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WEC Hypercar era begins this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps

April 27, 2021
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. World Endurance Championship. Prologue 25th to 27th April 2021 Spa Francorchamps Circuit, Spa, Belgium

The FIA’s World Endurance Championship kicks off this weekend at Belgian’s Spa-Francorchamps road circuit, one of the most famous racetracks in Europe. The occasion marks the start of the Hypercar category, which replaces the LMP1 class that was, most recently dominated by Toyota, the second Japanese manufacturer to win the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans. Hypercars will compete against LMDh cars from IMSA once the series changes from its current DPi premier category.

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On the projected 37-car entry list, there are five Hypercars expected to be at the circuit for the six-hour race. Toyota Gazoo Racing has entered two of its GR010 cars for reigning champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez (in the No. 7) and Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley in the No. 8. 

Their competition is a single Alpine Elf Matmut Alpine A480-Gibson for Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Matthieu Vaxiviera, which is a grandfathered LMP1 car. Two entries from the American Glickenhaus Racing (Glickenhaus 007 LMH) notes only two drivers, one for each car: American Gustavo Menezes and Ryan Briscoe, each the lead driver for the No. 708 and 709, respectively. Romain Dumas, Pipo Derani, Olivier Pla, Richard Westbrook and Franck Mailleux are team drivers but their car assignments haven’t been confirmed. All but the Alpine still have to be licensed by the FIA and its WEC tech department prior to the first practice session.

The WEC held a two-day Prologue test at the track earlier this week in anticipation of the six-hour race and it was then that one issue cropped up: the LMP2 prototypes, which are all powered by a V8 Gibson engine, using either Oreca, Aurus or Ligier chassis, lapped the 7.004 m (4.352 mi), 19-turn circuit quicker than the Toyota Hypercar. During the test session LMP2 cars took first through third places with Toyota’s two entries fourth and fifth. These results show the speed differences compared to the LMP1 predecessors. No doubt the Hypercar will develop well; it’s still quite an infant without a single competitive lap turned.

Toyota, which considered its new hybrid Hypercar a direct descendant of the 1980s and 1990s Group C period, conducted thousands of miles of testing in advance of the Prologue testing, has carefully constructed this new car with a front motor generator unit that delivers 272PS of hybrid power and four-wheel-drive traction at speeds over 120km/h. It’s combined with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, giving its drivers 680PS. In comparison, last year’s TS050 Hybrid weighed 162 kg less and boasted 1,000PS.

The drivers are hoping the team can overcome issues they experienced during the test and have the team start the season as they ended it, in Victory Lane. “It’s been a challenging week, but the mechanics did an exceptional job to get us back on track,” said Mike Conway after having to spend much of the first day waiting for hydraulic and electrical issues to be resolved. “The balance feels okay and we’ve been working on race pace, which means consistency and reliability.”

The six-hour race, which also features the Corvette Racing No. 63 Corvette C8.R driven by Oliver Gavin and Antonio Garcia in the LM GTE Pro division of five cars, takes the green flags at 1:30PM CET, which computes to 7:30AM Sunday, May 1st.

By Anne Proffit

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