Could the new world championship for Le Mans cars be a future rival to F1?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Audi will race its R15 TDi in the Intercontinental Cup
Audi will race its R15 TDi in the Intercontinental Cup

The days of a thriving World Sportscar Championship able to rival F1 for popularity among fans and car manufacturers are long past.

But that may change in the future as the organisers of the the Le Mans 24 Hours have announced they are planning a world championship for LMP1 sports cars. It’s already got the support of Audi and could easily attract manufacturers such as Peugeot and Aston Martin who already have LMP1 cars.

Could this new championship re-capture the glory days of the World Sportscar Championship – and muster more support from car manufacturers than F1 has?

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest will run an Intercontinental Cup in 2010 which will run across one round from each of the three major sports car championships: the Le Mans Series (Europe), the American Le Mans Series and the Asian Le Mans Series.

The first two races will be the Silverstone 1000km (September 13th) and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (October 2nd).

In 2011 the series will expand to at least six rounds forming a world championship. Interestingly, at this stage the ACO are only talking about offering a title for manufacturers and teams – there is no mention of a drivers’ title. The World Sportscar Championship did not have a drivers’ title until 1981.

That championship, which was run by the FIA, collapsed at the end of 1992.

The increased technical freedom in the ACO’s rules may well prove more appealing for fans and manufacturers alike. Audi and Peugeot have both won the Le Mans 24 Hours with turbo diesel cars – and diesel engines make up a significant proportion of their road car sales. Aston Martin, meanwhile, run a 6-litre V12 petrol engine based on the one from the DB9.

We have also seen how other manufacturers are ramping up their sports car programmes, such as recent F1 departees BMW.

It comes at a time when motor racing series not under the FIA’s control seem to be doing rather better than those which are. The FIA-run World Rally Championship’s only manufacturer entrants are Citroen and Ford, but the rival Intercontinental Rally Challenge has just announced its eighth: former WRC competitor Subaru.

I’m certainly excited by the prospect of a new sports car championship with greater technological freedom than F1 and decent manufacturer backing, racing at some of the best tracks in the world – and I suspect many other F1 fans will be too.

What do you think of the ACO’s plans for the Le Mans Intercontinental Cup?

Le Mans 24 Hours

Top image (C) Audi motorsport

Lola-Aston Martin Le Mans car at the 2009 Goodwood Festival
Lola-Aston Martin Le Mans car at the 2009 Goodwood Festival

75 comments on “Could the new world championship for Le Mans cars be a future rival to F1?”

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  1. great article Kieth but i still choose F1 over Le mans because in formula 1 the cars are radically different than what you normally see and they are blistering fast.

  2. Every time a sportscar championship has looked like it was even thinking of threatening F1, the Bernster has killed it off.

    On the rallying front, you’ve been slightly taken in by the spin. The number of ‘works’ manufacturer entries in the IRC is actually shrinking. Subaru customers have been entering since the beginning, but because Subaru hadn’t registered (it’s Byzantine, I know) until now, they weren’t listed in the official results.

    Hence the absurdity of this year’s Safari Rally, which none of the manufacturer teams bothered to go to, so the field consisted of Group N dinosaurs – of which only the Mitsubishis were officially recognised as finishers.

    1. The number of ‘works’ manufacturer entries in the IRC is actually shrinking. Subaru customers have been entering since the beginning, but because Subaru hadn’t registered (it’s Byzantine, I know) until now, they weren’t listed in the official results.

      Fair point Stuart.

  3. Prisoner Monkeys
    10th December 2009, 7:47

    I don’t think it will be a rival – so long as there are cars, there will alway be a Formula 1, that top tier of international motorsport.

    1. …except in the USA. It wouldn’t take much for an international Le Mans championship to put F1 in the shade over there.

      1. Mike "the bike" Schumacher
        11th December 2009, 22:40

        God I’m geting sick of people mentioning F1’s unpopularity in th USA, if there not interested in seeing the best drivers, in the best cars, goining wheel to wheel, thats their problem.
        If they’d prefer to watch a bunch of cowboys go around in circles let them!!

    2. i think with the new “only one tank of gas” rule the f1 cars will have to change a lot and take a look at the fuel efficiency of the Le Mans cars. Sadly i will be missing the raw speed of the f1 cars

  4. I would not dismiss the idea of F1 loosing it’s dominance in it’s claim to be the ‘pinnacle’ of motorsport.

    AMLS has a footing in the USA, so although it is only minor compared to Nascar, at least there has been a long presence in the US, so it is already more international in that sense by having a stake in such a key market.

    The fact that car manufactures can run campaigns using technology that is actually more relevant to their road cars is a big draw. I mean, which is more relevent? A V8 that can do nearly 20,000rpm, but cannot be developed due to an engine freeze, or a diesel V10 vs a petrol V12? Yes please! Cars that can pass each other, tracks with tradition, prestige history and are just plain good tracks, and good crowds are a very exciting prospect.

