2012 Audi LMP1 race car
Before action begins on the track at Le Mans the Thursday prior to the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, the Automobie Club de l'Ouest (ACO) holds a press conference to confirm future plans and to single out deserving racers. This year was no different. The celebrant was Gerard Larousse, who is best known for driving a French Matra sports car back in the 1970s and winning this race twice. Still chipper, Larousse is this year's recipient of the Spirit of Le Mans Trophy.
Once the jovialities were complete, the ACO and the FIA discussed plans for the premier LMP1 prototype class of race cars that have reigned over the past decade, with Audi and Peugeot being predominant in the class.
The ACO intended to change the class for the 2014 season and formally announced its plans with six distinct intentions: to enhance efficiency and sustainable development, to ensure that the sport and its spectacle to not suffer in this process, to utilize technological opportunities, bring on cost reductions and, most important to enhance safety using technologies that are currently eligible or will soon be eligible for use in street cars.
To design its new regulations, the ACO and FIA had a working group made up of 12 manufacturers and constructors, including those making engines, chassis, tires and fuels. There were 10 meetings where the group defined technological factors, engine sizes and energy recovery therein, improvement of driver visibility, evolution of the chassis and dimensional changes and safety.
This is what they've come up with as a working plan, which I'm sure will be subject to some revisions as time goes on:
All entries in the FIA World Endurance Championship and in the 24 Heures du Mans will be four-stroke piston engines, with free cubic capacity for manufacturers and up to 5.5 liters for private teams. The rationale for this is to allow high turbo pressure for the manufacturers (up to 4 bars) to enhance efficiency and to reduce cost to the privateers.
This will do away with air inlets, air restricts and allow variable intake trumpets. The fuel injection pressure will be free and the ACo will segue to second generation E20 bio fuels from the current E10. The rules will allow either diesel of gasoline (E20) and there is a possibility of opening up the regulations to other sources of energy that are technologically advanced, like hydrogen or even 100 percent electric power. This group intends to outlaw exotic materials and systems, such as electromagnetic valves, they said.
There will be five categories of energy recovery as of 2014, defined from 0 to 8 MJ (mega joules) per lap of the Le Mans circuit and systems are free, provided they can be measured - only two systems per car are allowed and must be homologated on a seasonal basis with no evolutionary updates permitted.
Only two-seater closed cars will be allowed in this class of prototype, with 850 kg minimum weight for hybrids and 830 kg minimum for non-hybrids. The width of the cars will be reduced by 100 m, from 2000 to 1900 mm, while the driver will sit higher in the car, further forward and the height of front wings will be decreased, all in the name of safety. Wheel tethers will be mandatory and Zylon lateral protection panels will be included, with a rear crash box and improved lighting for all LMP1 cars.
While there are more regulations included in the briefing today, these are the salient points and the Le Mans paddock is awash in interest about the coming specifications. It's not sure yet whether the current teams will be interested in playing this game, particularly with lowered fuel capacity (in all cases), but this is only the introduction of the regulations and not the writing on the wall.