The last great “road car” to shoot for victory at Le Mans was really a pure prototype with some concessions to looks. It’s the Toyota GT-One and we love it.
Photo: Toyota

Last week we got confirmation from the FIA that Le Mans will have a new top class in 2020, with prototype design and road car looks, but the degree to which the class would balance on one side or the other remained unclear. Now we have a bit more detail on how this should all shake out.

What got reaffirmed is that the FIA is framing this new class as prototype race cars with road car looks, but it’s serious about those looks. “Aerodynamics cannot take precedence over aesthetics,” the FIA’s press release today states, in its own dedicated line.

We also got desired specs of the cars-to-be, and they are very much in the mould of today’s prototypes, only aiming to be a quarter of the cost. What remains is:

-KERS hooked up to the front wheels for hybrid all-wheel drive

-A 3:20 lap time (this year’s LMP1 qualifying record stands at 3:15)

-No restriction on engine selection

-Fuel will be limited. “Consumption rules will ensure fair competition between different systems,” says the FIA

Advertisement

Basically, this is the format for today’s LMP1 cars. Now, LMP1 has been extremely cookie-cutter in the final seasons of Toyota versus Porsche versus Audi, then Toyota versus Porsche, then Toyota versus itself. But when Toyota and Porsche first came in, there was some charming distinction between teams, between turbo V6s, big naturally-aspirated V8s and tiny V4s. Governing teams with fuel economy leaves things largely open, as it did in the Group C days as well.

The FIA also said that the name of the class is still up in the air:

The 2020-2024 plan will usher in a new era of endurance racing with an ultramodern style of prototype, with a name to be determined by fans of the FIA WEC. Super Sportscar, GTPrototype, Le Mans Supercars or Le Mans Hypercars? The choice is the fans’!

Advertisement

I will also include this key paragraph from the FIA that doesn’t really add anything new, but is extremely fun to read and captures the spirit of why fundamentally-silly race cars can be so dreamy.

The regulations, devised by the FIA and the ACO, focus on the appearance, style and lines of the cars in the new premier league. Team and car diversity in endurance racing is one of the discipline’s foremost trademarks, never truer with the emergence of these stylized yet muscular cars, veritable racing beasts in the spirit and image of endurance. They will take on circuits like Le Mans, Spa, Silverstone, Fuji and Sebring in the day and night, rain or shine, in hot weather as in cold. That calls for a tough prototype, one as imposing as it is ingenious and technological. One that turns heads, like hypercars, supercars, prestigious GTs and concept cars do on the street or at any given motor show.

Give me the racing beasts, stylized yet muscular, tough and imposing and ingenious.

Advertisement

If anything, these rules look quite a bit like the final days of Group C (when Peugeot ran a 905 prototype with road car styling) and the final days of GT1, when manufacturers ran basically all-out prototypes and lied about making a bunch of road car versions for sale. The Nissan R390 GT1 never made it into private hands, if I’m not mistaken, nor did the Toyota GT-One, though they raced in a class nominally about road cars turned race cars.

Very road car-like, right? This is the Nissan R390 in wind tunnel testing.
Photo: Nissan Heritage

The manufacturers involved in these talks so far have been Toyota, McLaren, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Ford. A handful of these companies have already shown concepts or production versions of hypercars that look like they’d fit these regulations. What remains an unanswered is if we’ll see them in competition, or if we’ll only see dedicated prototypes that have similar styling. The cars themselves, things like the Aston Martin Valkyrie, make you lean towards the former. The announcements from the FIA make you lean towards the latter.

Advertisement

For instance, would Ford run a very modified, hybrid version of the Ford GT, or would it make a new dedicated prototype that only kinda looks like a Ford GT?

Alternatively, would, say, Toyota, which has shown the GR Super Sport Concept, a road legal race car design, bother to put the vehicle into low-level production, even though it’s basically just a prototype?

Advertisement

Ford responded to my request for clarification and said, basically, that Ford doesn’t know exactly how this will all shake out, either. “Ford still wants to know more concrete details about what’s to come before making comment.”

I also reached out to Toyota to ask, and will update if I hear back.