The brake dust has barely settled, and yet after the intensity of the Le Mans 24 Hours, the next round of the World Endurance Championship (WEC) in Monza is already upon us. The iconic French race is up there with the very best events in not just motorsport, but sport more widely. The excitement, unpredictability, emotion, and pure test of endurance is unparalleled. Traditionally it has made all succeeding WEC events feel a little… well… flat, except this year it’s a little bit different…
A fifth Le Mans victory in a row for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is a staggering achievement, particularly for a manufacturer that had tried, and come so close, to win the race on multiple occasions in the previous 30 odd years. As those who know the race well, to take victory means running almost fault-free for 24 hours at eye-watering speeds, pushing every element of the car to its limit. Chuck in the need to share the track with 61 other cars, relentlessly navigating around GT cars running at much slower speeds and you get an idea that it’s no mean feat to get to the end of the race, let alone win it five times in a row.
However, there is a slight, let’s say question mark, that hangs above the heads of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing – would the team have won five times in a row if they had shared the track with more manufacturer competition? We say this with no disrespect towards its current class competition in the form of Alpine and Glickenhaus, both of which have gone toe-to-toe with TOYOTA this season, and both of which have performed exceptionally well. Alpine taking overall victory in the opening round at Sebring, and Glickenhaus taking pole at Spa and finishing on the Le Mans podium. However, a series-enforced Balance of Power (BoP) has partly contributed towards these close fights, and without BoP it would be unrealistic and unfair to expect Alpine and Glickenhaus to compete with TOYOTA on substantially smaller budgets and less resources.
That’s why Monza has become so significant, for the first time since Bahrain 2017 when Porsche departed the LMP1 class of the championship, TOYOTA will face a manufacturer on a similar global footing to itself. With BoP still in play, don’t think this isn’t also good news for Alpine and Glickenhaus too; the opportunity to compete with (and potentially beat) a brand with such motorsport pedigree as Peugeot is an attractive proposition.
Since the introduction of the WEC hybrid era in 2012 we have been treated to some sensational battles, particularly from 2014-2016 when the main protagonists of Porsche, Audi & TOYOTA traded race victories and championship titles. As with most international motorsport series though, costs escalated, Porsche and Audi left, and TOYOTA suddenly found themselves as the only competing manufacturer.
Kudos though to the Japanese outfit, it stuck around, it kept the LMP1 class alive, and in the five years since Porsche left, has achieved six Teams’ and Drivers’ titles and five Le Mans victories. It had no choice but to sweep up with the risk of humiliation and ridicule if it didn’t – arguably more pressure than when it faced Porsche and Audi. Under that immense weight the team has delivered and taken no mercy in doing so. As Technical Director Pascal Vasselon explained after their most recent Le Mans success, “We are here to make TOYOTA legendary at Le Mans, and step-by-step we ae building the legend.” From being the ‘nearly team’, they are now very much the team to beat.
Following Alpine and Glickenhaus’ commitment to the top class, the latest manufacturer to step up and take on that challenge is Peugeot. Lured in by new regulations first implemented last season, the Hypercar class (replacing LMP1 as the top class in endurance racing) is focused around reducing costs and providing a platform that is more attractive to a range of automotive brands. So far the signs are good, really good. The likes of Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and Lamborghini amongst others, are all coming out to play in the next couple of years. The thought of 10+ manufacturers competing at the front of the Le Mans field once again is quite tantalising.
That’s why Monza is so significant. The arrival of Peugeot signifies just the start of the second wave of manufacturers to join the series and go head-to-head with TOYOTA, Alpine and Glickenhaus. Of course, it would be completely unfair to expect Peugeot to be on par with their competitors straight off the bat, particularly TOYOTA given its 10-year streak of endurance competition in comparison to Peugeot’s last foray back in 2011. However, Monza represents what so many have waited for since Porsche’s departure, and signifies the start of what could become a magical era of sportscar racing once again. For that alone, in our eyes, Monza 2022 doesn’t sit in the shadow of Le Mans, it can stand proudly alongside it.
At SQN we have been fortunate enough to work with TOYOTA for the past decade, not just supporting them on their WEC journey, but working closely with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Europe in Cologne and TOYOTA Motor Europe in Brussels. Producing social content, undertaking social management, and communicating motorsport messaging to all markets across Europe through toolkits is just a taste of what we have delivered.
As an extended branch of their team, we have experienced every high and low as much as every team member down in the pit lane. We share their pain and joy because we care, and because they have placed so much loyalty and trust in us over the years. Just as we’ve gone into, lived through, and come out of a golden era of sportscar racing, we’re now ready to go into the next one with the team and stand firmly by their side as they face new challenges and become the team to beat. Bring on Monza!