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FIA WEC

FIA WEC Shanghai Review

The 2017  FIA World Endurance Championship held its penultimate round in China last weekend. The FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai provided some thrilling racing and saw some of the titles secured before the final round in Bahrain later this month.  Our man in the stands was track-side once again to watch all the action and bring you this summary:

GTE is awesome (and will only get better)
It is safe to say that the 2017 Six Hours of Shanghai was a thriller throughout, in part because the GTE Pro class produced so much entertainment. The automated Balance of Performance continues to prove time and time again to make the racing close and fair. The differences on track stem from tyre-wear and driver ability, which is how it should be.

FIA WECFord took the win with Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx boosting their title hopes, but Porsche and later Ferrari could have taken the top step of the podium too. The driver line-ups are all world class. The cars are too – the only one looking exposed currently being the older Aston Martin Vantage, in it’s last year – and it’s only going to get better in 2018; Aston Martin will have their new car and BMW will be joining the fray. With action like this on track in GTE, whatever happens to LMP2 and LMP1 for that matter, means the FIA WEC and Le Mans 24 Hours will prove unmissable in the ‘Super Season’.

LMP2 was a dogfight
The LMP2 class was always going to be close with the FIA WEC’s 2017 entry featuring near-identical ORECA 07 Gibsons across the board. However, as the teams have got their heads around the nuances of the new package, three front-runners have emerged. That means that the class competition is very close on track for extended periods of time.

FIA WECAs the championship rolls towards a conclusion, nerves are jangling. The Shanghai race saw swings of fortune of astonishing magnitude. The Jackie Chan DC Racing No.38 car leading at one point, stood to leave China with a mighty 16-point advantage in the standings, but one minor slip by Ho Pin Tung saw that advantage evaporate, together with their championship lead. The Chinese-flagged team now facing the prospect of a four-point deficit, losing their lead for the first time this season. Going into the finale, all of a sudden, it’s Vaillante Rebellion’s title to lose.

Beyond that, at times there was, ill-judgement and ill-temper galore up and down the order, with almost every car involved in one incident or another; In the case of several cars, several incidents. It made for a topsy-turvy competition, which some drivers will hope to forget. As the sign of a maturing ultra-high performance pro/am competition, there was plenty to savor, including for the first time this season outside of Le Mans, the regular sight of LMP2 cars re-passing LMP1 Hybrids on the long-back straight, as the factory monsters went into lift and coast. Make no mistake, these are very quick cars.

GTE Am is ready for a refresh
The spark went out of this class after a perfect storm of misfortune through Turn 1. This effectively accounted for both Ferraris;  the Spirit of Race 488 retiring, and the Clearwater example losing several laps to repairs. The rest of their day was effectively a run to claim as many points as possible.

FIA WECAston Martin dominated, scored the team’s 50th win in competition, and took the lead in the championship, but the reality was that the class lacked a little something for the first time in 2017. The signs are though, that it will all change with a major uplift in the quality and numbers of teams available for selection in 2018/19. New cars, in particular the advent of the class of the 2017-spec mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR, and new teams. Watch this space.

It is too late for Toyota
Toyota’s pace at Shanghai was spell-binding once again. Porsche simply had no answer to the TS050 HYBRID in its evo aero kit. Tellingly, the remaining factory hybrid team is making preparations now for 2018/19. It looked for much of the race, as if Toyota would delay Porsche’s Manufacturers title celebrations until Bahrain, but a fumble for Pechito Lopez as he tried to lap one of the Porsches saw the No.7 car delayed in the final hour, after running in the lead. The required repair put Porsche’s 919s on two steps of the podium; enough to add the Manufacturers Championship to the World Drivers Championship, won for the second time; a unique achievement by Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley (and for the first time, by Earl Bamber.)

