Is a SUPER GT car now faster than a WEC hypercar?
The arrival of the Hypercar regulations in the FIA World Endurance Championship means Toyota's new Le Mans challenger is some way slower than the car it replaces. But can the GR010 Hybrid even still be considered Toyota's fastest racing car?
It's no secret that the GR010 Hybrid is a fair bit slower than its all-conquering predecessor, the three-time Le Mans 24 Hours-winning TS050 Hybrid. That should come as no surprise considering that the intention of the WEC's rulemakers, the FIA and the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, was for laptimes around the Circuit de la Sarthe to increase by 10 seconds.
But a glance at the laptimes set by the two Toyotas from the opening round of the WEC season at Spa got this writer wondering: is the new GR010 still even the marque’s fastest racing car? Or is, in fact, the Toyota GR Supra GT500 that races in SUPER GT, faster?
Before we answer that question, it’s important to highlight just how different the new Hypercar rules to which the GR010 is built are compared to the old LMP1 regulations. The main difference is minimum weight: the TS050 Hybrid (before success ballast was added) weighed in at 878kg, but its successor tips the scales at 1040kg - 20kg more than the GR Supra.
The GR010 is also significantly less powerful than the TS050, and only features hybrid power at the front, rather than through all four wheels.
So, it should be no surprise that the GR010’s times in qualifying for the Spa WEC opener were much slower than the pole times set by the TS050 in previous years.
To get an accurate comparison, we have to ignore the 2020 Spa race, because on that occasion both Toyotas were running with significant success ballast as part of the rules to allow the privateer, non-hybrid LMP1 cars to compete with the TS050s. Instead, we’ll use the 2019 race (the second Spa round of the 2018/19 ‘superseason’) as a reference.
2019 Spa WEC pole time: 1’53.683s
2021 Spa WEC pole time: 2’00.747s (+7.064s)
That’s a significant difference. In fact, the pole time for this year’s race set by the Toyota is slower than the fastest time from 2019 in the LMP2 class, a 2’00.674s. It’s little wonder the LMP2s were only slightly slower than the hypercars at Spa this year, even after having their speeds reduced in the interests of keeping the two classes apart on track.
Now, we can’t know for sure how fast a GT500 car would go around Spa, and we probably never will. But we do know how fast a GT500 car can go around Fuji, and we also know how fast the TS050 LMP1 car went at that track.
On the WEC’s last visit to Japan in 2019, the pole time was a 1’24.822s, but that was with the TS050 carrying success ballast. The year prior, when the Toyotas were running in a near-optimum state in terms of the rules, the pole time was a 1’23.203s.
If we take the gap between the TS050 LMP1 and GR010 hypercar laptimes at Spa and adjust it for track length (Spa is around 1.5 times the length of Fuji), we get a gap of 4.507s. Add that to the slightly faster 2018 pole time, and you get a laptime of 1m27.710s.
Comparing that to Kenta Yamashita’s pole time in an unballasted GR Supra GT500 at Fuji at the end of last season (1’26.386s), and the GR010 falls short by 1.324s, which is well within the margin of error for differing conditions.
So where does the GT500 car make up the time, considering it’s almost the same weight as the hypercar, and (at least according to Toyota’s own figures) is less powerful by around 100 horsepower? The two main factors are tyres and aerodynamics.
Firstly, tyres: as SUPER GT is one of the only championships left worldwide that allows open competition, the tyres are incredibly grippy, especially when it comes to a single lap, and are always evolving.
For the best proof of this, look at the huge difference in laptimes seen when the GT500 cars switched to Hankooks for the DTM x SUPER GT Dream race at Fuji, at least in the dry test sessions before the rain arrived. As a side note, the old Class One-based DTM cars were in the region of five seconds down in qualifying on the GR010's pole time when they raced at Spa last year.
SUPER GT tyres also only have to last for a single stint, whereas in the WEC, the Michelins used by the hypercars must last for at least two stints in race conditions, sometimes more.
Then there’s the aerodynamics, which are now a major weakness of the hypercar. In the LMP1 era, Toyota could use high- and low-downforce aero packages over the course of a season, with the low-downforce kit designed for Le Mans and the high-downforce kit reserved for the other, more conventional tracks that make up the rest of the WEC calendar.
Now, teams must use a single aero package for the whole season, and that means the GR010 has had to be designed to work predominantly at Le Mans, with its many extremely long straights, even at the expense of its performance around shorter tracks.
So, while a GT500 car would almost certainly be faster over a hot lap than a hypercar at Fuji, and possibly at Spa, around a track like Le Mans it would be a very different story. The top speed advantage of the GR010, and the comparative lack of high-speed corners for the GR Supra to make up the lost time, would leave the GT500 machine trailing far behind.
As things stand, we'll have to wait at least a year before we can get an exact laptime comparison between the GR010 and the GR Supra GT500, when the WEC (hopefully) returns to Fuji in 2022.
But for now, around most tracks, it's safe to conclude that it's the latter machine that would come out on top in a one-lap shootout.
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