Why Aston Martin Is Leaving the New Le Mans Hypercar Race Class
Aston Martin’s Hypercar racing program for its Valkyrie has succumbed to the financial adversity faced by the storied British marque.
Announced by CEO Andy Palmer in January of 2019, the road version of the 6.5-liter V-12-powered Valkyrie was meant to be modified to compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship starting in September of 2020—just as the WEC, and the organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, would complete a changeover of their top racing category.
Turbulent times for Aston Martin, coupled with a noticeable absence of news and updates on the project, led to reasonable concerns over the fate of the sublime-but-costly Valkyrie Hypercar racing project. A formal announcement from the brand on the shuttering of the stillborn effort is expected on Wednesday.
Although a group of investors has infused the company with nearly $250 million in funds to stave off its collapse, a costly exercise like the factory Valkyrie Hypercar was ripe for cancellation. With an annual operating budget in excess of $20 million, not to mention the sizable costs to create and develop a racing version of the vehicle, axing the Valkyrie Hypercar effort has stood as an obvious decision to make while in the throes of financial peril.
The leader of the new investment team, Canadian billionaire and Formula 1 team owner Lawrence Stroll, will lead Aston Martin as its new executive chairman. The avid open-wheel racing fan confirmed the brand will move to his Racing Point F1 program next year as its official partner; Lawrence’s son, Lance, serves as a driver on the team. Willing to spend his own money on F1, the interest in personally backing a Le Mans-centric Hypercar program was improbable, as best.
In winding down 20 years of LMP1-style cars in favor of the new Hypercar formula, where road-based creations like the Valkyrie and Toyota’s purebred Hybrid race car are meant to mingle, the ACO and WEC have been reliant on auto manufacturers to populate the class. By rule, WEC Hypercar has been restricted as a playground solely reserved for auto brands, leaving its success or failure in the hands of those who opt in. And, in the case of Aston Martin, those who depart prior to its arrival.
Despite the appealing nature of the Hypercar regulations—one where all manner of engine and hybrid concepts are permitted, and a strong emphasis on road-car styling is championed—the subscription rate has been underwhelming.
Toyota, whose commitment to racing in the WEC has been unwavering as its LMP1-Hybrid rivals at Nissan, Audi, and Porsche all withdrew in sequence from 2015-2017, serves as the only Hypercar manufacturer expected to be on the grid, with two entries for the category’s competition debut later this year at the Silverstone circuit in England.
At home in front of the partisan crown, the shrieking Red Bull-designed, Multimatic-built Valkyries were meant to serve as the primary opposition to Toyota, with as many as four of the British supercars in action.
Although six cars from two manufacturers at Silverstone was never going to carry a significant visual punch, it offered enough promise for the ACO and WEC to support Hypercar’s debut. Prior to the advent of Hypercar, the two organizations floated a number of prototype formula concepts to replace LMP1, all of which failed to launch. Minus Aston Martin, the specter of bringing Hypercar into the world with two cars from a single manufacturer could lead the French sanctioning bodies to delay Hypercar’s debut until a later date.
American manufacturer Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus expected to test its SCG 007 Hypercar for the first time in September. Although the Connecticut-based marque will miss the first four rounds of the WEC’s 2020-2021 season, founder Jim Glickenhaus intends to begin SCG’s factory WEC racing campaign at the South African Kyalami circuit in February of 2021 and contest the rest of the races on the calendar, concluding at Le Man in June.
Peugeot also signaled its intent to enter the Hypercar formula, albeit a long way off in 2022, giving the ACO and WEC another reason to ponder its next steps with the category.
Provided no further changes come to bear, the endurance racing organizations have two Toyotas coming in September of 2020, one SCG in February of 2021, and Peugeot—which could shift away from the Hypercar formula in favor of IMSA’s lower-cost and new-for-2022 LMDh formula—with a 50/50 chance of entering a few cars the following year. If Peugeot does indeed move forward with the LMDh formula, Hypercar’s fate will be cast.
Under the new prototype convergence arrangement signed between the ACO and IMSA in January, where cars built to the Hypercar formula and the upcoming LMDh formula will race together starting in 2022, a handful of manufacturers, ranging from Porsche to Ford to Lexus, have expressed a serious interest in joining the LMDh (second-generation DPi) ranks.
For the sake of comparison, IMSA’s new DPi formula enacted in 2017 featured three manufacturers taking part in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan fielding a total of seven cars. With the addition of Acura in 2018, the DPi class climbed to nine factory cars. Although DPi is back down to three brands after Nissan’s exit, the budget-minded American prototype formula, which has a new green light for its LMDhs to race at Le Mans, is viewed as the obvious route for manufacturers to pursue.
Unmoved by the distressed state of Hypercar, Glickenhaus says he’ll continue preparing to race against Toyota and any other brands that turn up.
“I’m going to test during the fall, and my firm plans are to race next year at Kyalami, Sebring, Spa, and Le Mans in about 20 months,” he told Road & Track. “Aston Martin’s situation doesn’t affect me or what we’re doing. The ACO asked me to bring one of our 007s to Le Mans this year to do some demonstration laps to show the fans what the Hypercars will look like on the race track, and we’re honored to do that with them.”
The New Yorker believes at least one of his $2.2 million 007 Hypercars could complement the factory SCG effort in 2021.
“Last night, one of our customers, who has actually bought five SCGs so far, called us and said he wants to firm up his order for an 007, so we could be there with two cars,” Glickenhaus says.
The WEC is in Austin, Texas, this week for the Lone Star Le Mans race at Circuit of the Americas. Officials from IMSA, the ACO and the WEC have a worrisome development to work through in light of the Aston Martin news. Will Peugeot stick with its original, pre-convergence plan to build Hypercars, or will it lean towards LMDh as expected?
Should the three organizations halt Hypercar in its tracks and commit to LMDh for everyone—at the risk of losing Toyota, or causing it to start a new LMDh program, and closing the door to Glickenhaus?
The seas of professional sports car racing are rarely steady. Strap in and prepare for rough waters ahead.
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