FIA WECIn the process, Hartley scored probably a unique achievement in world motorsport, taking part in a Formula One Grand Prix last week and winning a completely different FIA world title on the following weekend. For Toyota, a completely different challenge awaits, the R&D justification for its programme is intact for 2018/19, which will see them with a major target painted on the rear of both TS050s, from a growing gaggle of privateers who no-doubt have sensed the opportunity to add a further dramatic chapter in Toyota’s win-free history at Le Mans

Shanghai is a popular race
There has long been much chatter, about China’s place in the FIA WEC calendar. “Nobody comes”, “nobody cares”, “deserted stands” etc. Whilst it is true to say that it is far from the most popular race in the WEC family, all of the above assertions are increasingly false and entirely incorrect. For at least the third consecutive running of the 6 Hours of Shanghai, the main stand was very well filled for the opening hours of the race at the very least. The car park too was well filled; with large groups of school children also in attendance in the stands and around the paddock.

FIA WECBehind the stands, there was plenty of entertainment available for the assembled masses, with manufacturer stands, sponsor displays and food, all well received by the public. In the fringes of the race meeting, there is a huge amount of commercial activity, and, this year in particular, a lot of local promotion both via the circuit and local heroes Jackie Chan DC Racing. There were special metro tickets, downtown building displays and media activity helping to boost the attendance and global pride; others on the calendar, some of which will not be returning next season, would do well to take a look.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC

FIA WEC Round Up

In the world of ACO sports car racing, the last few weeks have been littered with positive news stories as the FIA World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) looks ahead to the new-look winter 2018/19 ‘Super Season’. The main source of positivity is in the top division; The grid in LMP1 is forming quickly, thanks to announcements from ELMS champion DragonSpeed, Manor and an as yet un-named Ginetta customer, who are set to take on the might of Toyota Gazoo Racing (should it opt to stay) and the initial flurry of confirmed privateers (ByKolles and SMP/Dallara).

But there is still plenty to look forward to this year, with drivers racing for contracts, manufacturers improving their machinery, and of course, FIA WEC titles set to be decided. After a rain-soaked 6 Hour contest at Fuji Speedway last month, there’s just races at Shanghai this weekend, and the Bahrain finale later in November to look forward to. Here’s five story lines to follow as the season reaches its conclusion, and the hype-train for 2018 leaves the station:

Porsche’s final LMP1 dance
Prior to the weekend at Fuji, it looked as it the Manufacturers and Drivers World Championships in LMP1 were all but over. However, a Toyota 1-2 and Porsche’s leading protagonists finishing only fourth in the race means the title races are set to continue, at least until this weekend’s trip to Shanghai. The upcoming meetings are, of course, the last time we are set to see LMP1 factory hybrids fight together (for the foreseeable future) with Porsche deciding to park their programme, leaving the door open for the exciting prospect of privateer entries, from a variety of nationalities, with a mix of chassis’ and engines.

FIA WEC
Last chance to see the Porsche LMP1 in action

That is not to say you shouldn’t be making the most of this racing, because it is the end of an era of prototype competition that has seen technology pushed to its limits in the name of sport. Rarely disappointing, and always mind-boggling, the hybrid era as we’ve known it has provided us with some of the most memorable racing in decades, not just in sports car racing, but in motorsport in general. Can Toyota take the drivers title down to the wire, with Sebastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima now 39 points back? There is a real possibility. And that aside, it should be a thrilling conclusion, no matter what the outcome.

Aston Martin saying goodbye to the old Vantage
It has been a strange, but ultimately successful year for Aston Martin Racing, which with an increase in factory funding, won the top Le Mans GT class for the first time since 2008. In the FIA WEC races outside of Le Mans though, it has been a mixed bag of results, with the two pro-class Vantages struggling for pace during the flyaway rounds.

FIA WEC
Out with the old and in with the new for Aston Martin Racing

The British marque though, will be aiming to end 2017 on a high, as it is out with the old  and in with the new for 2018. While the current 2016-spec Vantage is set to continue racing in the FIA WEC’s GTE Am class going forward, these two season-ending FIA WEC bouts will likely be the last time that we see the car run ragged in the Pro class with full-house factory talent behind the wheel.

A tight fight in LMP2
LMP2, despite lacking the usual variety in chassis, has been the class to watch quite often this year. With two races to go it is set to be a guns out fight between Jackie Chan DC Racing, Vaillante Rebellion and Signatech Alpine for the LMP2 title. Initially, Thomas Laurent, Oliver Jarvis and Ho Pin Tung looked destined to take the drivers title, after winning at Silverstone and Le Mans. But since the season headed further afield, their lead has been reduced to just 10 points. Can the leading trio hold on? or will Rebellion and Alpine close the gap and then take over the reins at the top of the shop?

