The 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2022 marks the end of an era that can best be described as a transformation: the makers of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) have been on the lookout since the LMP1 hybrid class collapsed in 2017 for a new moto icon. Hypercars have been leading as the successor class since 2021, but with Toyota and Glickenhaus there are only two plants at the start of this year, plus the old Alpine LMP1.
In 2023, when the 24 Hours of Le Mans celebrates its 100th birthday, a new era will finally begin at the front of the field. Next, seven car manufacturers will compete in the combined top-class of ACO (hypercars equal to LMH) and IMSA (LMDh), with two other brands, Lamborghini and BMW, appearing in 2024.
The GT class at Le Mans is also experiencing a turning point this year: the manufacturer’s teams compete in the GTE Pro class for the last time. GTE cars will continue to be allowed in the Am class next year, before GT3 cars move to Le Mans in 2024.
With only five and seven cars named in the manufacturer-supported Hypercars and GTE-Pro classes, the special teams in the LMP2 class (27 vehicles) and in the GTE-Am class (23 cars) are – once again – in the spotlight for the majority of the field. The start of the season in Le Mans.
BOP charades for LMH
What can spectators and fans expect from the final year of the relocation at Le Mans? Did test day last weekend provide any new information about the power balance in the car classes? And what role does the BOP play, which is supposed to ensure a balance between the different concepts?
That hasn’t changed much in the supercars: the Alpine got 13 horsepower more than last time at Spa, but it has 40 horsepower less than it did at Le Mans 2021. Toyota lost twelve horsepower compared to last year and weighed four kilograms more (1,070 kilograms) from 2021. In addition, the amount of energy for Toyota vehicles per mission has been reduced by 64 MJ to 898 MJ. Last year, Toyota did not have any restrictions on the use of the hybrid system, and this year, only the German-Japanese factory team is allowed to use the hybrid from 190 km / h.
Important: This is not an additional boost as it was in the old LMP1 class, because system performance always remains the same. When Toyota boosts its electric power, the power from the combustion engine has to be reduced, so the hybrid system is just a fuel saver. The BOP for Glickenhaus supercars without a hybrid is the same as in 2021: 520 kW system output, 1030 kg weight and 910 MJ energy quantity per mission.
Toyota and Glickenhaus were equal in the preliminary test, Toyota driver Jose Maria Lopez set the best time of the day by 3 seconds: 29.896 minutes, and the best team Glickenhaus was two dozen behind. The Alps, on the other hand, were off at 2.5 seconds and there is a suspicion the team didn’t show everything to make a BOP improvement. “The gap between us and Toyota and Glickenhaus can be explained by a lack of top speed, we simply lack power due to the BOP,” said Alpine driver Nicholas Lapierre.
During initial testing, Toyota made it clear that the failure of the #8 start in the World Championship race at Spa was due to transaxle damage and that measures were taken to ensure that it did not happen again. Jim Glickenhaus hopes to be able to take on Toyota this time around, but that requires a similarly good and reliable team performance as in 2021. “We set very high standards in 2021, but we can repeat the performance,” Glickenhaus believes. The Toyota team is still the frontrunner, but an external victory should be possible this time based on the paper model.
LMP2: A Race Within a Race
In the LMP2 specification category, BOP is irrelevant. Last year the top LMP2 teams speculated there was little chance of even being on the podium, this year no one is talking about this constellation anymore. United Autosports driver Felipe Albuquerque topped the time list in the preliminary test with a time of 3:32.099. “If you take the quality of the team and the driver line-up in LMP2 as a criterion, then in theory a dozen teams can win the race,” the Portuguese explained. “But the truth is that the best LMP2 teams will fight among themselves. The only problem is that there will still be seven or eight cars fighting for victory!” In addition to United Autosports, WRT and Jota are among the favorites with two cars each, and the teams from Penske and Panis must also be considered.
In the second business class GTE-Pro, the focus is heavily on the BOP, after Porsche felt the damage last year and Ferrari and Corvette raced between themselves. In 2022, two working Corvettes, Ferraris and Porsches will meet for the last time. Test day was the case for the “target lap times” category: it seems all manufacturers decided not to cut back on the 3:54.0 minute lap time, so as not to scare any horses away. In the end, six cars built were within five tenths of a second in the GTE-Pro.
After assessing the mini segments, Porsche complained that, as in the previous year, it lost 1.3 seconds per lap on the straight compared to Ferrari. That makes sense, because the initial test-day BOP is virtually identical to 2021: the Corvette and Ferrari still weigh 1,269kg, and the Porsche 1,285kg. Porsche has three liters more fuel in the tank than in 2021, and Ferrari’s boost pressure is almost above 2021 Le Mans values in the entire speed range. Only the Corvette was given less power with a smaller restraint (minus 0.8 mm).
torn from the seats?
In the GTE-Am class, the weights of Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin also stayed the same, Ferrari has a little stronger pressure here than in 2021, Aston Martin is a little lower, and Porsche’s restrictions remain the same. The suspicion remains that even in the GT Amateur class, the full driving has not been done to evoke NO or modify the BOP.
Will the 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans take us out of our seats next weekend? In a top-tier supercar, things could already be closer than they were in 2021, potentially putting the LMP2 class in action. In the case of GT cars, there’s a lot to do with the BOP – and the regulator could still follow suit until Friday night. The game can start.