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Le Mans regulations for 2014 announced
14 June 2012 12:28
The organisers of the Le Mans 24-hour have announced a raft of radical new rules on the eve of the 2012 race - including the less restricted use of hybrid power for the top-flight LMP1 racers from 2014.
The governing ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest) unveiled the major changes due in two years' time as the teams start the 80th 24 Heures du Mans event which runs from Saturday 16 - Sunday 17 June 2012.
In order to stay in tune with our environmentally-conscious, economically-chastened times, the focus of the alterations is to improve the efficiency of the elite LMP1 cars' technology and cement a link with roadgoing hybrids, as well as making the race cars safer.
What's new in the 2014 Le Mans regulations?
As first outlined back in 2010, each car will be required to run the race on a set 'energy allocation' per lap, forcing teams to more efficiently extract performance throughout the entire 24-hour period in order to be successful.
Adoption of hybrid systems is also being further encouraged in LMP1, as is already being seen on the Audi R18 Etron Quattro and Toyota TS030. Combustion engine rules have been also freed up massively: air restrictors have been binned, along with the rulebook on engine capacities and turbo pressures. LMP1 cars will be allowed to run much less-constrained diesel or petrol powerplants - so long as they comply with the weight limit (850kg minimum - 830kg for non-hybrids) and of course don't jeapordise the all-important economy for the French marathon.
So, performance and economy are on the up?
Correct - it's a best of both worlds scenario, they claim. And, since the ACO is committed to keeping Le Mans relevant to everyday road cars, the new rules will hopefully breed technology which filters down into showroom models (just as disc brakes and LED headlights have in the past.) With the entire motor industry gravitating towards small-capacity turbocharged engines, LMP1 will be at the forefront of exploring how to get the best from tiny blown motors.
Super-exotic materials will also be banned from use in construction, since only the rarest supercars ever enjoy similar components in their own build. Sounds like a nod to capping costs.
If the 2014 Le Mans cars get faster, won't that jeapordise safety?
The ACO has taken steps to ensure that won't be the case. After two huge wrecks for the Audi R18s in the 2011 event, the strength of LMP1 cars in protecting their drivers from harm during an accident is not in doubt. What will be improved is the driver's visibility from within the closed-cockpit only cars (another efficiency-biased aerodynamic benefit.)
By seating the drivers slightly higher and further forward in the car, and lowering the heights of the front wings, the view from within the cockpit will increase substantially, removing the blindspots that plague closed cockpit LMP1 racers and have led to nightmare crashes while lapping the slower GT field.
The cars will also shrink in width from a maximum 2000mm today to 1900mm in 2014, reducing the frontal area and therefore causing less drag. Of course, narrower tracks and slightly inferior weight distribution caused by these measures will present a greater challenge to the engineers building the world's fastest endurance cars when 2014 rolls around.
It won't just be Audi, Toyota et al contending with the new regulations, though: 2014 sees the long-awaited return of Porsche to the LMP1 class, after what will have been a 14-year absence. In that time, Audi has dominated the Circuit de la Sarthe with 10 wins in 13 years - and honed the highly successful switch to diesel power.
With the most successful marque in Le Mans history (Porsche have 16 outright wins) arriving just in time for unrestricted engines and hybrid power, to face an almost unchallenged Audi team, 2014 is already shaping up to be a classic 24 Heures du Mans.
For CAR's list of the 24 biggest moments in Le Mans history, please click here.