FIA WEC
Vaillante Rebellion are in the mix for the LMP2 title

Too close to call in Am
Like LMP2, the fight in GTE Am for the FIA WEC title is between three teams, but even closer. GTE Am has frequently produced the best, and most unpredictable, racing in the field this year. A remarkable feat considering the class is just five-cars strong.

FIA WEC
It is too close to call in GTE Am

So, take your pick, Singaporean outfit Clearwater Racing; which knows Shanghai particularly well from its former Asian campaigns, Aston Martin Racing; which has the most experienced drivers of the bunch with the longest-standing driver squad (of Mathias Laura, Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy), or Dempsey Proton Racing; which has a line-up made up of veteran Christian Reid and hot shoes Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli. So far this year there has been little to separate them, therefore, betting your mortgage on one of them, isn’t advisable.

The end of the GTE Pro title race
Similar to GTE Am, GTE Pro, has seen multiple teams, manufacturers and drivers go toe-to-toe all year, making for a thrilling title battle. With Aston Martin’s string of tough results putting them out of the title race, and Ford’s hopes dented by the No.67 having a poor run at Fuji, it appears that Ferrari vs Porsche is set to be the deciding duel this year. The Ferrari 488, in the hands of AF Corse, is a formidable force and has won multiple races this year. The new Porsche 911 RSR meanwhile, has snuck into the points race due to consistency, still searching for its maiden FIA WEC win after coming close on multiple occasions since Le Mans.

FIA WEC
The Ferarri 488 is fighting to be top dog in GTE Pro

The selection of drivers is second to none in GT terms. As is the sheer quality of the teams on display. With Aston’s new toy and BMW’s M8 GTE programme on the horizon for 2018, the final two races this year are a good appetizer for what is to come in the next 12 months.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography: Dailysportscar

FIA WEC

Porsche continue to dominate in the FIA WEC

Following on from the FIA WEC Six hours of Mexico, the whole series moved across the border to Austin, Texas for the Six hours of the Circuit of the Americas. Of course our man in the stands went with them and brings you these talking points.

Porsche’s dominance continues
While the LMP1 battle at the head of the field was far more entertaining in Texas than it was in Mexico City, Porsche still had a clear advantage most of the way. Currently on a farewell tour, Porsche LMP1 Team is desperate to dominate and sweep the FIA WEC titles to add to the Le Mans crown once again in 2017. On track, the battles between Toyota and Porsche during the 6 Hours were thrilling, but the end result unfortunately never felt in doubt.

FIA WECIn the second half of the race, Porsche pulled away from Toyota, scoring another 1-2 finish, with the No. 2 crew of Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhardt and Earl Bamber taking their fourth straight overall win – the streak dating back to their Le Mans triumph. It was manufactured though, the No. 1 crew since Le Mans has had the pace in the race to win each race, prevented from taking the win by team orders each time. In some ways, it’s understandable, in others, it’s a shame. While Porsche would be deserving champions at the end of the year, the title race’s excitement level has suffered as a consequence. Toyota must get a better result at Fuji, and have luck go its way if it is to have any chance of taking the title fight to Bahrain. Because the points gap, seems pretty insurmountable.

Alpine is back
After dominating much of last season in LMP2, Signatech Alpine finally got back to winning ways in Texas; Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Andre Negrao proving untouchable at CoTA. While poor luck at times earlier in the season struck, the catalyst for its big performance in the USA appears to have been Negrao. The Brazilian, who joined the No.36 crew in place of Matt Rao at Mexico, has proven to be one of the quicker Silver-graded drivers in the LMP2 field, putting them in good shape going forward.

FIA WECDon’t count out the French team in the final three races of the year, as it looks more than capable of racking up more wins after battles with Jackie Chan DC Racing and Vaillante Rebellion’s ORECA 07 Gibsons.

Porsche’s 2017 911 RSR still searching for its first win
Saturday’s 6 Hours of Circuit of The Americas was another near miss for the 2017 Porsche 911 RSR, which looks more and more capable of taking a win with each passing race. The race in Texas though, was its best to date, with the No.92 finishing second in GTE Pro, the highlight coming midway through the race when Kevin Estre fought his way past the two AF Corse Ferraris after the race’s only safety car, to take the lead.

