions F1 is having with prospective and current manufacturers to establish a future roadmap of what they’d like the regulations to be.

      The F1 hybrids I’m not sure about, the last time we put F1 engines in Sportscars it did not go well. That said the current regs technically allow for an F1 engine to be used, if not hybrid system as is no restriction on the displacement of the engine. The intention was that they could use the F1 ICE when they developed these regs, no one did.

      The objectives seem reasonable, I’m unsure about the plug in hybrid aspect but clearly it appeals to one of the parties. The new LMP2 regs have been controversial but have clearly worked. LMP1 has been great but has suddenly found itself with spiralling costs and manufacturers heading for the exit or threatening too so it has to change, through reduction in cost. My worry is that really the ACO for LMP1 to survive, need a third manufacturer and nothing here really makes me think it would attract that. Also its 2017 now and we are worried about the manufacturers leaving, what is the state going to be in in 3 years?