With just one race remaining in the 2023 season, the FIA WEC’s current crop of Hypercar teams have eyes on next season, with many of the teams filling the weeks between races with tests for their brand-new or improved machinery.
Of the teams currently on the grid, Cadillac, Ferrari, Peugeot and Porsche have all been on track in recent weeks with their maturing prototypes and all four are either evaluating or working on upgrades to their cars before the next tranche of factories arrive in 2024.
Cadillac was out testing in Imola just two weeks ago for two days in mixed conditions. There, all three of its full-season drivers turned laps, with Alex Lynn hopping between Belgium and Italy midweek due to a clash with his European Le Mans Series commitments with Algarve Pro Racing and Ganassi development (and 2024 IndyCar) driver Kyffin Simpson.
The feedback has been positive, the Ganassi-run team completing a significant amount of mileage without any incidents or mechanical delays, gathering data ahead of the FIA WEC’s debut at the circuit next season.
However, while RACER understands that multiple current LMDh manufacturers are currently making progress working on upgrades for their cars ahead of next season, it is unclear whether Cadillac is one of them.
The GM brand’s track time at Imola was spent with chassis 003, in bare carbon. Chassis 003 is the No. 3 Cadillac that took part in the 6 Hours of Spa, and crashed heavily with Renger van der Zande at Eau Rouge at the wheel back in April, just with a new set of bodywork. Since being rebuilt, it has been acting as the spare for the team’s full-season WEC No. 3 V-Series.R.
A Cadillac spokesperson told RACER that it was not trialing new-for-2024 solutions at that test, or at its recent run at CoTA, during which it shared the Texas circuit with two Corvette Z06 GT3.Rs, one run by Pratt Miller, the other by new WEC LMGT3 customer team TF Sport.
The other question mark surrounding Cadillac for 2024 is the potential for a second Ganassi-run V-Series.R in the world championship. While Cadillac confirmed to RACER back in June that it will be back in the FIA WEC in 2024, the number of cars wasn’t and still isn’t set in stone.
RACER knows it has been working hard in the background to secure funding for a second factory car in Year 2 of the programme, but the likelihood of this addition is firmly up for debate. As recently as early September it appeared that in the background the efforts to convince the board at GM that a second car was necessary for Cadillac to achieve its sporting goals were paying off. This month however, sources around the time of the 6 Hours of Fuji have indicated that the second car is now unlikely, with no customer cars available until 2025 at the earliest.
Ask Cadillac directly and the official line remains: “How many cars and all that stuff hasn’t been announced, but the intent is to continue.” It will be interesting to see if this week’s news regarding the Andretti Formula 1 bid, which Cadillac is a part of, has an impact on the final decision.
Cadillac could expand its WEC operation next season. Motorsport Images
Meanwhile, the other current WEC LMDh manufacturer, Porsche, has been out testing recently too. It shared Spa with WRT’s test BMW M Hybrid V8 chassis ahead of its 2024 WEC debut and is known to be testing in Qatar after the season finale in Bahrain.
In the background, it is known to be working on updates to its LMDh-spec 963, primarily to enhance the car’s reliability ahead of next season, and has already begun testing its 2024 solutions on track.
To ensure it can make its desired improvements to the car in time for the start of the 2024 IMSA season in January and the WEC campaign in March, it needs to be ready to homologate the new components in time for the IMSA Daytona test in December. This allows enough time to gain approval from the ACO, FIA and IMSA in time for the Rolex 24.
Should Porsche receive approval for its improvements, then by regulation its customer teams will also need to race with the new upgrades applied to their cars with immediate effect.
This is proving to be a headache for Proton Competition, which like HERTZ Team JOTA, is committed to a full-season WEC campaign in 2024 with the 963 platform, after partial season campaigns in 2023 due to the late delivery of their cars.
Proton boss Christian Ried’s plan, in an ideal world, is to run a pair of 963s for the full WEC and IMSA seasons next year. But as he recently told RACER, the team is currently in a race against time.
Currently, Proton is in possession of two 963s, one which it received before the WEC race at Monza in July and another which was delivered just before the race at Fuji. If Proton doesn’t take delivery of its third and fourth 963s before the start of next season, then it will have to shift to ‘Plan B’.
“We still are in discussion with Porsche about when we can have number three and four,” Ried said. “But it looks difficult to get them for the beginning of the season. So it looks like we will be running one car in the FIA WEC and one in IMSA.
