Last weekend, we saw a very different kind of 24 Hours of Le Mans. It hasn’t taken place in September since 1968, and for the first time ever, no spectators were allowed. But the crowd - forced away by the Covid-19 pandemic - wasn’t the only thing missing for the 88th running of the famous endurance race. There was also a notable absence of V8 filth.
If you’ve been to Le Mans in the last few years, you’ll likely remember the dirty eight-cylinder roar of the Chevrolet C7.R Corvette with fondness. No matter where you were in the vicinity of La Sarthe - watching trackside, buying some overpriced frites or attempting to catch a few winks at your campsite, its thundering soundtrack was instantly recognisable. For 2020, though, there was no ‘Vette.
It won’t be long before we see the mid-engined C8.R in the FIA World Endurance Championship, of course, but the car uses a far less fruity flat-plane V8. Bye-bye burbles. And unfortunately, we can no longer rely on the Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE as a back-up - the last of the naturally-aspirated GTE-Am cars are now gone, replaced with the surprisingly quiet, AMG Turbo V8-powered replacement.
It’s not looking brilliant for next year, either. Of the cars that were running around La Sarthe, the 4.0-litre Porsche 911 RSRs in GTE-AM were easily the best-sounding cars out there, but these customer cars will be replaced with the 4.2-litre RSR from next year. The noise coming from the newer car’s side-exit pipes is lower-pitched, raspier and far less dramatic.
We can’t rely on Aston Martin’s Valkyrie livening up Le Mans’ soundtrack up next year with its Cosworth-built V12 either, since the British company has decided against running in the ‘Hypercar Class’ next year while it mulls over its options. Toyota will likely retain a turbocharged V6, with Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus running the same kind of configuration. Alpine will be entering rebranded versions of Rebellion’s LMP1 cars meanwhile (balanced against the new Hypercars), which run flat-plane, N/A Gibson V8s. Across the LMP2 field, you’ll find a smaller version of that engine.
Amidst this less than stellar mechanical orchestra, a good old-fashioned N/A, cross-plane V8 tearing through the air would be a welcome addition. Such engines haven’t always been a fixture at Le Mans, but they hark back to the halcyon days of the Ford GT40, which were retold (with a little fudging of history) quite recently in the feature film Ford Vs. Ferrari. The snarling eight-pot of the ‘Vette was a reminder of the past we were lucky to have sticking around against all odds.
Le Mans will always be a fascinating test of driver, team and machine. A punishing race in which almost anything can happen. But as with F1, you’re unlikely to find yourself tuning in for the noise in the future.