A New Era Begins

Hello and welcome back to Steve’s Motorsport Blog! There were a few events that occured this past weekend, but I wanted to take the time to focus on the WEC and IMSA races. I plan on talking about F1 in the coming weeks, but for now it’ll have to wait.

On that note, here we are! Officially here; the grand opening of the Hypercar/LMDH era of sportscar racing. Why do I think this is the grand opening?  Yes, WEC had the hypercar class this past couple of years, but only Toyota and Glickenhaus had legit cars. Besides that, I still don’t agree with Hypercar regulations allowing for non-hybrid cars in the same class, but that’s a discussion for another time… Lastly, Alpine’s questionable decision to run a grandfathered LMP1 car didn’t really count either.

Secondly, we were still waiting for more cars to be homologated; Alpine took forever to decide what to do, and then Peugeot did a half season last year trying to troubleshoot their radical looking entry, so they didn’t really count towards any meaningful action. ByKolles/Vanwall had, of all things, a trademark dispute that prevented them from competing, and Ferrari announced an entry for 2023, so it remained only a 2 team effort.

That all changed for this year. Starting with the other part of the equation, the 2023 Rolex 24hrs of Daytona showed that the LMDH formula works in isolation. We saw relatively close action between 3 of the 4 OEMs (sorry BMW, you have work to do), so it was going to be interesting to see the real first test during the 1000km of Sebring WEC race where both Hypercar and LMDH cars run together.

The WEC Prologue showed ominous signs that Toyota was going to be the Red Bull to Hypercar; they just topped every session, and nobody else really looked close. That was why it was so shocking that the brand new Ferrari Hypercar got the pole, with the Porsches and Cadillac not too far behind.

However, almost as soon as the green flag dropped on Friday for the first race of the WEC calendar, that seemed like it was a fluke. Toyota lapped the field almost twice on route to a commanding 1-2 victory. Despite this, it was a very close race behind for best-of-the-rest between the Ferraris, Porsches and the lone Cadillac. I wish the Peugeots would have been up there with them, but they were at the bottom of the time charts all week and it seemed that luck was not on their side either. I suspect that the heavily underfloor-derived aero concept of the Peugeot was not suited to the very bumpy Sebring Raceway. We will find out in April in Portimao.

Despite the Toyota dominance, there was lots of promising signs to the start of this new era, which has the potential to dethrone Group C as the golden-era of sportscar racing: There were lots of entries for round 1; 11 entries, 7 manufacturers, and no real discussion about the EoT being unfair or too wonky (just if you ignore all the LMP2 teams complaining they’ve been nerfed).

Furthermore, with JOTA getting their Porsche 963 in time for Portimao / Spa, not to mention all of the extra entries for Le Mans this June. It’s very positive to see this much healthiness in the top-class of sportscar racing. Lastly, we also have the announced plans from Alpine and Lamborghini that they will be coming on next year, it’s all looking good for now.

Another observation that I had this weekend, was that it was very interesting to see how the different classes mesh together. In my opinion, the fundamental difference between them is that the LMDH cars are RWD and the Hybrid-Hypercars are all AWD. LMDH are forced to run an F1-style spec hybrid system, where the electric motor is connected directly to the transmission, which runs the rear axle only. With the current crop of Hybrid-Hypercar compliant machines opting to have the electric motors power the front axle, this provides a bit of an advantage to the Hypercars, especially on tight and bumpy circuits.

Sebring is an excellent example of this. It was very easy to see the LMDH cars drifting out of corners where the Ferraris, Peugeots and most especially the Toyotas (thanks to a full year or two of development) were mostly planted coming out of the corners.

You can see this more clearly if you watch the on-boards. Between them, both classes have some version of traction control. You can see that there is a separate little screen with either a set of either blue or purple LEDs. The more lights, the more the system is intervening. Watching the Toyota versus, let’s say the Porsche, you can see the LMDH cars have more LEDs more of the time.

However, I think that Sebring is a special case. It’s by far the most bumpy track on the WEC calendar, so I think it just highlights this advantage for the Hybrid-Hypercars. We’ll see how this plays out in Portimao next month, but I think the difference will be tighter there.

Finally, I of course cannot miss to comment on the 12hrs of Sebring. What a race, and what a finish. I unfortunately missed it, but was glued to twitter in the last hour. When I saw all the comments that suggested utter chaos, I was utterly amazed at what had transpired. I don’t think I’ve seen a more chaotic end to race that wasn’t a NASCAR-sanctioned event in my life, although Le Mans 2016 does come close.

In all, I think it was a very promising start to this new era. With undoubtedly tighter racing over the coming months, coupled with an ever growing entry field, it will certainly keep getting better.

Thanks for reading, I plan on writing a little bit more on this topic later in the year as a sort of follow up, so stay tuned for that. Until then, I will be writing about some other things that are on my mind, so keep watching this space.

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