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. KingHamilton&co
    10th December 2009, 12:13

    i love sportscar racing-almost as much as F1. son naturally i hope this sportscar series is a success. however, i wouldnt be surprised to see the FIA and ecclestone kill it if it gets too much of a competitor to F1. The FIA already killed the world sportscar championship by making ridiculous rules so manufacturers would go to F1 instead, and if they see this as a threat they will murder it within an instant (under bernies command ofcourse).

    however, talking about ridiculous rules, maybe the FIA won’t need to intervene in that sense, as possible silly new rules could see LMP coupes dissapear as they will become inferior if these rules go ahead………..

  2. It would serve the FIA right if LMP racing surpast F1, I’m truely sick of the FIA, they’ve ruined F1.

    Surely TV is the key, good coverage would make the series a success.

  3. I think it would be interesting if Formula 1 cars raced together with LMP1 cars and GT cars, all in one race. That would be the ultimate race. And I don’t know if that was ever done before.

    1. You’ll have to check out one of the old Clarkson videos — he had himself drive around Silverstone in a Ford Cougar, 5 minutes later Colin McRae sets off in a Focus WRC, and another few minutes later we see Johnny Herbert tearing away in a Stewart-Ford F1 car. They all come round to complete one lap at about the same time.

        1. That was a nice video. I really feel bad for Colin McRae, a Rally legend.

          1. Accidental Mick
            21st February 2010, 14:28

            Thanks for that Nitpicker – I’d not seen it before.

  4. I’d love to see the return of a good Sportscar Championship, but for it to really work for fans, it should be televised well.

  5. Let me see… The World Sportscar Championship collapsed at the end of 1992, the first complete year of Max Mosley ahead of FIA. And plans for a new competition begin to be discussed for te first year of Max Mosley out of FIA.

    That’s interesting.

    1. And Jean Todt was the Peugeot sports car racing team boss in the early ’90s before he moved to Ferrari.

  6. The only problem of Le Mans is actually its differentiator: 1000+ km is an unobservable race. Very few die-hards will watch it at the circuit or on TV. For such a race most of the people will go for the highlights only. On the other hand remove this and you get something like Speedcars or DTM …
    Can’t imagine it growing larger than F1.

  7. Reclaiming the legacy of the great battles of drivers and makes from the 50s through the 90s, with cars that do bring innovation and road-relevance to the fore, with a true diversity of engine designs and aero concepts, could definitely threaten F1. Who can forget the ripping howl of a V-12 Jag followed by the roar of a twin-turbo 962 flat-6?

    Along these lines, the real issue is getting that critical mass of the right makers—if the ACO can get any of Jaguar, Ford, BMW ,and a big Japanese brand, all of whom have rejected F1, to buy in that start to build massive interest. And if Ferrari build an LMP, you could call it a day: the rest would follow

    Regarding raw speed, the last sports prototypes of Group C held lap records over F1 cars and some circuits. I’m fairly sure that if Audi could remove those tiny air restrictors and run a decent sized wing on the F15 they would qualify somewhere between Manor and USF1 on next year’s grid.

  8. I love it when I write a nice observation/comment only to submit and I get the dreaded “Internal 500 Server Error”. Suffice it to say, YES! The WC Sports Car Series could indeed be a rival to F1. Lets all hope so! Simply for the technical freedom allowed the teams and the fact that they will race in countries where people who follow racing actually live.

    1. I always write my posts in a Word document before I submit them. It checks my spelling and if I get an “Internal 500 Server Error” then I still have the original to post again.

  9. I’d be delighted to see a global sportscar championship compete with f1, but I see one major problem. Endurance racing is near-impossible to pack into a reasonable tv program. An F1 race broadcast is just right – not too short like the feeder series’, not too boring like live LeMans coverage. It’s just a bit longer than a football match, the pinnacle of sports programming. It’ll take some radical innovation from ACO and the broadcasters to popularize this series.

    But for the hardcore it will be a treat:) The big names, the F1 drop-outs with everything to prove, the cars you can actually see on the road (in a way), the brilliant SimBin games:)))) Can’t wait:)

  10. Nice article Keith, yet I don’t know if the Le Mans champonship. It may suffer from the same problem as the Indy series, which has one race so popular (the Indy 500) that it overshadows the entire competition. Nobody really cares who wins the Indy league, and the same could happen for Le Mans.

