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It’s late, the dawn light is turning the eastern sky into a pink-ish glow and the headlights are still on at Le Mans. There’s 9:44:00 to go and a Rebellion LMP2 car has just stopped on track. It did re-join the circuit and that’s good because they have a very good chance in coming in second place in overall classification in the 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Many people ask me, “As a Formula 1 guy, what’s the one race you’d really like to attend?”. My answer is slightly confusing…Le Mans! I’ve loved this race for as long as I can remember and every year, it’s the same ritual. Stay up all night and watch the 24 hours.

Sure, I’m not as informed on the WEC series and Le Mans as others because I don’t follow it as closely as I do F1 but regardless, my love for the race is still over the top. This year, that love is being challenged by and all-out assault of manufacturer led technology “innovation”.

When Audi pulled out of the series, the regulatory body, ACO, didn’t manage to entice other manufacturers into the sport. This left Toyota and Porsche as the only two LMP1 teams left and no privateers as Rebellion Racing decided that the LMP2 class was a more compelling option and less expensive given the technology trajectory LMP1 was heading.

Like F1, the LMP1 class went all in with hybrid technology and massively expensive systems. As dawn breaks over the 85th running of LE Mans, only one LMP1 car is left in the top 11 cars as two Toyotas retired leaving one way adrift and a second LMP1 Porsches several laps behind the leader.

This technology race not only costs too much but it has turned the race into an old-school version of delicately feathering the car around the circuit for 24 hours and hoping reliability remains until the end. Just a couple of years ago, this race had evolved to a mind-numbing 24 hour sprint race that saw three manufacturers, nine cars run nose-to-tail for 24 hours delivering some of the most exciting racing in decades in the LMP1 category.

This year, the broadcasters and pundits in the pit lane are stunned that the race could be won by an LMP2 class car. An LMP1 car in the lead and ten LMP2 cars right behind it.

I don’t want to sound bitter here but I’m not surprised. Why? Because the LMP2 category is using affordable, competitive engines that deliver great sound, performance and reliability and this produces great, entertaining racing. The LMP2’s are using a Gibson 4.2 Liter V8 engine and they are, at the time of writing this, threatening to take overall win should the sole remaining Porsche have issues like its sister car and the three Toyotas.

I think LMP1 has reached the point that F1 did where the desire for “innovation” has eclipsed the need to produce reliable, fast and good racing. This class was a badass class that was and all out sprint for 24 hours and 3 years later, they can’t finish races. A bridge too far with technology “innovation” in my opinion.

If Toyota doesn’t come back next year, they can blame themselves for kicking the hybrid electric technology regulations down the road with Porsche and the ACO.

As I’ve said about F1, I get it, the technology is super cool but I’m not sure it is having a great impact on motorsport yet. Like the road going all-electric cars, they are not complete replacements that are better than what we currently have in performance, convenience and distance. I can drive 400 miles, stop for 5 minutes and fill up and drive another 400 miles in my petrol car. Until the electrics can match that, they’ll have a hard time replacing petrol cars. That’s how consumer markets work. Disruptive technology models may work in hard drives for consumer electronics but cars are a different thing as are 18-wheelers and other utility vehicles.

I appreciate that manufacturers want to use motorsport to develop their technology but it’s having a negative impact on entertaining racing and is becoming a black hole for cash and resources.

I’m not trying to be a luddite here but no wonder there are so many LMP2 cars this year with 20 entered. Fast, competitive V8’s and lots of horsepower in an affordable package. LMP1 is in trouble and it wouldn’t surprise me if Porsche and Toyota leave at the end of the season. The ACO has a lot of work to do to save the class. If they do leave, like Audi did, I find it odd as all three manufacturers are publicly saying they are all about electric and hybrid cars and committed to the future…then they leave the series that they helped create the regulations for.

Time will tell but I fear for the LMP1 category as it has finally succumbed to the error that F1 made in re-writing all the regulations to appeal to electric car makers and their virtuous owners. On the flip side, the cat is out of the bag and it seems that the ACO and the FIA in F1 need to standardize the parts and write tighter, narrower regulations limiting tech with KERS and a competitive lump. Let the road car engineers do their thing for hybrids and all-electric cars and leave the racing to racing teams who favor entertaining racing over R&D labs.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Alianora La Canta

    This is what happens when LMP1 costs end up rising to the price of a backmarker F1 team in an environment where the much cheaper and more manufacturer-relevant Formula E is available. While Audi isn’t in Formula E, that’s likely due to the same scandals that caused it to axe its more prominent motorsport programs. I could see Porsche and Toyota trying to get into Formula E as soon as there’s space for them.

    It’s one of those things – hybrids aren’t exciting enough for future-orientated companies, and are too expensive for racing-orientated ones (unless they can produce a winning unit or convince their board they’re on the cusp of doing so). The ACO/FIA are trying to entice privateers into the LMP1-H, and it didn’t work because it’s framed too expensively given the existence of the much cheaper LMP2.

    • Tom Firth

      Add in the Dpi option in the USA, which I still think the ACO will look at again if the sky does fall, regarding LMP1 and you have a much cheaper arena for factory teams to play as well at Le Mans.

