WEC 2021: Change is coming
By Jim K. April 15 2021
The motorsport world is navigating its way through what is hopefully the tail-end of the Covid-19 pandemic. Event cancellations, date rearrangements, and empty grandstands have become the norm. WEC in 2020 was no exception, with its eighth season-ending over 14 months from its start date. For 2021 and beyond, though, WEC is back and back in a disruptive way as the endurance series introduces a raft of encouraging changes for its future.
The headline-grabber is the all-new LMH class that will race in the championship from 2021 onwards. Gone is LMP1, and its replacement is the undeniably cool sounding "Le Mans Hypercar." The rules allow the LMH entries to be as wild and unique as each entrant desires. Alternatively, manufacturers can enter cars with only some limitations, such as road-legal versions. Designs could get colorful. LMH is where we could see some unrestrained prototypes in the future.
To temper expectations, "in the future" is a key caveat here. Although hypercars will be racing at the 24hr Le Mans and the rest of the 2021 season, it's the subsequent years that are most compelling. More on that in a moment. For this year. Toyota and Glickenhaus will field the only LMH-spec cars. Renault and its partnership with the Signature Racing Team will also compete in the top class thanks to an FIA provision to allow LMP1 cars to contest 2021 in "grandfathered" use. The "Alpine Elf Matmut" team will use the same livery as that seen in Formula racing this year, too. Renault aren't holding back with their renewed interest in the Alpine brand.
However, looking forward, we will see the ByKolles team enter LMH in 2022 as well as French manufacturer Peugeot. That doubles the number of LMH entrants to four. But it is 2023 that has the attention of the motorsport sector as Ferrari will return to Le Mans once again. The most iconic car brand in the world, racing at the most prestigious motorsport event will be a sight to see.
2022 also sees the introduction of the LMDh class, the "Le Mans Daytona h". This class sees four chassis manufacturers provide most of the car, with the entrant only responsible for the engine, the body, and the hybrid system. The ultimate aim is for LMH and LMDh to race evenly against each other, though LMH will have the early advantage. Porsche and Audi will both race in this class with many other manufacturers rumored to be interested, too.
Should LMH and LMDh find some performance parity, WEC will be the place for race fans to see the big car companies dueling. Ferrari, Audi, Peugeot, Porsche, Renault... The era of Toyota winning Le Mans by default is truly over.
A slower series than before
With the replacement of LMP1 in favor of LMH, there is a rebalancing of the whole field for 2021. While the technological advancements are ongoing, LMH will be slower than the current LMP1 cars. Estimates put a lap time of around 3:30 for the new class initially. This speed is slower than current-spec LMP2 cars, which clearly creates a problem for the race class hierarchy.