2021 FIA World Endurance Championship, Francorchamps, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

In the build-up to the season opener for the the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) at Spa -Francorchamp a high degree of anxiety was expressed that the advent of the new Hypercar category  would be rudely interupted by its roundly considered inferior cousin in the LMP2 category that has already been reigned in by regulators to prevent such an occurance. The Organisers and Regulators rightly stood firm to see how things would play out and duely Toyota management knuckled down and seemingly got on with the job. SportscarGlobal (SCG) have taken a little time to study the data and see what is going on, and can report… drum-roll… It is not the End of the World! 

2020-08-06

Firstly, accepting the different weather conditions (2021 being much cooler than 2020), comparison between the outgoing LMP1 Toyota TS050 and its daughter the GR010.  At the same stage (pre-race) the new GR010 is 5kph faster (312.3 v 307) through the speed trap than its fore-runner. That top speed plus other data suggest that Toyota have a very slippery (low-drag) car on their hands. For their compareable ideal laps the GR010 is 1.5secs slower than the TS050, multiply that differential up and the specified 3:30 lap target race lap time for the Hypercar category at Le Mans would appear to be adhered to. 

#7, TOYOTA GAZOO RACING, Toyota GR010 – Hybrid*, [Hybrid Class], Mike Conway (GBR), Kamui Kobayashi (JPN), Jose Maria Lopez (ARG). 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship, Francorchamps, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

Secondly, we turn to look at the Spa sectors, these are broken down into Low, High, Low downforce (df), that is to say the first and last sectors are predominantly fast and straight whilst the mid-sector is a more twisty affair. Given Spa is often the appetiser pre-Le Mans teams tend to favour performance in the fast sectors and make do in the middle. Of course this year much angst has been expressed as to the Organiser’s directive that all LMP2 category cars must run to a Le Mans-spec aero. Fans have ragged about the additional cost, but really if that is a team or individual’s beef here they are playing the wrong game (consider the Christian Ried’s repair bill post Spa!). The point is Le Mans for some years now has not been the ultra low df/drag layout it once was, since the chicanes on the Hunaudaries straight achieving decent times through each complex has become more significant than the terminal velocity in between. 

When we turn to the timing we note again the slippery nature of the GR010. In Sectors 1 & 3 it outstrips its competition by a combined 2-seconds and gives some of that back in Sector 2 (the twiddly bit). Prior to the qualifying run the Toyota was falling to 8th in the second sector, in Qualifying it was 5th, which assuming everyone else was trying just as hard then Toyota found something (seemingly worth 1.5sec). Further analysis suggest they turned up the aero (their peak speeds were not set in qualifying) and perhaps benefitted from activation of the tyres as a result in the mid-sector..  Of course that comes with consequences in the race but an intrguing development.

This could also hint at a broader strategy from Toyota… To win a motor race you only need to be just a little bit quicker.. Have Toyota tried to gain a hidden advantage by running a less than optimal strategy, enough to win, but to panic the organisers into a knee-jerk change… The less than obvious games people play… but consequential of being on-track now with your category competitors plotting from behind their virtual drawing boards perhaps… 

Thirdly, none of this is really that slow, TS050 2020-ideal lap 1:59.314 / GR010 2021-ideal lap 2:00.747 You Won’t Notice!

2021 FIA World Endurance Championship, Francorchamps, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

The doomsters and gloomsters have waxed and whined about the end of LMP1, but those unsustainable rare-metal rocketships had reached the end of their evolutionary cycle. we have a step change now. What we need now is revolutionary thinking, the economy, environment, people need bright shiny new things to inspire and engage, to promote new ways and efficiency that keeps our sport aligned with the rapidly changing real automotive world. 

#22, UNITED AUTOSPORTS USA, Oreca 07 – Gibson, Philip Hanson (GBR), Fabio Scherer (CHE), Filipe Albuquerque (PRT). 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship, Francorchamps, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.

And Finally, really its a brief word on LMP2 and United Autosports, quite clearly the best ‘winning-est’ team in LMP2. Filipe Albuquerque was able to pull a 5kph top speed margin on his fellow category competitors (305.2 v 300.2kph). The UA Oreca 07 – Gibson tops every sector for LMP2..  They are doing a better, stand-out job, it would be unfortunate if one team’s performance was taken as representative of a whole category. Mind the Gap, there is one, stand firm WEC/ACO/LMEM. 

So join us in following this afternoon’s race in Europe. We will learn more over the course of the six-hour race, and what we note we will bring to you later. Enjoy the Ardennes in May! 

2021 FIA World Endurance Championship, Francorchamps, Belgium. Photo © John D Stevens.