FIA WECIn the end, it was Ferrari’s day, but Estre and teammate Michael Christensen fought hard, almost taking the lead again late in the race when the winning No.51 Ferrari suffered a puncture and had to make an unscheduled stop in the dying minutes. It’s fast, and now reliable, it’s only a matter of time before Porsche finds the top step of the GTE Pro podium for the first time since 2015.

Farewell CoTA
Last weekend’s race at CoTA appears to be the last for the FIA WEC going forward. On the calendar since the 2013 season, the Austin-based circuit has represented the series’ marquee event in North America, and one which has always been popular with the teams and drivers. It failed to take off though, as it was never embraced by the locals and when held as a standalone event this year – without the IMSA WeatherTech Series – it felt more like a club meeting in terms of atmosphere than a real World Championship.

FIA WECThe circuit, which itself is incredible, challenging for the drivers and great to watch for those trackside, was unfortunately never embraced by sportscar fans in the USA. The crowds suffered from the event’s poor timing – always run on a weekend in which the local College Football team was playing – severe September heat, and hefty ticket prices. It’s a shame, because those who did attend over the years are likely to miss the trip to Texas for the FIA WEC. Sebring is back on the calendar as its replacement though, for a 1500-mile race, for a double-header with IMSA, that should prove to be an extremely popular weekend of racing for fans and series stakeholders alike.

AMR back on track in Am
After a shaky start to the season, and another tough run at Le Mans, the No.98 Aston Martin Racing crew is back in the lead of the GTE Am championship after taking its second win at CoTA. Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy have always been arguably the best top to bottom lineup in the class, but have often suffered poor luck when fighting for wins. The trio should have won at Silverstone had the final lap crash with Spirit of Race not occurred, and were poised for a good finish at La Sarthe before a puncture spoiled their chances.

FIA WECNow though, after a win at CoTA, they look like they’ll be the team to beat in the final three rounds of the season. The old Vantage is still a strong package, the drivers are too. The threats though, may be real – Clearwater Racing is competing on ‘home turf’ in Asia for the next two races, and Dempsey Proton (despite a rough time in the USA) is capable of winning races.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

 

FIA WEC

FIA WEC Mexico race round up

Our man in the stands traveled to Mexico for the next round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.  Among all the press conferences and announcements about the future of the series, there was also a race. Here is Stephen’s synopsis of what you may have missed.

Toyota’s struggles
Unfortunately for the fans in the stands, and at home watching on TV, the race in LMP1 at Mexico City was very much a non-event. For the first time all season, there were no real on-track battles between the two factory hybrid teams, Porsche taking off and crossing the line 1-2, a lap ahead of the two TS050 Hybrids.

FIA WECPrior to the trip to North America, Toyota took the fight to Porsche at the Nürburgring, before fading late in the race. The team was certain that its performance in Germany was to be expected, due to the medium-speed circuit not suiting the TS050, claiming that for the rest of the season, it would be challenging for wins. But it appears, after the 6 Hours of Mexico, that this may not be the case, with Porsche’s high-downforce aero package appearing to provide the team with a sizable performance gap to Toyota, that wasn’t there at Silverstone and Spa, when it ran its low-drag kit.

In what looks like it could turn into a repeat of the 2015 season – when Porsche debuted a new aero kit at the Nürburgring and were untouchable for the rest of the season – Toyota needs to act fast if it wants to take the title race to the wire. The No.2 crew of Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley are pulling away in the standings, and with just four rounds remaining, and look poised to win the world title in the wake of the team’s LMP1 exit.

GTE Pro continues to be the class of the field
Providing further evidence that the new Automated Balance of Performance system has improved the GTE Pro class’ parity, the race at Mexico was another thriller. It was Ferrari vs Aston Martin out front, with Ford and Porsche close behind fighting for the final podium spot, in a race which went down to the wire, with the No.95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen taking the win after a time penalty was added to the No.71 Ferrari in the race classification after the flag fell.

