Toyota blasts “Americanisation” of Le Mans with new safety car rules

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Instead of deploying three safety cars to maintain race neutrality during the World Endurance Championship’s blue-riband event – a common practice in recent years – a fresh approach has been adopted this year. Under this new system, all cars will be consolidated behind a single safety car before each restart.

Moreover, cars that trail behind the leader of the safety car line-up will have the opportunity to surpass the safety car, complete a lap, and reenter at the back of the group, a practice that echoes the IMSA SportsCar Championship in the US.

In addition to this, there will also be a ‘drop-back’ procedure, designed to segregate the LMP2 and GTE Am competitors from the Hypercars vying for the main prize.

Pascal Vasselon, the Technical Director of Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe, has expressed his objections to the new system before, arguing it could potentially undermine the significance of a win by turning the race into somewhat of a gamble.

While talking to selected media outlets, including F1, Vasselon reaffirmed his stance after the new system was tested during the official Le Mans test day on Sunday. He criticized what he perceives as an undue American influence over this traditional French endurance race.

“We believe the new safety car regulation contradicts the spirit of Le Mans,” remarked Vasselon. “Looking back at the greatness of Le Mans, it’s precisely the opposite of this artifice where pitstop proficiency or strategic missteps are of no consequence because the safety car will level the playing field.

“From a mindset perspective, it’s a considerable step towards Americanizing Le Mans, and we believe Le Mans should resist Americanization. If it succumbs, it ceases to be Le Mans.”

Vasselon anticipates that the new rules will disincentivize teams from performing their best throughout the race, possibly resulting in a scenario akin to the Rolex 24 at Daytona under IMSA. This shift could redirect focus from gaining a lead to merely maintaining a position on the lead lap, setting the stage for a climactic ending.

“Like in Daytona, the real excitement unfolds in the last two hours, while for the preceding 22 hours, the cars just aim to stay on the lead lap and there’s virtually no competition,” Vasselon explained. “We’re gravitating towards that model.

“Le Mans has been a non-stop 24-hour race in recent years, primarily due to the neutrality maintained by the three safety cars. The contenders for the win had no respite, but that is no longer the case.

“The real impact lies in risk management. It might promote reliability, but most importantly, it will likely decrease the risk of accidents.”

When questioned if the other Hypercar teams echoed his reservations about the modifications, Vasselon responded, “I know that there are other teams who share our viewpoint. I believe there are a few who don’t mind the American style of racing.

“We voice our opinion from the standpoint of Le Mans’ historic spirit. While it’s understandable to want to make changes as the world evolves, we believe this is not one of those changes.

“Concerning the core principles that dictate winning or losing at Le Mans, we don’t believe they should alter as they represent timeless values.”

Vasselon also reiterated his conviction that the earlier three-safety-car system distributed evenly around the 8.47-mile Circuit de la Sarthe provided the perfect balance between safety and non-intrusion in the race.

He suggested that increasing the safety car convoys to six might be worth considering to mitigate the effect of segregating the cars. However, he conceded that fewer traffic breaks could make it more challenging for marshals to manage incidents

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about

What changes are being made to the safety car rules at Le Mans?

The new rules involve using a single safety car to pack up the entire field before each restart. Additionally, any car behind the class leader will be allowed to overtake the safety car, complete a lap, and rejoin at the back.

What is the ‘drop-back’ procedure being introduced?

The ‘drop-back’ procedure is designed to separate the LMP2 and GTE Am competitors from the Hypercars competing for the overall win.

Who has criticized these new rules and why?

Pascal Vasselon, the Technical Director of Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe, has criticized the new rules. He argues they could devalue a win by turning the race into somewhat of a gamble and that they are an unwanted American influence on the traditional French race.

What are the potential consequences of these new rules, according to critics?

Vasselon predicts that the new rules may reduce the incentive for teams to compete throughout the race, instead focusing on staying on the lead lap for a showdown in the closing stages.

Do other teams share Toyota’s concerns about the new safety car rules?

Vasselon mentions that there are other teams that also hold reservations about the new rules. However, some teams might not be opposed to this American-style racing.

What was the previous system and why does Toyota prefer it?

The previous system involved three safety cars spaced equally around the Circuit de la Sarthe. Vasselon argues that it offered a good compromise between safety and preserving the racing integrity.

What could be a possible alternative to these new rules?

Vasselon suggests that increasing the number of safety car convoys to six might help to lessen the impact of the new rules. But he acknowledges that fewer breaks in traffic might make incident management more challenging.

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