    I know some people are F1 fanatics, and nothing else, but for me and a lot of other F1 fans there is much more out there. A good race is a good race, and some of the best races i have seen over the last 10 years, in fact the most, have not been in F1. F1 does not want to be complacent with it’s preeminence, history is littered with people, business, armies and empires who have been caught out. Hopefully for Motorsport fans, maybe a great rival to F1 will get it to get it’s ship in shape. Finally.

    1. I agree with HG. I like the looks of the LMP1 cars, although I still prefer the single seater open-wheel formula cars. But if the ACO offer more technical freedom, than it’s great and if the new technologies are more applicable in normal road cars, it’s even greater! So overall I think it’s an exciting prospect. Let’s hope they’ll get it done!

  5. Covered wheels, uncovered wheels.
    Motorsport needs both.
    I strongly support a competitive Sport cars championships, with great cars, drivers and constructors, on hystorical tracks. I think it would not compete with Formula 1, but it would complete racing calendar. Endurance races are wonderful, and a world top championship is necessary.

  6. A true World Championship for car brands that utilizes headlights, windshield wipers, and doors to close? Hell yeah. A showroom customer can tap into those simple things in daily life. That alone justifies a brands involvement. One can also tap into the fact that the engines used are more than likely a version of a showroom block. Justifying the cost. In endurance racing you root for the brand not necessarily the driver. Each car runs with multiple drivers. Brand identification. Plus, the “roofed” bodies tend to be very seductive as well. Remember Group C?

    1. I would love to see the LMP1 cars run a WC…however I dont think every round has to be an enduro.
      Make the races as long as a F1 race maybe marginaly longer but not to much…and then add a few specific rounds of pure enduro’s.

      If they are all 3to5hr or 24hr races then forget it.

      1. Interesting point – NASCAR races are much longer than F1 races, though, and they’re hugely popular in Amnerica.

        1. I prefer the endurance races. The race at Laguna Seca next year has been extended from 4 to 6 hours. At Long Beach we run 1hr 45 min, which to me feels too short, but is a good length for spectating in a single sitting. There is too much tradition and close racing historically to shorten Sebring or Petit Le Mans (although it was shortened this year—due to weather!).

  7. Likely they’re holding off the full championship until 2011 because that’s when the big rule change is expected to be in full effect – Peugeot expects to bring in their new car, the 909HY (a hybrid of some sort), and I suspect that the Audi R15 TDI was just an interim development, so likely they will have something as well. That’s not to mention Aston Martin’s intention to build their own bespoke LMP1 chassis separate of the Lola B09/60 they are using now.

    Now if only Acura would evolve the ARX-02a and bring it into a worldwide LMP1 championship…

  8. HounslowBusGarage
    10th December 2009, 9:13

    A good race is a good race

    Absolutely right, HG.
    I love sports car racing. It’s a gruelling and exciting contest of quite widely varying machinery over a wide variety of tracks.
    But it won’t ever supplant a spectacle like F1.
    Sports car races, by their very nature, just go on too long. The public’s attention span can just about endure 90 minutes or so of Grand Prix, but would wither away over a four hour race, and die completely over a 12 hour event. Le Mans is the only exception to that and that’s simply because of the history. After all, the general public pays little attention to the Daytona, Spa or Nurburgring 24 hour races; only Le Mans impinges.
    I’d love to see a resurgance in the fortunes of sports car racing of whatever description. But as mass entertainment, it needs to be short and dramatic like football, like a grand prix. After all, that why five-day cricket matches are being rivalled by the Twenty-20 game, isn’t it?

  9. If Mazda race their Furai concept how cool would that be…

    But seriously, there needs to be a decent rival to F1 for something to be done about the entertainment value of F1. As fans we’ll all watch it regardless of the on-track action, but for the casual observer there’s still barely any passing, even when drivers behind have a significant pace advantage. For as long as I’ve been a fan of F1 we’ve all collectively shouted for more passing, and the clear way of doing this is to massively decrease reliance on aerodynamic grip and massively increase reliance on mechanical grip – again, everyone knows this is a problem and yet NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE TO FIX IT!

    Bring on awesome looking and sounding sports cars in a world championship and maybe, just maybe something real might be done to spice up F1.

  10. I think the ACO are right to gradually expand this series.
    I am very excited about it as I love sportscar racing.

    However, the ACO should be careful not to expand too quickly as if they push costs up too high you’ll end up with pointless 1 off entries into races.

    Audi \ Peugeot only run a couple of ALMS races this year to cut down on costs. But then I guess running a couple of times is better than none at all, as long as you get a full field and good racing.

  11. i love le mans cars! they look great!

    however they couldnt rival f1 unless the regulations for the series were loosened up a bit, F1 is pretty strict but LMP1 are even tougher on the what you cant do and what you can,

    also shorter races for LMP1, would be good, and nobody knows any of the drivers well.