    • Tom Firth

      Audi is in Formula E. ABT is effectively a factory Audi Formula E team.

      • Alianora La Canta

        Thank you for that :)

  • Alianora La Canta

    The other problem is that this year’s increase in power for LMP1 has coincided with

    unusually hot temperatures, causing the weak part of the LMP1s to be tested a huge amount.

  • MBP MBP

    You know I have always thought F1 should be more simple and LMP1 should lead the way with tech. But it seems to have hit a wall as you say. When people won’t participate there is a problem. I refuse to watch Formula E, it’s hollow to me, I have no passion for it, doesn’t seem like anyone does, sounds like garbage. Sad to see Toyota fall away.

  • Tim Silvey

    But there is interest from half a dozen non hybrid LMP1 cars next year to join Bykolles. Could be a great 2018 for the privateer category.

    • Tom Firth

      Indeed, are a bunch of Ginetta’s, the SMP Dallara and if it ever shows up, a Perrinn but there’s only interest for now. I fear that after a year or two, they’ll think well P2 is cheaper and a bigger field, lets go back there, when the realisation hits again that privateer P1 cars can not compete with a factory.

  • jakobusvdl

    Having had the chance to watch much of the race today (first time ever), I’d have to say there’s not much wrong with Le Mans.
    I’ve been seeing fantastic racing across all four classes, and lots of drama and excitement all day.
    A bit of research shows me, that the LMP1 cars have always been few in number, but normally fill the podium, plus a few more leading spots, with the first LMP2 cars a good 20 laps off the winner. So this year’s failures are the exception not the norm.
    Audi didn’t leave LMP1 because they were struggling or unsuccessful, they left because the VWAG is going to have to pay out gazillions in fines due to dieselgate.
    The reports seem to say the hybrid LMP1 era has seen a huge resurgence in interest in Le Mans, so not much wrong with it, or the hybrid format.

    • Daniel Johnson

      The problem is that there were fewer than even normal. Last year there were 3 manufacturers (not counting Rebellion). It’s more compelling with different cars and different strengths and weaknesses. Even before the drama we were only 3 mechanicals away from LMP2 getting on the podium. Here we were a few mins away from an outright win.

      You only need two cars to make a race great but you need them to be able to fight each other. The more variety of cars you have the more likely you’ll find something compelling to watch. Last year was the most compelling because they were so close. GTE Pro and LMP2 were compelling all through the race because there was always someone to fight with.

      • jakobusvdl

        Cheers Daniel,
        The recovery drive of the last remaining LMP1 car was certainly compelling, as was having GTE Pro going right down to the wire.

        • Daniel Johnson

          Agreed, but it was more interesting to see if they had time to catch them more than actual racing. The GTE Pro was just awesome for all 24 hours. Although we could probably have a several page long discussion over the BoP. lol

          • Tom Firth

            We could but we won’t as my head hurts from the work BoP already.

            It was better this year than last year for BoP at least. Even Gerard Neveu’s Tweet praised the GTE battles as being what made the race this weekend.

          • Daniel Johnson

            I agree with the result of the BoP but not the process. I’d much rather a stig type situation where the teams can’t sandbag. This is a situation where we have the worst of both worlds. Either let the development war ensue where we’re going to get some major disparity but also development, or go more extreme with the BoP where the WEC and AOC have even more control.

  • WHASSA-MADDA-U

    Good piece….can’t agree more.

  • Fred Talmadge

    I’d like to see a loosening of the rules to allow more freedom in powerlants and innovative chassis. Then figure out some equivalent formula to even things out. I personally like how BTC adds weight to winners and then slowly takes it away as they fall behind. Just don’t make it arbitrary.

  • Tim

    I always enjoy the race. I try and watch all 24 hours if I can. Four classes of cars competing on an eight mile track . . . just fantastic.

    But this year with only 6 LMP1 cars (5 hybrid & 1 non-hybrid) realistically competing for the overall win it just didn’t seem to be the same. I just didn’t realize how Audi’s departure would affect this class.

    I do agree that the hybrid technology in the LMP1 class has really driven up costs. Since we now have Formula E, there is a better platform to showcase that type of technology than the LMP1 category. If it has to stay in this category, simplify it and make it much more cost effective for the teams to use. As Grace has said on the podcast many times, just give me good racing . . . that’s all I want. You don’t need that much hybrid technology to do that.

    For example, LMP2 and GTE Pro had fantastic racing. And, I don’t believe they have all that hybrid technology. Having 20 LMP2 cars this year says it all.

    Some changes in this category are definitely in order.

  • Schmorbraten

    Spot on, Todd. I’ve come round to agree that the sound of a NA engine is central to what excites me about cars and racing. It’s a shame that almost no manufacturers worldwide are interested in the top LM class. If LM were a company, the CEO would have been given the pink slip by now. Same goes for F1. Such great platforms, and if they aren’t able to reach more manufacturers, then there’s something seriously wrong here.

  • Nigel

    Surely the solution (with both LMP1 and F1) is here is an amount of fuel- in F1 let’s say 100L for the race. Next year it will be 90. How you achieve a result, entirely up to you. None of this fuel limit, fuel flow limit, just yuou have this much- go nuts…