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How the New Hypercar Class Differs From LMP1

Road & Track logo Road & Track 1/15/2021 Fred Smith
a person riding on the back of a truck: The Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 shows us how the top spec of Le Mans race cars will differ from the outgoing LMP1 cars. © TOYOTA GAZOO Racing The Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 shows us how the top spec of Le Mans race cars will differ from the outgoing LMP1 cars.

When the FIA's new "Hypercar" class for Le Mans was announced, there was considerable excitement. Manufacturers were being given tools to create something completely unique from the previous LMP1 cars. Yesterday, Toyota revealed the first-ever Le Mans Hypercar, the GR010. At first glance, it still looks like an LMP1 car. A closer inspection reveals key differences, and shows why Hypercar has the potential to be more interesting than its first entrant lets on.

The Hypercar class was designed for production-car relevance, and Toyota has emphasized that by committing to build a production car based on its series of GR Super Sport concepts shown over the past few years. The hope was that this road-car-to-race-car connection would inspire manufacturers to build absurd homologation specials like the Mercedes CLK GTR that dominated the FIA GT class in the late Nineties. But relaxed Hypercar regulations mean the road-going car doesn't have to have much in common with the competition machine. Toyota will use its production car to homologate the race car's powertrain, and the competition car will take styling cues from the production model. As a direct result, the newly-revealed GR010 looks like something halfway between Toyota's street car concepts and the TS050, their final LMP1 car.

The last generation LMP1 regulations were wide open, and the result was a field of 1000-plus-horsepower, hybrid-assisted monsters ranging from Porsche's three-time Le Mans-winning 919 Hybrid (with a V-4 engine) to Nissan's front wheel drive GT-R LM that absolutely did not work. Toyota's outgoing TS050 was designed to compete directly with the Porsche, but when every other manufacturer pulled out of LMP1, Toyota spent the past three years racing against privateers with no hope of matching the factory team's pace. As a result, the TS050 never went through the extreme re-development process that a sports car would normally see over its competition lifetime.

The new Hypercar rules specify significant power and weight changes compared to LMP1; Toyota predicts the GR010 will be about ten seconds a lap slower at Le Mans than the TS050 it replaces. Like that car, GR010 will run as the sole factory-backed Hypercar this year, but it won't have that luxury for long: Peugeot returns to Le Mans in 2022, and the introduction of new LMDh regulations in 2023 will bring Audi, Porsche, and perhaps others back as well.

a racing car on a road: gettyimages-1188226362 © James Moy Photography - Getty Images gettyimages-1188226362

Still, that consistency makes the TS050 perfect for comparing the last generation of Le Mans sports cars to the next one. The final Toyota LMP1 represents the ultimate evolution of the class, a once-radical group chiseled away by years of non-competitive races, leading up to one of the more forgettable Le Mans winners in the race's history. It has the unique shape of a modern Le Mans prototype: One narrow driver compartment flanked by prominent, boxy rear fenders, flat side-pods more reminiscent of an open-wheel racer than any road car, and a massive front body panel integrating wide front fenders, a narrow central crash structure, and a splitter producing a truly absurd amount of front downforce.

a close up of a toy car on a race track: toyota gr010 © Toyota Gazoo Racing toyota gr010

The GR010 largely retains that signature shape, though the front bodywork reveals some significant changes. The old LMP1 regulations had a major influence on the TS050's massive front fenders and protruding crash structure, but new freedoms in the Hypercar rules allow Toyota to give the GR010 a new shape that better integrates the front fenders. The new nose features a wing-like integrated panel in front of the crash structure, and the overall silhouette is higher, similar to the design of Acura's ARX-05 DPi or Ferrari's LaFerrari road car.

a car driving on a road: toyota's gr super sport concept 2020 © Toyota toyota's gr super sport concept 2020

This is reflected on the GR Super Sport road car. However, since the road car won't have the race car's massive front tires, the fenders are significantly smaller, and with less crash structure to hide, it appears much more conservative.

a truck that is driving down the road: gettyimages-1164973507 © James Moy Photography - Getty Images gettyimages-1164973507

The back of the TS050 is equally angular and purpose-built. In the long-tail configuration that the car utilized at Le Mans, the sizable rear fenders protruded from the side pods at the same height as the front fenders, rounding out into rear bodywork that integrated the rear wing, diffuser, and fin structure into one boxy piece designed for easy removal and replacement. The side pods were round at the front, but that was hidden by the shape of the front bodywork, creating the illusion of flat sides when viewed from most angles.

a car parked in front of a window: toyota gr010 © Toyota Gazoo Racing toyota gr010

The GR010 reverses this. Its side pods are less hidden by the front of the car and are curved more aggressively, creating a new profile that looks as aggressive as that part of a Formula 1 car. Rather than ending abruptly with an awkward collection of right angles, the rear fenders terminate in a more cohesive shape that puts less emphasis on the rear wing's endplates and more on the truly massive diffuser underneath the car. This is the car's biggest aesthetic change, and most significant aesthetic improvement.

a motorcycle parked on the side of a car: toyota gr super sport concept 2017 © Toyota Gazoo Racing toyota gr super sport concept 2017

Like the front of the car, the rear of the road-going GR Super Sport concepts share this fender shape in a less extreme way (the design seen here is from 2017, though newer updates look essentially the same). Here, the side-pods are much longer and the rear wheel components begin much later, while the rear wing itself is much smaller. From this angle, you can more clearly see that the GR010 is more of a homage to the GR Super Sport than it is a racing model of any particular production car.

Unfortunately, this is likely the closest any manufacturer will get to producing a road-going variant of their Hypercar. While the initial sales pitch of the category hinged on the requirement of 125 homologation specials, those cars only need to share a few engine components with the racing models. The race car's styling is up to the imagination of the team itself, with no requirement for any production-car equipment to appear on the race car. Peugeot has already stated that it will skip the road-going version of its race car entirely, and with all other manufacturer interest seemingly focused on the purpose-built LMDh class, it seems unlikely that Hypercar will grow any further.

It also seems unlikely that any Hypercar will ever share as much with a roadgoing variant as radical track day specials like the Bugatti Bolide do. However, the freedom Toyota had to adjust the look of the car bodes well for Peugeot, a company that included radical concept renderings in its announcement. If Peugeot uses the same opportunities Toyota has and follows that design goal, its Hypercar could be the most interesting thing on any track this decade.

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