    Maybe it could be held in the F1 off season, or starting a month befoe F1 finished and a month after F1 began again would be good as i would have something to do in the F1 off season.

  12. The only motorsports I really follow are Formula 1 and in recent years MotoGP, so I can’t say I know much about the details of other series, for example although I had heard of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge I thought it was just a sub category to the World Rally Championship rather than a non-FIA run rival.

    I think it would be hard for any other motorsport to rival Formula 1 in terms of popularity, at least here in the UK, because F1 is so well established, for example F1 is usually the only motorsport to get a mention on the national news.

    I think the main factor in any sports popularity these days is TV coverage, and F1 is the only motorsport I can think of that has been broadcast live on free TV in the UK for as long as it has. One of the reasons I got into MotoGP was because BBC2 started broadcasting it live and the schedules mean it doesn’t clash with F1.

    One of the things that will hold a Championship for Le Mans cars back, on TV at least, is the length of the races, the only option would be a highlight show or the race broadcast live on a specialist channel on Sky. I think the length of an F1 race is about, I defiantly wouldn’t want F1 races to be shortened, but if they were significantly longer it would put off casual fans.

    I hope the new series is a success, and in an ideal world I would like some F1 teams and drivers to participate in races such as Le Mans 24 Hours, but I can’t see it ever rivalling F1.

  13. What level of performance will the new cars have? Sports cars in 90s were basically F1 cars with roofs, only 2-3 secs slower than F1 cars of the time.

    If LMP1 cars are to be close to F1 cars in terms of performance, I dont see how they will keep the costs low enough for new manufacturers to enter.

  14. Well, I dont see this ACO Le Mans Championship not really as a rival of Formula 1 since Formula cars are open wheel racers and Le Mans cars arent. Both classes attract their own fans as well as their own sponsors. See the fact that Microsoft (Xbox360), Sony (Playstation 3), Gulf, Ericsson and Essex where main sponsors of teams during the 2009 24hrs of Le Mans. These sponsors payed amounts of money that would also let them into a Formula 1 team, but chose for Le Mans instead.

    So I think if the ACO serie would actually become a rival, we are all by then passed our midlife crisis and enjoying our spare time with our grandchildren. Because it would take long for the cultural differences, the populairity as well as the esteem of both the series to level up with another.

  15. The reason why FIA championships are not as well as those who arent under FIA is because FIA has too much control over EVERYTHING. And people, especially engineers, hates being controlled.

  16. True F1 fan will never leave F1,secondly the FIA racing are an bit costly then which are independent.

    1. True F1 fans have been treated like a piece of **** for the last fifteen years.

      Personally, I wouldn’t blame any of them for abandoning F1 after the last five years of mostly boring races at nondescript tracks where you’re lucky to get an overtaking manoeuvre after lap 3, all for the pleasure of about £500 a weekend (if you’re lucky enough not to have had your nations GP dropped in favour of some Tilke desert track).

      LMP cars are amazing and if they can get a decent set of tracks and a good format for the races I could see it pulling in lots of fans.

      And I say this as someone who has been an F1 fan for about twenty five years.

      1. I agree with you, beneboy.

  17. I would love a great sportscar WC!
    I know I’m going to the spa 1000km race this year, wich audi will contest with 3 cars!

  18. Wow that’ll be so cool :) I love the Le Mans cars they look amazing.

    I’d definitely watch it!

    I just hope all the teams participate in all the races, because this year we went to watch the Le Mans series race at Silverstone and, from what I gather, the team closest to Aston Martin in the championship didn’t even enter that race and it was the final one! So no matter where Aston finished they’d won the championship.

    (I think that’s right, but I couldn’t really here the commentator too well and I hadn’t followed the series on TV).

  19. It makes a lot of sense for manufacturers to support this series.

    For starters, they run diesel powered cars. Major manufacturers are developing and pushing this technology in its road car businesses, so this will provide the perfect footing for this.

    As Keith mentions, Audi and Peugueot have been highly successful in running diesel powered cars and this hasdirectly translated to their road cars. Not mention the efficiency that diesel engines provide these days, which would naturally lead to sports car manufacturers delving into fine tuning this technology for their road cars

    As pit layne mentions, these sports cars are very relevant to roadcars. If I was a manufacturer who has just pulled out of F1 or considering a successful platform for R&D, this would be perfect. I wouldn’t surprised if the likes of Renault and Toyota look at this seriously.

    I would watch this space with great interest!

  20. Hope that the Le Mans series really takes off – standing at Arnage at 1am with P1 cars screaming around the circuit in the night is awesome – they are spectacular to watch.

    I recall someone taking about a designing an all electric car for Le Mans – probably a few years away, but unlike F1 it would be welcome.

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