FIA WECIn the FIA GTE World Championship standings, all four marques are in with a shout still, with just 31 points separating them in the points tally heading into the round at CoTA. It’s been a real success, with Porsche the only brand yet to take a win. New teams are on the horizon for the next few years to join in the party, which is a welcome movement following the recent erosion of numbers at the head of the field. Long may it continue.

Manor shows potential
After what was a really tricky debut season in 2016, the guys at Manor WEC finally hit their stride in Mexico City, almost taking their first win. The team’s new trio of ex-F1 driver Jean Eric Vergne, DragnSpeed’s Ben Hanley and Signatech Alpine emigrant Matt Rao proved to be stellar, after Vergne and Hanley came alive in the second half of the race, climbing the order and eventually chasing down the leader until the final few minutes. While Hanley’s chances of passing Bruno Senna in the No.31 Vaillante Rebellion ORECA were admittedly slim due to the rain holding off, and the lead gap being too large, it was nevertheless a thrilling conclusion to another hard-fought LMP2 race in which most of the cars were in the mix.

FIA WECCEFC Manor TRS Racing’s performance though, was a standout, and with the No.24 trio returning for CoTA this month, they could be the team to beat. The hard-work from the former Formula One outfit, which still considers itself the new kid on the block in prototype racing, is starting to pay off.

The LMP2 title battle has hotted up
While Manor may not be a feature in the LMP2 title race as the second half of the season continues, the scrap at the front could turn into a really thrilling storyline. The leaders in the No.38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA had a rough outing in Mexico, after clutch issues demoted them to the back of the pack in the race. While it was unfortunate to see the Chinese-flagged, British-run crew come away with little for their efforts, it has spiced up the championship.

FIA WECHo Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent’s lead has been cut to just 23 points by Senna, Julien Canal and Nicolas Prost, who took the win at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodrguez circuit with a performance which left many questioning how they hadn’t won every race so far this season. With 104 points still on offer, it could be a memorable ride for those with skin in the game right the way to Bahrain.

Proton emerges
Despite fielding an older 2015 Porsche 911 RSR, Christian Reid’s Dempsey Proton Racing team have come alive this season, and have now taken the championship lead in GTE Am after winning in Mexico, taking advantage of a rare disastrous outing from Clearwater Racing. Reid, along with Italian Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst were on the pace all weekend long in Mexico, as they were at the Nürburgring. It’s partly due to BoP swinging their way, but more so due to the rise of Cairoli and Dienst as starts.

FIA WECBoth of them were nearly untouchable during the race, and up against talents like Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Miguel Molina and Ben Barker and teams which are all capable of engineering cars to victory. The class as a whole has been quietly the most exciting its ever been, despite having just five entrants. It’s a good sign for the future, in which GTE Am may – along with LMP2 – provide the backbone of the WEC.

The duo are going to be a force for years to come, and even if they do win the GTE Am driver’s championship this season, it feels like this is just the beginning for Porsche’s young professionals.

Look out for our report direct from the Circuit of the Americas next week!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Spa 24 Hours

Audi continue success at the Spa 24 Hours

Spa 24 Hours 2017: Review

Travel Destinations guests at the Spa 24 Hours were blessed with good weather for this year’s race and the action on the track didn’t disappoint either. There was a close run race and plenty of talking points for our man in the stands to discuss afterwards. Here are some of the highlights from that discussion.

Another one in the books for Audi
Team Sainteloc’s victory in last weekend’s Spa 24 Hours was nothing short of spectacular. The team’s trio of Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Haase and Jules Gounon battled through sunshine and the showers, day and night, fending off the best that Bentley, Mercedes, Ferrari and Porsche had to offer to score Audi its fourth Spa 24 Hours win.

Spa 24 HoursAs remarkable as the French factory-blessed team’s win was, what was more impressive, was the performance of the car. The Audi R8 LMS, which to many, will still feel like a new kid on the block, is actually well into its life-cycle, and continues to impress on almost a weekly basis around the world, but consistently in longer races. The win means that the R8 LMS has won both big European 24-hour races in 2017, following Land Motorsport’s emphatic Nurburgring 24 Hours triumph. The R8 LMS almost won the Rolex 24 Hours GTD category too, after a late charge by the aforementioned Land squad at the end of the race.

