With a fifth win under its belt at this year’s 90th running of the Le Mans 24 hour race, the Toyota GR010 took a fairly comfortable one-two victory with only the much smaller American Glickenhaus team keeping them on their toes until the end.
Sebastian Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa drove a brilliant race in their No8 GR010 Hybrid, completing 380 laps before taking the chequered flag. The team’s fourth one-two finish at Le Mans was completed with last year’s winners Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez coming home two minutes behind in their No7 car.
Having missed the last two years due to the pandemic, it was good to head to Dover once again to board a DFDS ferry to Calais to start the long trek to Le Mans and recollected it was the 23rd time I was making the journey to the circuit in the Le Sarthe region of France.
It was great to witness the start of a whole new era of Hypercars which is about to explode on the scene, not only for the 24 hour race at Le Mans but Europe-wide with the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and in America with the International Motor Sport Association (IMSA) WeatherTech SportsCar championship.
They have collaborated with Le Mans organisers the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) to produce a common set of technical regulations, major car manufacturers are now poised to enter the racing arena to compete in either or both of the championships if they wish.
Hybrid electric power along with a petrol engine will be installed on all the racing cars and subtle differences will exist between the WEC and IMSA machines.
For the Le Mans Hypecars (LMH) in WEC the hybrid electric power can be delivered to either front or rear wheel and while the engine choice is free, total power output must not exceed 680bhp, with the hybrid unit generating 200kW and delivering 50kW to the wheels.
For the IMSA cars, tagged Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) the hybrid system is common to all cars, with the motor unit built by Bosch and the battery from Williams Advanced Engineering and Xtrac gearbox, powering the front wheels only. One choice for each manufacturer is free but total power output must be the same as for the LMH cars at 680bhp.
So who is joining the Toyota and Glickenhaus party?
Let’s start with Peugeot and their revolutionary 9X8 which was on show at Le Mans and scheduled to be racing at Le Mans 2022, but the stunning design needed fine tuning and engineers needed more time to complete the complicated process.
It has now taken to the track in earnest as it raced in the 6 Hours of Monza in early July.
The new Le Mans Hypercar regulations allow them to include more styling cues than the previous regulations. This has allowed the Peugeot 9X8 to take a particularly striking outline, with no rear wing like its competitors and a sleeker bodystyle.
Raceday saw the Peugeots starting fifth and sixth, with car No93 not able to shake its electrical gremlins from qualifying and eventually retiring, and car #94 being struck with its own reliability issues, spending time in the pits but finishing the race.
Ferrari has just revealed its contender and will see the Italian marque return to the top flight of endurance racing after a 50 year absence.
Last week two-time world endurance champion Alessandro Pier Guidi fired up the engine of the new Ferrari Le Mans Hypercar (LMH), which the Maranello-based company will use in the 2023 FIA WEC season.
“After so many months in the simulator, I finally had the chance to drive the real car, and that was a big thrill”, commented Pier Guidi. We are only at the start, and much work is ahead of us, but it feels very positive. I am proud and happy to have debuted the LMH, marking the beginning of a new adventure for Ferrari”.
Porsche, who with 19 wins at Le Mans are the manufacturer with the most victories in the 24 hour marathon were the first to reveal a Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) car to the world that will run in both the IMSA race series in America and the WEC in Europe.
“After 7,889 test kilometres during the first half of 2022, we’re on a very good path but there is still work to be done before the start of next season,” outlines Thomas Laudenbach, Vice President Motorsport. “Our new Porsche 963 should continue the legacy of legendary models such as the 917, 935, 956, 962 and the 919 Hybrid.”
Unveiled at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June, Porsche Penske Motorsport will prepare the cars in two locations, one in Germany for the WEC and one in America for the IMSA championship.
The official race debut of the Porsche 963 is planned to take place in January 2023 at the 24 Hours of Daytona in the USA. In the meantime, the WEC has opened the door for testing as part of the upcoming world championship races this year. Porsche Penske Motorsport is aiming for a non-competitive run at the final round of the season in Bahrain in November.
Kent-based JOTA team, which claimed its third Le Mans LMP2 victory, is the first customer team to declare a programme to run a Porsche 963 in the Hypercar class of the WEC next year. It will be JOTA’s first assault on the top class of prototype racing in 15 years.
BMW’s only triumph at Le Mans came in 1999 and that could stay the same as although they are also re-entering the fray with a new car, it is set only to race in the American IMSA race events.
The BMW M Hybrid V8 will sport a look designed by BMW Group Designworks, and celebrates the history of BMW M Motorsport in North America while defining a dynamic hybrid electric future.
This message is echoed by Franciscus van Meel, CEO of BMW M GmbH: “The most critical task and the greatest challenge for the design team in the LMDh programme design team was that the prototype must be clearly recognisable as a BMW M Motorsport car. And I can say this to all the fans, just one look is enough to confirm that the BMW M Hybrid V8 is a BMW.’’
The car will race at Le Mans only if a full-season entry is confirmed from BMW for the FIA WEC.
Lamborghini’s surprise announcement that will join Porsche in the LMDh class comes with the demise of Audi’s program as it ponders a move into Formula One. Lamborghini’s racer was expected to share much of the Audi’s technical underpinnings, but with the announcement that Porsche will utilise its own bespoke 4.6-litre V8, and not a VW Group unit suggests that Lamborghini’s entry might differ more than expected from its German counterparts. The racer won’t be ready until the 2024 season.
Continuing with the LMDh cars, Cadillac revealed two days before the start of this year’s Le Mans race that they will return with its next-generation prototype that will race both in the American IMSA races and the European WEC series.
The General Motors vehicle titled ‘Project GTP Hypercar’ will be powered by a 5.5-litre V8 linked to the common hybrid system.
“Cadillac will be competing again on the world racing stage, and we are all thrilled to return to Le Mans after 20 years,” said Rory Harvey, Vice President of Global Cadillac.
Honda’s premium brand in America, Acura, has also announced its intention to join the Hypercar/hybrid ranks, but with no presence in the European car market, it will solely compete in the American series and doubt that it will ever make its mark at Le Mans or the European WEC series.
I will certainly be returning to Le Mans next year (and hopefully, many more years to come) to see how the Hypercar era unfolds and who the dominant team becomes.
One thing I did differently this year was on my return journey to forsake the mad dash back to Calais on a Sunday evening after the race finishes and took a more leisurely drive on Monday morning to the French port of Dieppe.
DFDS sale out of Dieppe to Newhaven and although the crossing time is longer it cuts down the amount of travelling miles from Le Mans.
The other bonus is a much quieter port at both ends with checking in and customs/passport checks is over in a trice and is a crossing I will consider very seriously doing again next year.
Roll on Le Mans 2023 for all those fantastic looking Hypercars.
For more information on DFDS ferries see: www.dfds.co.uk