Musings on the Motoring World

The Le Mans Hypercar class is not all hype anymore

In case you missed it. Last weekend saw the end of one of endurance racing’s most revolutionary categories, the Le Mans Prototype (LMP). As the chequered flag was waved in front of Toyota’s TS050 LMP1 car at the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans, so too have the curtains dropped on an era that delivered diesel-powered, hybrid-powered, and even front-wheel drive racers. In its place is a new class that promises to bring back the excitement and relevancy of past GT racing – the Le Mans Hypercar class.

A promising start

Aston Martin’s first proposal of a Le Mans Hypercar based on the Valkyrie

Formalised last year, the LM-Hypercar class was drawn up to address the runaway costs of LMP1 programmes. Adding to that, the new category allowed manufacturers to enter race cars derived from road-going production models.

Like every other major rule change in motorsports today, the thinking behind it was that these new LM-Hypercar racers would be cheaper to develop than the bespoke LMP cars, and more relevant to consumers. The possibility of a new era of road-homologated race cars, such as the 1990’s GT1-spec that birthed the Porsche 911 GT1 and Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR, got racing fans all excited and nostalgic.

Aston Martin was one of the earliest proponents of the LM-Hypercar class in 2019. The British carmaker proudly proclaimed that it would campaign a Valkyrie-based contender in the 2020/21 WEC season. Many manufacturers soon followed, with Toyota, Peugeot, and Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus announcing its entries into the category.

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Less than a year later, Aston Martin’s WEC campaign was quietly put on hold. The company blamed the FIA’s amendment of the regulations to include the LMDh category as reasons for pulling back. However, many believe it had more to do with Lawrence Stroll’s buy out of the beleaguered car maker and his plans to turn his Racing Point Formula One team into an Aston Martin F1 works team.  

Understandably, Aston Martin’s reversal on its WEC commitment angered Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, which was already committing resources to its entrant. Peugeot went dark on its car as the PSA Group’s finalised its merger with FCA.

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All these dramas meant that Toyota seemed like the only party going ahead with its Le Mans Hypercar. For much of 2020, nobody was sure if the new category would even take off, especially with an ongoing pandemic. At best, Toyota will continue its three-year streak of racing as a full-fledged manufacturer alone in its class.

A ray of light

That all changed at last weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Peugeot released a concept image of its 2022 entrant and confirmed its commitment to the LM-Hypercar class. The ByKOLLES team teased its entrant with mention of a road car version in the works. And Toyota rocked up to the event with a development prototype of its GR Super Sport.

From a limp duck to a promising start, it looks like the LM-Hypercar class is back on the menu again. Though one name that might be missing would be Aston Martin, the original proponents of the idea itself.

With the company going through a tough year of management changes, challenging sales, and a new commitment to Formula One, it would be unlikely that the company has the spare resources to launch a new WEC campaign. Furthermore, rumours are emerging that the slated customer delivery of the Valkyrie has been pushed back due to development concerns.

The story of Aston Martin and the fate of its Valkyrie will be one for another day. For now, it looks as though the top class of endurance racing is set for a new renaissance. Only this time, it will feature a new line-up of unlikely names vying to write a new chapter in motorsports. Racing fans wouldn’t have it any other way.