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.