The future for Le Mans racing worldwide was outlined Thursday as the Automobile Club de l'Ouest unveiled its game plan for the next three years. Daniel Poissenot, the ACO's clerk of the course, spoke to teams, manufacturers and media at its annual official press conference held at the Sarthe Motorcar museum, adjacent to Circuit de La Sarthe. Poissenot outlined three initiatives: improve safety, reduce costs and provide a stable rules package.
Following a meeting on April 15 between manufacturers and other industry representatives, the ACO has decided on a method for reducing performance on its LM P1 and LM P2 prototypes. This reduction will begin in 2009 when a new set of air restrictors will be regulated to help balance the difference between diesel and gasoline-powered cars. In 2010, a more significant reduction in aero development will be mandated.
However, the "Evo" regulations announced here last year seem to have been put on the back burner, as all current prototypes will be eligible to compete for the next three to four years. New "wider and different shaped" prototypes will be introduced next year, with the exact regulations to be announced in November. Poissenot said the ACO would prefer that closed-top cars with a larger cockpit be developed to these new regulations. While the current prototypes will be slowly phased out, both types of cars will compete head-to-head, with organizers developing a performance balancing system.
"It's going to be a little bit wider, enabling us to have different cars with different cockpits," Poissenot said of the new car style. "It will be for the closed ones, and different shapes for the open ones too. We're going to work with our consultant, Gordon Murray, and the manufacturers to adapt the rear wing [to provide more downforce]... We're going to work on the new definition of the bodywork and reinforce lateral protection for driver protection."
Poissenot said these changes are more of an evolution, rather than a revolution. It appears all four categories of cars will continue, and no mention was made regarding the future of the GT classes. Exact details are expected to come when the detailed regulations surface this fall.
Poissenot also announced more immediate changes, slated for next year. Energy recovery systems -- similar to the KERS concept planned for Formula One -- will begin to be introduced, and the provision allowing GT1-spec engines to be used in P1 cars will continue. Air conditioning will also become mandatory next year, with the minimum 32C temperature regulated inside closed-cockpit cars. As seen this year in the American Le Mans Series, all cars will run on some sort of biofuel in 2009 in both the Le Mans Series and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Organizers are also evaluating new methods in reducing the amount of tires used during a race, including the possibility of mandating the use of only one air gun during a pit stop.
While not all questions were answered, stability is now the key word with Le Mans-style racing as it continues to build momentum worldwide.