“When we got the calendar it was a big surprise to see so many clashes. It makes it very complicated. If we don’t get the extra cars we will do one in each and then maybe we can enter in IMSA endurance races like Watkins and Petit with a second car, and maybe a second car for Le Mans.”
The reason Proton hasn’t received its third and fourth cars, Ried added, “is due to the 2024 upgrades and supply issues. It’s complicated. But everyone in the paddock is struggling in this way.”
LMDh manufacturers do not need to factor in a limit on the number of ‘Joker’ performance updates permitted for their cars like LMH manufacturers do, but the process of gaining approval for any revisions is still a lengthy and challenging one.
Porsche is working primarily on reliability improvements, while few major changes are expected of Toyota’s class-leading Toyota GR010 Hybrid. Motorsport Images
All changes made to LMDh cars need to be justified via lengthy and periodical discussions with the rule-makers, endurance tested and put through wind tunnel tests in Europe and the USA to ensure the car still fits inside the formula’s designated performance window. Working out how far the envelope can be pushed and how much resource and time is needed to develop and test revisions is the top priority for the parties in play right now.
Then there’s the current band of factories with LMH-spec prototypes.
Little is expected from Toyota regarding GR010 updates after it made heavy revisions to the GR010 HYBRID in the 2022 off-season (essentially bringing a brand new car to the class). It has wins at each circuit except Le Mans, plus a manufacturer’s championship to show for its efforts this year. Its driver line-up may have a new look to it though, with Nyck de Vries rumored to be part of the full-season crew following his departure from Alpha Tauri’s F1 programme.
The competition isn’t standing still, however, as Peugeot and Ferrari are exploring what’s next for their prototypes.
Ferrari is evaluating potential upgrades for its 499P, according to Giuliano Salvi, the GT and sports race cars race and testing manager.
The 499P could potentially benefit from the aforementioned ‘Joker’ upgrades next season. But Ferrari hasn’t yet finalized the extent of the evolutions it could make, which are subject to both internal decisions and negotiations with the FIA and ACO.
“We are evaluating everything at the moment, I can’t disclose the conclusions as it is all still under discussion internally,” Salvi told the media at Fuji. “After our first phase, which was dedicated to working out the big problems we face, now we are trying to evaluate our weaknesses with the car. At the moment we haven’t decided everything.”
So far Ferrari says it hasn’t yet track-tested any significant 2024 revisions or evolutions to the 499P which would count towards the five permitted ‘Jokers’ allowed for each LMH-spec car during its lifecycle. (Upgrades that are focused on safety or reliability do not count towards the five.)
“We already understand where we should improve,” Salvi continued. “We haven’t tested (new components) in the car yet, but we have evaluated different solutions. It’s a championship with a few races, so for us to understand if something is a real problem or if it’s the car not being set up properly is something we are gaining experience with all the time.”
Whether any upgrades prove to be significant or not, Ferrari is set to embark on an “intense testing programme” to the end of the calendar year. This follows recent tests at Barcelona and Bahrain, ahead of the final race of the season on the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain.
The team still has multiple days of testing left from its 2023 allocation and intends to use it all. After the 8 Hours of Bahrain Ferrari will pivot to its winter testing programme ahead of the 2024 season. The day after the race it will take part in the annual postseason Rookie Test, though it hasn’t yet been confirmed which drivers will turn laps. Following that, Ferrari expects to take part in the winter test in Qatar being organized by Penske.
This view of the Peugeot 9X8 could look different next season. Nikolaz Godet/Motorsport Images
Peugeot’s stance and narrative on upgrades is rather different. As previously reported by RACER, it too is exploring potential opportunities for next year for its 9X8, which could range from “a very basic update of the current package or a very significant development of the car.”
Olivier Jansonnie, Peugeot Sport’s technical director, feels more clarity is needed from the organizers on how far the LMH manufacturers can push the envelope.
“Our position is the same. We still want more transparency and cannot make upgrades without their agreement, it’s not frozen yet what we could do with them, we are still discussing it,” he said to the media in Japan
“We have had private discussions with the ACO and FIA, they know our opinion on the topic and we know theirs.”
In the background though, it appears to have settled on a very substantial reworking of the car, which RACER understands via multiple sources, has been in the works since the start of the year. The 2024-spec 9X8 is believed to be based around the same monocoque but with a major change to its aero concept.
We now wait to see whether or not the 9X8 is spotted out testing with a rear wing and flat floor before the end of the year. The target is believed to be December.