Rather embarrassingly for the FIA and ACO, the LMP2 cars in the World Endurance Championship have been outpacing members of the new and exciting Hypercar class in pre-season testing.
Said LMP2 cars had already had their wings clipped to slow them down, but at the time of writing it looks like no further action will be taken ahead of the season opener at Spa this weekend. Should be one heck of a tough opening Hypercar season for Toyota and its brand-new GR010 Hybrid, then, shouldn’t it?
To find out what this new breed of 680hp endurance racer feels like to drive (and to selfishly build our excitement for the homologation special road cars), we chatted to Toyota driver Mike Conway to get his thoughts on the car and the future of endurance racing. Check it out below…
Top Gear: Mike, can you give us any insight into what these new Hypercars are like to drive?
Mike Conway: In terms of driving, the car is quite different to what we had before. It’s quite a bit heavier now and that takes some getting used to. There’s less downforce too, but then we’ve got a bigger capacity engine – 3.5-litres instead of the 2.4 we used to have.
So, we’ve actually got more power from the engine itself, but the rules have changed with the hybrid system and how it works. The electric motor doesn’t really give extra power now, the hybrid fills in when some of the combustion engine gets taken away to save fuel.
For most corners the braking distances are that little bit longer now. Some of the high-speed corners are definitely a little bit slower too because of the loss of downforce. The slow-speed corners aren’t too different, but you notice the difference in medium/high-speed sections.
We’re lapping probably five or six seconds per lap slower at Spa than we were in the old car, so quite a big change in lap time.
The car’s still a prototype and it’s still a fun car to drive, it’s always fun doing development on a new car too and I’m looking forward to starting the season.
What else is different for this season?
The engineers have completely new systems to get used to as well. We used to have a lot more data and a lot more live data to look at. Now it’s more restricted, so as drivers we have to change the way we communicate with the engineers. Any changes we make inside the cockpit we have to let them know, because they can’t instantly see it on the data.
We’ve got to ask, what’s your goal for the year?
We won the championship last year, so we’re aiming to retain that. It’s hard to win but even harder to retain. We’ll do what we can to make it happen. It’s going to be a tough season as always, not just with our teammates but once Glickenhaus arrive, they’re going to be good competitors. Obviously at the moment the LMP2 cars are giving us a hard time too. It’s going to be a tough one.
Reliability has been okay during testing. There are always a few gremlins that crop up – we had some issues at the start of this week – but every time something new happens we get on top of it and it shouldn’t happen again. I think given that we’ve got two races before Le Mans it’ll give us time to get on top of things.
Thoughts on the (near) future of endurance racing? It seems like an exciting time…
With all of the new manufacturers coming in it’s going to be great for the sport.
The other manufacturers will have more time to build their cars. The rules were changing as we were developing our car, so we had to adapt with the rules.
We’ll have some advantage from a year’s racing under our belts, but you’d expect the other teams to give themselves plenty of testing time and they’ll be up there straight away.
I hope they are too, because it’ll make the fight pretty intense.