When the top echelons of sportscar racing are discussed there are few, a very few, that have hands-on experience of every part of the puzzle: LMP1, LMP2, DPi, DPi 2.0 and HyperCar.
One man who most certainly does though is Oreca founder Hugues de Chaunac. With a support role in the all-conquering Toyota Gazoo racing programme, a design. engineering and operational role in the WEC race-winning Rebellion LMP1 effort, a supply and development role in Acura’s current Penske-run DPi programme, a bulging customer list for the dominant Oreca 07 LMP2 car and future projects galore (see below!), de Chaunac and his Paul Ricard-based outfit have been both busy and successful.
Now though, alongside in-depth conversations about involvement in both HyperCar and DPi 2.0 programmes, there’s another matter in hand, and it’s one that the famously passionate Hugues, a Le Mans winner as far back as 1991 when Oreca handled the winning Mazda effort, is hugely motivated by, convergence of the HyperCar ad DPi 2.0 platforms.
“For me, it’s really easy. We need to have a global platform, we need to have the same regulations on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s completely a necessity just to have a very strong endurance championship.
“We have, for the moment, very strong races at Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring etc. But we need to have this global platform which is a technical thing which can be achieved very easily.
“One of the key points of this global platform is to look to the future. We have to focus to have a low budget. The car industry has completely different targets now. And if we want to keep motorsport very exciting, we need to do with a very low budget and we can do very well if we achieve that.”
We have a very odd situation where we have the ACO and FIA on one side, we have IMSA on the other side with very different approaches to the way they’re looking at top prototype class, but remarkably, have come remarkably close together as to where these concepts have left us, with one major exception, the chassis. What’s your take on it?
You and your teams have been part of the discussions with both codes. Where do you see at the moment, the health of DPI and DPI 2.0. And for that matter for the forthcoming hypercar programme too?
“But I think that if ACO and IMSA are not far from each other, it’s also because many key people come to ACO and to IMSA to say to them, we need a global platform, please do the right thing.
“And when I say some key people that means the car manufacturers because the car manufacturers are expecting from the sport’s governing body which is ACO, FIA and IMSA just to be very close to negotiate to have unique regulation, a unique global platform. So I think it’s really because they have the pressure of many key people, many car manufacturers who ask them, please do something with a low budget.
“For me, personally, I have a very good connection with ACO and with FIA and a very good connection with IMSA and with Jim (France) etc.. And I just insist of the importance for the future if both governing bodies want to have fantastic racing. There is a unique opportunity at the end of 2019, at the beginning of 2020. It’s a unique opportunity to achieve this and to have a global platform. So I really hope that it will happen.”
What you’re saying is that there is a will, there is a drive to achieve this. Are we close?
“We are close. But as you know, it’s like on the track, the last second to be in pole position is the hardest one to do. So we are really close, but the last 100 metre between them is perhaps not easy, but I am confident because I think on both sides, ACO/FIA and IMSA understand the will of everybody and they have to follow.
“For me, I am an optimist and I hope that a good compromise will be found.”
There are two aspects to this. There are the factory programmes, and as you quite rightly say, that kind of expectation of budget there has to be toned down from where we’ve been. There’s also an area where you’ve had amazing success with Oreca, particularly in the modern era, which is customer racing.
You spoke to me when the hypercar regulations were announced about the top level at which you felt that was even possible. My memory and correct me if I’m wrong was about 15 million was an absolutely top level. Are we still there and still interested at that level do you think?
“I think that is too high a level, it’s much too high. And we have to do a regulation which can be allowed to have a much lower budget. And it’s also an opportunity to attract new car manufacturers, which are not the big car manufacturers. But the sportscar manufacturer. And I can say, Lamborghini, Ferrari, McLaren, or the sportscar manufacturer who are very famous, very important, but I think they could be prepared to spend the small budget to have a racing image and to do a good marketing tool, but they are not prepared to do a big budget. So it’s for sure the target is to see how we can, on a championship, spend no more around 20-25 million – but not double that, that’s for sure.”
We’ve had success for a while with LMP1, and then the big budgets went away. Customer racing though has boomed in that era. You know, we are looking at perhaps 20, perhaps more LMP2 cars in the ELMS, for instance, IMSA and their revised LMP2 programmes, again with lots of your cars is beginning to work well too.
What role is there for those teams at the top level. We’ve again spoken before about the need to make sure that you don’t exclusively rely on the factory programmes moving forward? The ACO, in particular, seem to have moved towards trying to accommodate that potential growth, perhaps the future for teams like Rebellion is now by trying to give a bridge to those smaller brands.
That’s a move that’s been seen by some, as a bit of a barrier but has been seen by others as a bridge as an opportunity for someone to go knock on the door of a company like Koenigsegg to see whether or not there might be an opportunity. Where do you stand on that as a man who has put together a programme that has won races at a World Championship level?
“Now I think that probably for that we have to go step by step. I think that for the moment, LMP2 is a big and great success, but it’s a team championship. With the same car, it is a little like Indycar where you have the same car but it’s a team and it’s working very well just because it’s a good fight between the teams.
“I think that on our side, we try to bring the best customer support and it’s really probably, besides the quality of the car, is one of our big strengths – we have top customer service on all the races with the right engineers etc. And we share everything between all the teams. We have not one team that we prefer.