It’s portfolio continues to pad out, as does Audi Sport customer racing. With BMW already bringing an evo kit to market for the new M6 GT3 this year, and Aston Martin developing a new GT3 model, Audi is sticking to its guns. As the R8 LMS fifth season approaches, it looks just as good as it did on its debut back in 2014, when it stormed to victory at the Nuburgring. It is an incredible car, which will go down as one of the most successful in GT3 history.

Bad luck for Bentley
Another year and another near miss for Bentley. Once again, the British marque finished just shy of the win, but in very different circumstances to last year when weather at the end of the race cost the team its lead. This time around its lead Continental GT3 charged into the fight for the win in the closing stages due to good pit work, and incredible driving for Maxime Soulet, Vincent Abril and Andy Soucek. It was a hard pill to swallow for the M-Sport crew, to again miss out on winning the car its first big endurance race, but nevertheless it was a promising performance.

Spa 24 HoursSoulet at the end of the race piled the pressure on the leading Audi, closing the margin to just seven seconds in the final minutes, but the traffic,  which is always a factor at Spa, played a big part in deciding the final outcome. On raw pace there was really nothing between them. The Continental GT3’s tenure as Bentley’s marquee GT3 is clearly coming to a close, and despite numerous attempts to win the Spa 24 Hours, Nurburgring 24 Hours and Bathurst 12 Hours, it has yet to sit on the top step at any of them.

Maxime Soulet, Vincent Abril and Andy Soucek now lead the Driver’s title race, and the M-Sport team now leads the Team’s Championship in the Endurance Cup. A big championship win in what will likely be its final season is now likely the only chance left of a fond farewell to the Crewe-based marque’s first GT3 project which has been a fan-favourite from the get go.

Team Bernhard has a future
In the Pro class, Porsche had just one team representing it. It wasn’t the usual Manthey, or even Herberth Motorsports for that matter. No, it was Team75 Bernhard making its 24-hour race debut with its 911 GT3 R. Driving the car were works drivers Michael Christensen, Laurens Vanthoor and Kevin Estre, and they were predictably superb. The team though, was an unknown going into the race. Owned by Timo Bernhard (Le Mans winner and all-round top talent) the team had only competed in ADAC GT Masters sprint races in Germany heading into the weekend, but with Porsche’s support they were on fine form, and kept the Stuttgart-based marque in the running for the win all the way to the finish, eventually finishing third overall.

Spa 24 HoursThey genuinely could have won it too, as without a three-minute stop-go penalty for causing a collision in the early stages, they would have been almost a lap ahead of the field. There looks like a real future for Timo’s team, which is aiming to become a full factory squad in the years ahead.

Misery for McLaren
While Porsche, Audi, Mercedes and Bentley all had good to great runs in the Spa 24 Hours, McLaren’s effort was much the opposite. Strakka Racing brought its quartet of 650S GT3s, and last year’s Endurance Cup Champion Garage 59 brought another, to make it a five-pronged attack for the Woking brand. But none of them featured in the running on pace throughout practice and Qualifying, and in the race only briefly looked competitive.

Spa 24 HoursFour of the five failed to make it into the final third of the race; Strakka’s entire fleet retiring for one reason or the other, leaving a delayed Garage 59 650S GT3 in the AM class to bear the flag for the marque. But Chris Harris, Alexander West, Bradley Ellis and Chris Goodwin could only do so much, after a problem in the pits and a collision out on track left them over 10 laps down on the other Am class runners. In the end the quartet came home last in the class and second to last of the classified runners.

It’s been an extremely tough season for Strakka Racing, which is still clearly adapting to GT racing after years in prototypes. It is not the drivers, as it’s stable is littered with McLaren GT’s young guns and factory drivers, instead it has appeared to be a mixture of rotten luck, and a struggle to work with the current Pirelli tyres, which has left the team flailing. Thankfully there is still a couple more chances this season to score a good result. A win, or even a podium before the end of the Blancpain season would go a long way to keeping the morale up.

