It’s been a tricky start for the Hypercar class. After the first car that announced it was joining the class was also the first car to announce it was leaving—before the class had even really been finalized—it had to endure a cursed birth during 2020’s year of complications. There was much rejoicing when Ferrari and Peugeot joined but they won’t be arriving until 2023 and 2022 respectively, and of the cars due to enter this season, only Toyota’s new GR010 Hybrid race car (along with Alpine) actually made it to the first event of the year: this weekend’s race at Spa-Francorchamps.
The Hypercars are essentially acting as LMP1 replacements and will be the fastest cars on the track, but also carry heavy hybrid systems compared to the LMP2s. Whether it was that or the limited horsepower for the category—even though there’d been a considerable downforce reduction for LMP2—the older chassis looked faster during preseason testing. LMP2 drivers turned mutinous, telling the press there was no further speed reduction that could be safely made.
At the time, there were some theories that Toyota was just sandbagging. Its GR010 Hybrid Hypercar may be relatively low-power compared to the 1,000-horsepower monster that existed during the last days of the LMP1-H, but it shares elements of that powertrain. On the other hand, at 680 horsepower it also weighs 126kg (357 pounds) more than its predecessor, so it inevitably can’t imitate the same speeds.
Toyota is joined in the Hypercar class currently by Renault’s performance brand, Alpine. Previously, it had badged LMP2s as its own but has now constructed a full entry for the category, which must have burned when it was beaten by United Autosport’s LMP2 in first practice at Spa. Alpine took the spot back for the second practice, then this afternoon Toyota achieved a 1-2 at the circuit, suggesting it just needed a little longer to really get up to pace.
Whichever way it shakes out, it’s clear that although there may only be four Hypercar entrants currently, the qualifying and race battles in WEC should remain fierce through the strength of the LMP2 field. Hisatake Murata, the Toyota Gazoo Racing team president, said that this weekend marks the start of their second phase in the international endurance championship.
“Our TS050 HYBRID [Toyota’s LMP1-H car] marked the end of the first phase of our WEC project; we battled hard to improve our racing hybrid technology and this is now contributing to making ever-better cars for Toyota customers,” said Murata. “Now we start a second phase and we must again fight as one team to push the limits of our racing hybrid [GR010 Hybrid], to deliver more exciting sports cars in the future to our Gazoo Racing customers.”
Qualifying starts this evening, Belgian time and the race runs from 13:30 local tomorrow for a six-hour baptism in Eau Rouge.
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