Analysis: First steps for new LMP2 'baby prototypes'

Four constructors have been chosen for the new era of LMP2 racing from 2017. Sam Smith explains what it all means.

The news that Onroak, ORECA, Dallara and Riley/Multimatic have been chosen as the four LMP2 chassis constructors for the new generation of 'baby-prototype' cars should come as no major surprise.

Both Onroak and ORECA have been successful mainstays of sports-prototypes for the best part of the last decade, in one way or another, and they are politically close to the FIA/ACO axis on all-elements of LMP and its future direction.

Dallara has always had ambitions to return to Le Mans as a constructor and not merely a technology provider.

Dallara supplied structural composite parts to Toyota and Audi for many years in the 90s and early 2000's, but they also built an LMP900/SR1 car in 2001, which ironically won FIA Sportscar Championship races with ORECA in 2002.

While the above three companies will attempt to 'hoover up' the WEC and ELMS market place, the Riley/Multimatic alliance is set to provide cars to for the TUSC. It is an intriguing partnership, but one that has some deep rooted foundations in LMP excellence.

The first of which is that Multimatic acquired the IP rights to the Lola family of LMP2 designs in 2012. This family of products won races and titles from 2005-2010.

The project is likely to have the DNA of this technical structure, especially as former Lola chief designer Julian Sole is now firmly entrenched in the Multimatic family.

LMP2 future plans contentious

The main protagonists that will be disappointed on missing out as one of the 'Gang of Four' for 2017 is the BR Engineering company that built the BR01 car for SMP Racing. 

The Ginetta organisation too will be feeling sore. They planned an LMP2 design even before news of the FIA/ACO's divisive cost containing strategy became public back in March.

The plans for four constructors and one engine manufacturer have been met with anything but affection. Many of the teams believe that the variety and diversity of LMP2 at present forms the whole USP of the class. It is hard to argue otherwise.

The big fear is that a natural selection process kicks-in, with one of the constructors providing a significantly enhanced competitive proposition. This then means that even in early testing, collective minds are made up and LMP2 effectively becomes another one-make class.

Many have voiced their concerns, among them Tim Greaves, Team owner of Greaves Motorsport.

"I actually understand and get what the FIA and ACO want to do and achieve with LMP2 but the rules are already in place to control the number of manufacturers today," said Greaves .

"It specifically says that a manufacturer must produce six cars but it has never been implemented. If they are implemented properly then there is not a reason to make such a sweeping change."

"The reality is that it is highly likely only one of the four chosen manufacturers will get orders,"

Greaves continued: "It is what happened in single-seater racing over the last twenty years. Naturally one package will be quicker than the other and that will be found out quickly. Then what happens to the others? All of a sudden it becomes a one-make class. That is how I think it could play out in LMP2."

So how will it be cheaper?

We know LMP2 will be faster. An extra 50bhp will see to that. But how will it be cheaper, and how will it become more cost-effective than the current cost cap of €450k, which was implemented in 2011.

Well, the 2017 LMP2 is set at €480k for the chassis without an engine and electronics. The thought process is that the higher cost is equalised by the running and maintenance costs, which are somehow set to be lower over a season. An electronics supplier will be announced in September, along with the engine provider.

There is set to be a gradual transition for the new products with existing LMP2 cars still, able to race in the 2017 WEC, ELMS and Asian Le Mans Series. However, from 2018 only old LMP2 cars will be able to run in the ELMS.

The upshot is that if LMP2 doesn't go from strength to strength from 2017 onward then there are sure to be tough questions to answer for the FIA and ACO. The beginning of these questions is likely to start with: 'If it wasn't broke….why did it need fixing?"

The overwhelming point of view in the paddock is that there was an over-reaction to the temporarily disappointing 2014 WEC LMP2 entry. Time will tell if this was indeed the case.

Will some LMP2 teams find alternative arrangements?

The short answer is yes. Motorsport.com knows of two high profile, former LMP2 class winning teams that are planning a move in to the LMP1-L class – (Strakka announced this morning), which is currently frequented by just Rebellion Racing and ByKolles in the WEC.

Were these moves triggered by the FIA/ACO's decision to re-structure LMP2? Again, time will be the only arbiter. Yet the facts are that several successful names are set to be consigned to sportscar history now. Let us hope that ultimately the class itself does not follow.

 

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Series WEC
Article type Analysis