Rebellion team manager Bart Hayden (RIGHT) and ORECA Group president Hugues de Chaunac (ACO photo)
Wholesale changes to the P1 category for 2014 have spawned a significant growth in new chassis production, including the ORECA-built R-One chassis commissioned by Rebellion Racing.
The leading privateer P1 team has distinguished itself while performing in-house development with the Lola B12/60s, and with its alliance with French constructor ORECA, the Swiss operation will step up from the ranks of customer-car entrants to fielding its own bespoke chassis solution.
As Rebellion team manager Bart Hayden told RACER in a project update, the Toyota-powered R-One coupe will be among the last P1 cars to break cover before the 2014 WEC championship begins, pushing its on-track development into the early rounds.
“The schedule for the first car rollout is not until the middle of March next year, so at the moment the project is on schedule, but there's not a lot of physical elements that you can actually touch and feel,” he said. “It's mainly in the design stage and going out to tender with very various suppliers or component parts, etc. So the most physical aspect is the engine because it's going to be an evolution of the engine we have currently and things like the gearboxes is like to be an evolutionary design from major suppliers already.
“So there are bits and pieces that are there but the overall car won't really start coming together until end in the new year which is tight, we all know, for the start of the season. But we're really compressing what should really be a 15 month program into 12 months.”
With Porsche's new P1 car currently testing, Audi's 2014 challenger set to run within a matter of days and Toyota's successor to the TS030 scheduled for a January debut, Hayden's team will have a lot of work to do in order to have the R-One ready for the WEC season opener which, based on this year's championship, could start shortly after the car turns its first lap.
“We're all slightly up against it,” he explained. “We'd like to be at the first of the WEC round but we don't know when will that will be. But we think that'll be sometime in the middle of April. We also understand that there's going to be what they call a collective test at the end of March, which will be considered mandatory unless force majeure applies for each entrant. We want to be on the grid for the first race, for sure, with the new car and then we probably won't be doing a huge amount of testing prior to getting there. But we don't want to shy away from the first race because I think you do uncover things when you go racing that you don't uncover when you go testing, no matter how hard you test.
“So if the project delivers and the car rolls out in the middle of March and there's a mandate to be testing the end of March, it doesn't give us much room for being late. But we're firmly targeting being ready for the first race because I think those first races will really be an opportunity to thoroughly test the car and to see how the new regulations are going to be applied and to get used to the new way of racing. If we just pitched up for Le Mans, we won't be ready. So we should consider those early races to be preparation for Le Mans and I think that's how we will approach it. I think in many ways that's the way a lot of teams in the WEC approach the early races in whatever every year we're competing, especially, if you look at Audi and Toyota and how they go about things.”
Although the R-One has been designed to use an updated version of the customer 3.4-liter Toyota V8 engine currently fitted to the team's Lolas (LEFT), Hayden says the R-One has been built with the ability to accommodate different powerplants.
“If you think about the way that LMP cars are bolted together, the heart of the car is the tub itself,” he added. “What we've been able to do with the Lola chassis is install engines into that chassis that weren't originally considered, so there's been a fair amount of flexibility and adaptability. Except for that we've had with the Lola is the rest of the bodywork has not been optimized around that installation. And so what we're doing is designing the tub with a certain amount of flexibility in mind but the bodywork design will be optimized around this [Toyota] engine installation.
“So we believe that the aero efficiency for the car is going to be so critical under the new regulations that to compromise in that area would not be the sensible thing to do. But to extend the car to accept different engine installations or even if you could consider using the chassis as the basis or the tub as the basis for the P2 car sometime in the future is not beyond expectation. To that degree we're allowing building that in as part of the car's future. There's risk, of course, that you compromise and you're not going for pure out-and-out car, but I think for everybody there's a certain degree of uncertainty about the new engine regulations in particular, and which route is the most appropriate to take.”
Hayden also confirmed the R-One's engine solution for its maiden season could change for 2015.
“The engine that we start off with in the first year of running in 2014 may not be the engine that we run them in '15 or beyond,” he said. “And we wouldn't want to spend a huge amount of money on a car but then couldn't be adapted in some way to accept a different installation. It's a long-winded way of saying we're trying to optimize the '14 package aerodynamically around the engine installation but want to allow the ability to install different engines later on.”
Unlike the factory entrants, privateer cars like the R-One are not required to use an energy recovery system (ERS) in 2014, which is a benefit for Rebellion and others that would rather wait and see if the costly ERS solutions are worth adopting.
“We decided rather early that we were going to put ourselves firmly in the non-hybrid column of the regulations, and that means that we can take a 20kg weight break and also an additional fuel allowance per lap; and we believe that for privateers with limited resources going down the hybrid route is a difficult and costly way to go,” said Hayden. “We're hoping that if there is still a difference in the performance between ourselves and the factory cars that there's small room for the ACO to adjust the regulations, particularly if we're the only privateers there then hopefully they can hear our plea and make sure that we get even more of weight break or fuel to make us competitive.
“It may be well that, beyond '14, it becomes apparent that to make it work you have to put yourself in one of those hybrid columns. And from the conversations that we've had with various people, they all say if you're going to go hybrid you need to go big; no point dallying about going small. So that has all sorts of interesting possibilities but it's not something that we're really looking at really hard at this stage.”
With the deletion of the P1 class from the new United SportsCar Championship, the R-One, at least in its intended form, will be unable to compete in the Prototype class, but Hayden is open to exploring Rebellion's options to fielding the car in P2 configuration.
“The other thing is we've got half an eye on how the regulations in the U.S. are going to settle down during 2014,” he said. “We've enjoyed our races there the past season and a half, and so in 2015 it may well be that we look to whether there's an opportunity there as well – and we'd want to do that with this car if we could. We wouldn't be able to do it as a P1 car but if there is a way of perhaps adapting what we have to make it comply with whatever the new regulations are, then we want to have that option as well.”