Goodyear’s endurance racing program manager says the Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s approach to reducing LMP2 performance strikes the “best compromise” for the formula.
The FIA World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series organizer selected Goodyear as LMP2’s official supplier on a three-year deal starting in 2021 after a season of open tire competition with Michelin, which now holds exclusivity in the Hypercar class.
Goodyear has since been involved in the so-called ‘stratification’ process to ensure adequate separation between the current generation of LMP2 cars that have raced since 2017 and the new Hypercar top division, which is slower than its LMP1 predecessor.
Stratification has involved two waves of LMP2 performance cuts, the first coming in 2019 and the second coming one month before the 2021 WEC season-opener on May 1.
The latest change increased the LMP2 minimum weight by 20 kg to 950 kg, removed a further 20 kW of power output and mandated low-downforce aero kits in the WEC.
Those adjustments were joined by a late switch to a different Goodyear slick tire specification than originally intended, based on team feedback from pre-season testing.
Mike McGregor, who oversees Goodyear’s endurance racing projects, believes that the combination of reducing performance in different areas has been the most suitable way of managing the established category which includes 11 full-time cars in the WEC.
“When you’ve got a category that’s so good and has been built up so well, the drivers are all used to a certain level,” McGregor told Sportscar365.
“It’s a really good car that’s fast, with a lot of downforce and a good amount of grip.
“As soon as you get to sacrifice any of those things, people aren’t going to like it. And especially the gentlemen-type drivers who are putting a lot of the budget into this, are obviously saying: ‘I’ve gone this direction, why haven’t we gone in another direction?’
“But if we’d started at another point, I think we’d have been in the exact same situation that they wouldn’t have been happy if it had just been a power reduction and we’d stayed with the same tires. Whichever one came first: it’s a chicken and egg situation.
“At the moment, where the ACO have decided to go is probably the best compromise.
“It’s a bit in tires, a bit in engine power, but it’s not necessarily throwing everything at one thing. It’s got that even compromise across the board.
“The bit that’s then hard to understand is, where the stratification is between Hypercar and LMP2.
“Reading one of the interviews with [ACO competition director] Thierry Bouvet and him saying, ‘we’re not going to do anything’. It’s the most sensible approach until we can really understand where the parity is and where the difference is in the categories.
“Just going up and talking to the teams after the Prologue, everybody seemed relatively happy with where they’ve got to.”
Goodyear is now in the process of reviewing its data from Spa alongside the ACO and FIA to determine whether any refinements need to be made for the rest of the WEC season.
Toyota, which runs a pair of Le Mans Hypercars, stated after its Spa race victory that the gap between the prototype classes will require further attention. The winning Toyota GR010 Hybrid finished one lap ahead of the LMP2-winning United Autosports Oreca 07 Gibson but took more than half the race to achieve that separation.
The WEC leadership declared at Spa that LMP2 will not receive any further performance reductions this year, shifting the focus of the stratification process onto Hypercar.
McGregor indicated that Goodyear and the WEC are nonetheless set to continue evaluating ways of optimizing the LMP2 tire product as part of their close partnership.
“We’ve got a lot of experience on tires and we know where the windows sit,” he said.
“That’s why we’ve come back to this ‘C’ spec tire which is one of the ones that we did in December, in testing.
“We’ve got some compounds in and around that range, so that if they say to us, ‘look, this is where we need you to sit’, we can start to investigate that in more detail.”
He continued: “Exactly what Thierry Bouvet’s comments have been so far, is that we already discussed that we would review everything post the Spa race weekend.
“Because Spa is the first time with Hypercar, the [LMP2] Le Mans aero kit with the power and the tires, to get a full idea of where we go and what we need to do for the future.
“As a true partnership, we need to take that decision collectively with them rather than just presenting something and saying that this is what we’re going to run with.
“It’s got to be a tire that fits to what they want and what they require, and where that will fit in the rest of the season.”
Current Situation Requires “Agile” Approach
McGregor believes that Goodyear has shown agility in its approach to the new season considering its expanded role in an LMP2 formula that has undergone several changes.
The 2021 tire spec, which combines a previously used compound with a new construction package, was selected after a collective test at Barcelona in March.
Goodyear took three different specs to that test but found the reception to be mixed, with some drivers finding it tough to adapt to reduced percentages of grip designed to add two seconds to lap times at Le Mans and between 1-1.5 seconds at other circuits.
The subsequent analysis resulted in the rollout of an altogether different specification that made its WEC debut in the Prologue test and 6 Hours of Spa a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s a challenge, but I think we’ve raised to it very well,” said McGregor.
“From a tire aspect, because we’ve been flicking and changing in specs, that’s been a bit more complicated.
“Our manufacturing facility and the people behind that team have worked really hard to change everything very quickly, post the decision from the Barcelona test, to then bring the new specs and introduce those for Barcelona [ELMS] and for Spa.
“I think it shows how agile we can be in those situations to work closely with the ACO and FIA to deliver.”