“If you do an investigation on all the LMP2 teams you will be surprised by the fact that everybody is happy with our support, I think if your question is perhaps whether one or two of these teams are ever to jump into the big category, LMP1, it could be possible, depending on the regulation for a global platform.
“It could be possible to have the same spec chassis and just have a new body design, which is a possibility and that we are completely open to and prepared to do it.”
Let’s talk about a couple of major programmes one there’s no public involvement from ORECA in yet, the other one that most certainly does have a real involvement.
Firstly, Peugeot, an announcement that came out of seemingly nowhere. They’ve already announced a partnership with your current partners on LMP1, Rebellion Racing.
Where are things currently with Oreca’s involvement? Because it’s not so far been mentioned whether there is any involvement. I believe your role with Toyota Gazoo Racing is contracted to the end of this season? So where are we, or might we see Oreca involved with Peugeot’s programme?
“It’s an easy reply – we are in discussion. The decision from Peugeot as you know is a very recent decision. So everything has been very quick. On one side we are operating the Rebellion. So for them, Oreca is running the complete team with the Rebellion car that we have built.
“So now we have just started to discuss with Peugeot to see, to define what could be the parameters which are fine for them fine for us. I think around February we will make a decision on both sides.”
And that’s at the moment an open discussion about design, who and when operationally who and when? there are no boundaries at the moment where that discussion stands. Whether or not they would be a car they would be designed between Peugeot and yourselves or a car that would just be operated between Peugeot and Oreca?
“It is too early to reply today because it’s part of the discussion. Peugeot is a car manufacturer and they want to design the car, but they need to have small support with a good consultancy, and we will see whether with all of our experience and expertise if we can have true collaboration.”
And because of this change to the cycle of the season with the WEC now being based around winter, it does leave a gap for Rebellion. Do we yet have a decision for Rebellion and from Oreca as to what happens next year, next season with the R13? Will it continue as a grandfathered car?
“No, no decision has been taken. It is something which has to be discussed. Probably around February, March, April. For the moment we focus on the races. Something is new now with the reveal of Peugeot so it’s too early to say and to decide now, what could be the season 2021. There are different ways, different opportunities, but it’s too early for the moment.”
Before that though we have the end of this season. The last statement we heard about the second Rebellion was the potential for it to appear at Spa and Le Mans?
“Yes, that is confirmed.”
Let’s move on to the other big programme for you, of course, is the Oreca basis that forms the core of the Penske Acura DPI programme. Another successful programme?
“I’m very proud to be successful and very happy to work with Acura and very proud to be linked with the team of Roger Penske because I am a big fan of Roger Penske, for all the things that he has done, and to have won a championship with his team makes me very proud. To have Roger Penske running an Oreca car is like a dream coming into reality.
The arrangement there is not exclusive with Acura so Oreca in that marketplace, of course, based on the LMP2 chassis can go and make proposals and work with other manufacturers?
“That’s right and we are discussing with two other car manufacturer at this moment in the US and so, now it’s time for them to decide whether to come in 2022 because it’s now too late for 2021 for just one season, and I can say we are having good discussions (with them).”
Tell us a bit about the health of that level of discussions, it’s a little further away than Hypercar, that’s probably a good thing. With HyperCar at the moment, it is a huge rush to get things done in time.
Tell us a little bit about the health of that level of discussions (in DPI 2.0) what the interest is like in the marketplace. You’re talking to manufacturers. We’re aware there are multiple manufacturers with potential involvement. What’s your level of confidence of getting deals done, of there being a healthy number of manufacturers from 2022?
“Yes, it’s so important to have enough manufacturers involved in 2022.
“I am confident in the discussion but you know, it’s always, until the moment when you have the signature!
“You meet some people, very optimistic, you meet some other people, less optimistic! But for the moment I am confident to have I think in 2022 up to one or two new car manufacturer, I hope.”
And retaining Acura as well?
“We hope. I cannot say for them because I don’t know but they seem that they don’t want to stop.”
It’s very busy for your team. I mean, I can’t remember a time, other than when you have built cars in bulk, for instance, the FLM09 when we have had so many programmes at a very high level?
“On one side, I am very happy and very proud because we build something which is really good. The company now has 250 people so it has started to be a big company. We are going to start a new building (at Paul Ricard), to have a new factory. So it’s really a good story for the moment, so I am very excited and confident.”
To finish this conversation let’s return to convergence. We’ve talked about where we are currently with DPI, where DPI is going, where we are with LMP1 and where that’s going.
You are known as a man that was absolutely passionate about this sport. How happy would it make you if the powers that be in France and in the United States could find a way forward together?
“That’s so big a wish and I put so much will, time, energy and patience to talk with them all to try to help. So I hope to help them to achieve this.”
Is your sense that when you’re talking to the major management figures in the ACO, FIA and in IMSA that, they too, are working towards any possibility of making this happen. I don’t sense that there is a divide, that there are forces trying for it not to happen. I think they’re looking for a way to make it happen together?
“No, I think there is a common will to do it. Just the last metres are sometimes a little hard for one or the other side, or for both sides. But I think the will is really there. Because as I say to both sides, this is a unique opportunity for the decade, not for this year, or for next year but for the decade, for the last decade and for the next decade, to show to the world that we are able to find a such a compromise, a global compromise.
“So for them, it’s just a fantastic opportunity and I think they cannot miss it.”