12 Apr

Eight years after the longest serving LMP1 car in history made its debut, ByKolles are looking to make a comeback with their new Hypercar. Against a 2023 field with potentially more rivals than they have ever faced, Stelvio Automotive look at what might be possible for minnows of the WEC.

Sean Smith

Yes, I am aware this article is more than a week late! Moving house whilst having Covid takes a lot out of you, but hey, my results of the current world situations make a good comparison to the subject matter, my favourite race team, in the world, ByKolles.

ByKolles have had an already legendary history. In 2009, the team made its debut in what would eventually become the WEC, the Le Mans Series. Running a pair of Audi R10 TDIs against considerably newer and faster cars from Peugeot and Audi’s works team, the team were more often than not fighting the likes of Aston Martin and privateers and chassis constructors like Speedy Sabah Lola (who would become Rebellion Racing), Pescarolo, Oreca and Ginetta. Their greatest races with the R10 were at the 1000km of Silverstone in 2009 when the #15 car came from last to 5th and at Le Mans in 2010 where they were only a couple of hours away from finishing 4th overall.

The team dropped down to LMP2, firstly with a Lotus badged Lola B12/80 then their first home-brewed car, the Lotus T128. That car only raced for a single season in 2013 and showed promise with a 3rd place at COTA. It was also the first of the “next gen” LMP cars which mandated closed cockpits, further forward on the chassis, offering more visibility for the driver. However, the team decided to make the jump for 2014 into LMP1 with the T129.

The rest of that story can be read in my 2018 article as that car became longest running machine in the WEC, racing from 2014 until its final entry at Le Mans 2020. It was, at one time, the fastest non-hybrid car ever to lap Le Mans, but was often plagued with bad luck, unreliability and the limitations of being a one-car operation. The one other thing ByKolles have always had, is perseverance. Even their biggest doubters will give them credit for the fact that they never give up, even when they lose half their cylinders at Le Mans, they push on until the car cannot give anymore.

Which leads us to the new car. ByKolles were one of the first outfits, along with Toyota, Aston Martin, Glickenhaus and Rebellion, to commit to the new LMP1 replacement ideology. Just reading that sentence and seeing who have actually delivered cars for the WEC since tells you how committed the team is. Rebellion, after arranging a tie-up with Peugeot, quit the WEC at the end of 2020, Aston Martin’s Valkyrie project was binned the minute the Strolls took over Force India in Formula 1. Only Toyota and Glickenhaus made the first race for the very late to be confirmed Hypercar rulebook.

ByKolles, much like article, were late. This time last year, they had released the concept rendering of the car and were deep into the build of the physical car, but they were being held back by suppliers, one of the most notable being caught up in the semiconductor shortage which been a massive blight on the car and wider tech industry over the last three years. Even so, they had the seat fitting done by the end of 2021, they managed to get the test fire done at the end of January, and, this week, they finally fit the track.

The new car, the ByKolles Vanwall LMH – Gibson, is going to be conducting an extensive testing programme in 2022 as they were not given a place in the 2022 WEC due to “not meeting the necessary criteria” at the time of their entry being lodged. Although unconfirmed, it has been speculated that the delayed progress of the car was a factor, along with the fact ByKolles asked to miss the first race at the 1000 miles of Sebring, but, after initial anger, fuelled further when Peugeot were initially offered a place at Le Mans despite being at exactly the same stage of development as ByKolles, I have come to take this rejection as a positive.

ByKolles had major problems when the P1/01 was born in that a lack of testing meant they were always learning problems on a race weekend rather than being able to iron out the car’s kinks in private. A year of testing with the new car, before they have to homologate the LMH for a full 2023 assault, will leave the new Vanwall badged car on much firmer ground than they were all those years ago.

We saw last year with Glickenhaus, the next smallest team in the Hypercar class, that their SCG007 also went through problems as the new team got to grips with the car. If ByKolles can skip this and come into 2023 ready to go, the WEC will benefit exponentially as they, Peugeot, and Ferrari all start with brand new, bespoke, Hypercars.

As is often the case though with ByKolles, there is a “but”. In this case, the “but” is that in 2023 the new IMSA GTP (previously known as LMDh) will also be making their planned debuts. These cars, as discussed before, are LMP2 based cars which have bespoke aerokits, engines and internals, an evolution of the current DPI cars racing stateside. These cars are significantly simpler, cheaper, but resultantly more limited than their Hypercar cousins, but the big tick for the WEC that they bring are the big brands. Porsche (and maybe still Audi), Cadillac, Acura (Honda), BMW are all expected in 2023, with Alpine joining them in 2024.

Am I excited? Absolutely!

The WEC at Sebring was a great race to watch as the Toyota Hypercar, the Glickenhaus non-hybrid Hypercar and the old Alpine LMP1 car all had somewhat equal pace with strengths and weaknesses, if they can make this grid be as close as it is now with Toyota, Glickenhaus, Peugeot, Ferrari, ByKolles, Porsche, Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Alpine, the WEC will be an unbelievable spectacle.

Can ByKolles Vanwall challenge? … I really hope so.

I don’t expect them to ever challenge for a championship. As much as I genuinely love the team as a fan, I am not foolish enough to overlook the magnitude of times bigger every one of ByKolles’ rivals (bar Glickenhaus) are compared to them. But, if 2022 testing can finesse the Vanwall LMH to a point of readiness, I do believe in ByKolles as an outfit which will fight tooth and nail for everything they can.

The dream of seeing them on the podium at Le Mans can come true. I’ve said it for years and here it is again for the next chapter… #GoByKolles!

Stelvio Automotive - Article 125 - @StelvioAuto