2022 Hypercar Review: Toyota Take It, But Pushed All The Way
Graham Goodwin reviews the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship Hypercar class title battle.
In the second of a short series of guest content on fiawec.com, Dailysportscar’s Graham Goodwin has a look at the new world order that is the Hypercar class with particular reference to the 2022 season of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
From the start of discussions to bring together a new top-class grid for international endurance racing, fans dreamed that this could be the start of something special.
Fast forward to an extraordinary day at Daytona International Speedway in 2020 where the ACO/ FIA and IMSA ‘families’ came together to announce an agreement to align their new rulesets and the potential simply blossomed.
Since then there has been an astounding train of announcements, from manufacturers and teams, of more and more takers joining the developing story of what even many hardened cynics are already describing as a new ‘Golden Era’.
With multiple new cars set to debut in 2023 though, the foundations for the new top class are already firmly bedded-in thanks in no small part to progress made in the FIA World Endurance Championship over the past two seasons.
Their Hypercar class will welcome cars designed from two different rulesets next season, but they have already gained experience of dealing with a field of very different machines in the first two seasons of the new class.
As the world staggered out of the chaos caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, motorsport did what it has always done, it delivered, against impossible deadlines, with barriers of the financial, logistical and human varieties, and as a steady stream of ‘new’ emerged.
The 2021 season saw the first green shoots: Brand new Toyotas and the plucky Glickenhaus outfit taking on a grandfathered ex LMP1 Alpine - The machines, and the processes that allowed them to compete against each other needed time to become reliable and credible.
Into 2022 and as the news elsewhere started to see the 2023 crop emerge, there was another brand new contender to add to a real world entry list - Peugeot, and their extraordinary 9X8 - unlike anything that has come before in the modern era.
The headlines were about a race car with no rear wing, but the reality was a car that was, undeniably, a product of the design team at the brand it represents - and that is the entire point.
On track the competition that the 9X8 would merge into was already fierce.
Sebring Shunt For Toyota As Alpine Take First Blood
Toyota’s GR010 was now a more reliable and raceable machine than in 2021, with significant updates for the new season. But the season-long task ahead or the team became much more difficult after a simply enormous accident at Sebring left the team with a DNF, and Jose-Maria Lopez with plenty of reasons to consider some of the choices he made in the moments leading to the #7 car’s elimination from the event.
The news got worse for Toyota who had been nowhere in qualifying, with the race red-flagged early for incoming thunderstorms, the #36 Alpine took the win, the additional points for the 12 Hour race distance, and a Championship lead as the focus shifted back to Europe.
The Alpine had dominated proceedings in Florida, the Glickenhaus challenge faded with the bright red car completing the podium behind the surviving Toyota.
Glickenhaus Pole In The Ardennes - Toyota Hit Trouble Again
After some unhappiness with the Balance of Performance doled out to his non-hybrid Hypercar in 2021, Jim Glickenhaus had arrived in 2022 buoyed up by pre-season discussion about some tweaks to the algorithm that he expected would see the car back in the mix.
So it would prove in Spa, the car coming out on top in a qualifying session that saw all four cars present separated by just over three-tenths of a second.
The race in Belgium though would not go their way, and it would see more bad luck for Toyota too, this time though for the #8 car. It would suffer a hybrid system failure after a pause for a red flag, Seb Buemi struggling to get the car started, the GR010 grinding to a terminal halt and requiring intervention from the team after the hybrid warning light came on meaning no contact with the car could be made without trained personnel present!
That saw a back-to-back major result for the Alpine, the untroubled Toyota taking the victory, and with a short season of just six races, Toyota needed to find pace, reliability, and some racing luck!
Alpine Finally Stumble
Alpine then would arrive at Le Mans with a healthy World Championship lead, Toyota, for the first time in years, palpably on the back foot in Championship terms.
The French squad though would be the ones to struggle with the Le Mans-specific Balance of Performance not helping their charge. An early race penalty, and then a near 15 minute spell in the garage with clutch issues just the first two chapters in a horror novel of a run that would see them finish way down the overall order.
Glickenhaus by contrast had found reliability and, whilst they could not match the Toyotas for stint-long pace, were running their own race and putting in some stellar individual lap times in the only race of the season that saw a pair of SCG 007s on-track.
It would be the full-season WEC car that would falter after Olivier Pla had a brush with the barriers in the #708, allowing the #709 to power through to third overall, a famous podium finish beckoned, the first for a truly privately developed and entered car at Le Mans for decades.
Toyota, in truth, were never heavily pressed after the early issues for the #36, the two cars swapping the lead several times until the decisive moment befell the #7 GR010, a front axle MGU issue seeing the car briefly stationary on track and then requiring an unscheduled pit visit, enough to seal the win for the sister #8 car, a fifth in succession for Toyota, a first win for Ryo Hirakawa, a third for Brendon Hartley, and a fourth for Sebastien Buemi.
The Lions Land In Italy
Monza next and, courtesy of the slings and arrows of the first half of the season, Alpine still led the Championship!
Toyota’s body language was all about a comeback, but there were two other storylines for the season at a race that would see the entry a season high of 5 cars.