    F1 has solved that problem though, in regards to Monaco. How did they do it Keith?

  11. If they do it properly with drivers and constructors championships and if they can get the rules right to let the petrol cars run with the turbo-diesels then I’m interested.

    Big if though.

  12. What about this new GT1 Championship (the “rebirth” of FIA GT)?

    1. Have been looking at that as well, might do an article on it later.

  13. If theses dont run on the same day ill watch both but if they are running on same day. It really depends on how the F1 at the time is. If its just 1 person dominating from start of season to finish. Ill watch the LMPS.

    Since i watched my first whole le mans race iv always been interested in theses cars as much as F1. These in there own championship will make it brilliant! Two fuel types, alot more different manufactures, lots more teams. This is what i want f1 to be.

  14. I don’t think the LMP1 Series will be a rival for F1, not even close.

    Sportscars is barley televised, the ACO seem to be unwilling to run races that are less then 6 hours, I cannot imagine average joe is going to sit there for 6 hours, and watch a race. Eurosport, currently cannot be bothered to show LMS 1000 km races. They show the start and the end, and that is it. That sums up how interested major TV companies are interested in sportscar racing.

    Bernie has built up such a powerful empire, that sportscar racing would not have a chance of competing. F1 is televised on the most popular broadcaster in the UK, can anyone seriously see BBC show sportscar racing?

    The only endurance race that is shown in full, is Le Mans itself. LMP1 racing is not exactly thrilling either, those cars have high downforce levels – and suffer from the dirty air issue. And without GT2 cars to create traffic, the racing would be just about as exciting as F1.

    And why is manufacturer participation so important? The same dropout will happen in the LMP1 world series, after some manufacturers realise that they cannot win, they will just leave, after costs spiral out of control.

    I mean look the situation in America. ALMS may well be a brilliant championship, that has been an innovative leader in motorsports since 1999, but NASCAR is still king, by a mile. Innovation and manufacturers doesn’t really matter, it isn’t what makes average joe watch. F1 and NASCAR have been built over many, many years, and that is what counts.

    The world LMP1 series will be interesting to see, but those who think it can be a rival for F1 are very naive.

    1. Some NASCAR races take six hours to complete. Yellow flags galore. Stock cars can’t race on wet tracks.

  15. i think it’s great – the more sports car action, the better!

    i’m pretty optimistic about the new rules. gt3 has been a big success, gt2 remains strong, and the fia’s (aco adopted the spec) gt1 sounds promising. as for prototypes, still plenty of lolas and dallaras. the aco wants to keep a 1.5-2% performance difference between lmp1 and lmp2. lmp2 will use gt2 engines and lmp1 will use gt1 engines.

  16. A sports car WC will endear itself to anyone who GOES to a race and experiences the pit access available to the ordinary fan. Rubbing elbows with drivers and teams, close up inspections of cars, it’s all just amazing. Given time, it could equal or surpass F1’s popularity; time being the operative word.

    Much more fan friendly than F1 has been or probably ever will be.

    1. The Canadian Grand Prix of 1970 in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, was fan friendly. The drivers had rooms at the Gray Rocks Inn but preferred to have their lunches and suppers at Mont Tremblant Lodge where the food was first class. My brother and had a rented cabin at the lodge for $15 dollars a day, including two meals. We sat just beside the tables of Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill on several occasions.

  17. AMG Fan has pretty much summed up my view.

    It’ll be an nice side show for us Motorsport geeks, assuming we can find it televised anywhere… but it’ll never come even close to the king that is F1. I doubt it’ll even generate as much interest in the UK to rival the BTCC.

    The Le Mans 24hr will have an increased turnout however, but that’ll probably be it.

  18. I’m really excited to see something like this coming back together. Having a world championship again with prototypes would be a really good idea, in my opinion, if it can be made attractive for manufacturers, competitors — and a large enough audience.

    I think endurance racing is different enough from Grand Prix single seaters that two such championships could co-exist, too.

    1. I agree, but yet I just hope the fate doesn’t run out like the Group C cars.

  19. Hey that Audi looks a whole lot racier than the current FI cars with those awful rear wings and giant snow shovels at the front, bring it on.

    1. Hey that Audi looks a whole lot racier than the current FI cars with those awful rear wings and giant snow shovels at the front, bring it on.

      And a car that sounds like a vacuum cleaner.

  20. Around 1971 the sport-prototype category was more popular than F1

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