2019-20 WEC preview: World Endurance Championship looks to promote LMP1 competition with 'success handicaps'

Rebellion Racing is one of the teams that should benefit from a “success handicap” formula for the 2019-20 WEC season.

Fernando Alonso is no longer racing in the World Endurance Championship, but the WEC should have something much better on which to hang its hat than its former superstar driver in  2019-20: namely, respectable racing at the front of the pack.

The only competition at the top end of LMP1 grid over the course of the extended 2018-19 superseason was between the two Toyota TS050 Hybrids, as eventual world champions Alonso, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima battled with their teammates. This time around, the privateers with nonhybrid machinery are expected to be in the hunt, even if there is a dwindling band of them. 

The new season kicked off at Silverstone on Sept. 1.

Toyota has handed over some of the advantage it enjoyed last season ahead of this new one, and it will do so again through the eight-race campaign. The team has agreed to another increase in the minimum weight, a further 31 pounds in addition to the 57 pounds it took ahead of the Fuji round last October. Toyota estimates that those 31 pounds will result in the loss of four-tenths of a second, give or take, around a circuit like Silverstone. 

It has also given up the advantage in the pits enjoyed by the TS050s when they leave on electric power at the push of a button. The independents have been afforded a one-second advantage in the time it takes to refuel to even things out.

That change has been made under the grandly titled Equivalence of Technology, the means by which the WEC has been trying to bring the independents up to Toyota’s level since the start of the 2018-19 season. Consider it Balance of Performance by another name, but there’s a new mechanism, a neater one, that will open up the battle at the front. 

Called “success handicaps,” it’s a novel take on the success ballast idea. Rather than just adding and subtracting weight according to results, the performance of the cars will be tweaked with the amount of fuel they can use and, for the Toyota hybrids, the amount of retrieved energy they can deploy. 

The calculations will be based not on finishing position but on points scored in the championship—or, rather, the number of points by which each car leads the last-place LMP1 entry. The idea, says Toyota Motorsport GmbH technical director Pascal Vasselon, will “keep the field close together” as the penalties mount up on the cars racking up the most points. 

The principle of the rules has been agreed to, but not the exact figures. Vasselon suggested that a point-per-kilometer coefficient of 0.006 second was one possibility. That would mean the winning car at Silverstone would go to the second race of the season at Fuji in Japan with approximately half a second worth of penalties, presuming the last of the half-dozen P1 cars finishes sixth. If it were to not finish, the handicaps would add up to nearly seven-tenths.

Given that the best of the privateers, one of the Rebellion-Gibson R-13s, was only just over two-tenths slower than the fastest Toyota at the official prerace test at Barcelona in Spain in July, Vasselon’s prediction that the privateers will win races in 2019-20 could be valid. 

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