The first was a genius move from Jim Glickenhaus. By simply repainting the #708 car he grabbed an unreal amount of attention, the now sky-blue Glickenhaus a social media darling, and not for the last time in the weekend.
The second was the debut of the Peugeot 9X8 pair, on a blisteringly warm weekend in Italy, and the cars simply wowed the world with their extraordinary looks - “Gallic Batmobile”, offered one observer - “Prettiest Peugeot since the 205 GTI” said another!
One thing was for certain - they were the visual stars of the show!
The Peugeots though were not quite ‘there’ yet, either on pace, or on reliability, neither would feature at the pointy end of the race, both would suffer reliability issues, it seemed the reaction from Peugeot management was one more of disappointment than surprise at this stage!
Glickenhaus set a convincing true blue pole position, and they would lead convincingly until turbo trouble spoiled their day in what would prove to be the final appearance of the season for the car.
Thereafter it was a great battle between the Alpine and Toyota, the French car trading places with the pair of Japanese Hypercars until Kamui Kobayashi attacked just a little too rigorously in the wake of an epic pass around the outside from the Alpine at Curva Grande, side to side contact seeing the #7 suffer a rear puncture and other damage, and the driver being dealt a 90 second stop and hold for avoidable contact.
That would leave the #7 able to no better than third, with the Alpine able to fend off the sister #8 car for the win, their second win of the season!
The World title still looked within reach!
Toyota Turn The Tables
But the next racing task was a tough one for the Alpine as the FIA WEC returned to Fuji, Toyota's home track, for the first time since 2019.
Peugeot were looking to come out punching with James Rossiter, a local specialist, in particularly good form in what would be his second and last race for the team, a late substitute for the unexpectedly F1-bound Kevin Magnussen, but then appointed post-Fuji to the position of Team Principal for Maserati's new Formula E adventure!
The pace was better from the Peugeots, but again reliability blunted the effort with both cars seeing time in the garage, the late season races were becoming a steep learning curve in just how tough the Hypercar class is going to be for any incoming hopefuls.
Alpine pushed hard but had no answer to the home-team hero's from Toyota with the #8 cementing its place as the defending Champions' led car in the Championship with a win, earned with a race-log push from all three drivers but with young Roy Hirakawa fending off a spirited challenge from team Principal Kamui Kobayashi, a clearly better set-up #8 coming home well clear of the #7 with the result in Japan meaning that the two contenders, the #8 Toyota and the #36 Alpine would go into the final race tied on 121 points!
It would be significantly more than a two-horse race though - with extra points on offer for the longer 8 hour format, and with pride as well as titles at stake, the five car class grid looked very well matched.
Peugeot had taken yet another step forward in pace and led a couple of the Free Practice sessions, and were up for the fight in the race too, before another bout of bad luck delayed both 9X8s, they've learned lessons in 2022 though that should serve them well next season.
The Championship-challenging Alpine fight hard but it quickly became apparent that they did not have the package to take the fight to the Toyotas into the night-time finish.
The Championship finale then would all be about whether Toyota Gazoo Racing could bring the cars home - they did, after some significant sparring between the pair, the #7 coming home the winner on the night but the #8 crew of Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Roy Hirakawa would be crowned as World Champions.
Over the season though they had found that the challenges were mounting in the new look class, and had already determined that the GR010 would need further updates to deal with the challenges to come in 2023.
Peugeot ended their season disappointed with their reliability, but buoyed by progress with performance - they have learned lessons that should pay off in 2023 as others join for their first taste of the difference between testing and racing.
Glickenhaus look set to be back too as the 'little team that could', Jim and Jesse relishing taking on the establishment once again.
For Alpine the end of the season saw the end, finally, of the LMP1 era, their A480 a grandfathered version of the Rebellion R13 - the team will return to LMP2 in 2023 ahead of the debut in 2024 of their Oreca-based LMDH Hypercar.
Beyond that the news just gets better and better:
Ferrari revealed their new 499P Hypercar in October, the first top class sports prototype for factory competition in half a century.
Porsche's 963 was unveiled at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the car will start the season with a pair of factory-entered cars campaigned with Team Penske.
Better still there are set to be a pair of privately operated Porsches too, 2022 LMP2 Champions Jota and GTE stalwarts Proton Competition both with a single car in 2023 but both too with plans to expand their efforts in the future, the private Porsche set to join in after Sebring;
And Cadillac will be there too with a single V-LMDH car for the season operated by Ganassi Racing, the rumbling V8 a very different aural experience from the turbocharged norm in the Hypercar field.
Both the 'Vanwall' and Isotta Fraschini efforts are firmly on the "wait and see" lists at the moment, the Kolles-built car waits on a decision over the viability of the entry under the Vanwall name, the Isotta Fraschini effort need to prove their readiness for 2023.
If 2024 is a more realistic option then there will be even deeper competition to come with Team WRT confirmed to be bringing a 2 car BMW factory effort, Alpine, back with a two car effort too and then Lamborghini are added to the melee with a single LMDH car operated by Iron Lynx for the factory.
And even beyond that - there are still more options on the horizon with the aspirations of another additional brand waking up in Woking! Plus additional potential for existing and additional brands to try out other options on the technological front!
What a time to be a sportscar fan!
To read more from Graham Goodwin visit dailysportscar.com.