There is life in the old Aston yet
Leading early, and eventually finishing second, the Oman Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage of Euan Hankey, Le Mans-winner Jonny Adam, Ahmad Al Harthy and Salih Yoluc enjoyed a whirlwind of a week at Spa racing in the Pro-Am division. Much like its GTE brethren, the GT3 version of the Aston Martin Vantage has been around a long time, lacking customers globally now, as the brand prepares for its next GT3 machine to go to market. But with its incredible build, performance, and design, coupled with today’s Balance of Performance, it is still competitive. Scoring Pro-Am Pole and staying in the fight for the Pro-Am victory throughout was a sight to see, the Oman Racing squad run by TF Sport running like clockwork throughout the event.

Spa 24 HoursNot only was the podium a success in itself, but the strong run also sealed the Blancpain GT Series Pro-Am Drivers’ title for Adam and Al Harthy and the Teams’ title win for the Oman Racing Team with TF Sport. A great effort for this retiring Aston.

The Spa 24 Hours will return from the 26th – 29th July 2018. Travel Destinations will have hotel and camping offers available for the race. Please register now via info@traveldestinations.co.uk to receive more information.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

 

6 Hours of Nurburgring

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Nurburgring Review

FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nurburgring Review

Our customers at the Nurburgring enjoyed another exciting round of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship at the weekend. Although the result was ultimately a good win for Porsche there was a lot of other stories happening elsewhere on the track too. Our man in the stands takes a look at what we learnt from the FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nurburgring 2017.

Toyota are still in the fight
Despite having had a disastrous run at Le Mans and now a result to forget at the Nurburgring (with Porsche finishing 1-2), Toyota Gazoo Racing are still very much in the fight for more wins and the 2017 title. The team has always struggled mightily at the Nurburgring and this time were more than competitive. The No.7 TS050 Hybrid took pole position, and led the opening hour of the race, until damage to the car’s underfloor, and rear wing (discovered after the race) caused a drop in the car’s ultimate pace.

6 Hours of the NurburgringIn 2016, both Toyota cars were lapped by the winners. This time around their No.7 car in third finished just a minute behind. Porsche’s new high-downforce kit inevitably  still has pace to be unlocked, but the early signs are that the rest of the season is set to be close between the two main LMP1 manufacturers.

Toyota needs to ensure that the No.8 has a good run for the remaining five rounds in the season, as finishing five laps down at the Nurburgring after a fuel pump issue has damaged the title hopes of Kazuki Nakajima, Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi who now find themselves 30 points back from the No. 2 Porsche boys. (The No.7 car is all but out of the race after DNFs at Silverstone and Le Mans).

Team orders are already at play
Porsche is clearly trying to sew up the title as early as possible and negate any recovery from Toyota. Porsche utilized team orders at the final pit stops at the Nurburgring to ensure that the No.2 Porsche of Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber took the win on Sunday. Yes, we’re only at the halfway mark of the season, but it is clear that Porsche knows that it’s No. 1 car (with a DNF at Le Mans) has almost no chance of taking the championship this year.

6 Hours of the NurburgringIf Toyota is to win the Driver’s title, then it needs to ensure that the No.8 also finishes ahead of their No.7 wherever possible during the remaining non-European rounds.

GTE Pro title race tightens
In the GTE Pro category, the title races have heated up nicely with the second half of the season still to run. Both the Driver’s, Team’s and Manufacturer’s title races are still close, with all four factories in the mix, which is a testament to the strength of the Balance of Performance this season.

6 Hours of the NurburgringThere’s just 20 points separating the top five teams in the LMGTE Pro teams title race. The No.67 Ford UK GT still leads the way, but with 84 points, is just 11 ahead of the No.51 AF Corse Ferrari which finished first at the Nürburgring and the No.91 Porsche which is now level after a second in Germany, but classed as third due to the No.51 having a win on its record this season. The No.97 Aston Martin is fourth, four points back with 69, ahead of the No.71 AF Corse Ferrari that finished last at the Nürburgring after gear shifter problems that’s now on 64.

It’s slightly more complex in the Drivers’ title race, which has been affected by the inclusion of GTE Am drivers (eligible for the championship) scoring highly at Le Mans. Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell are on 84 points at the top, with Pipo Derani alone in second (though he will slip down the order now that his Ford deal is over). The nearest challengers to the No.67 Ford GT duo is the No.91 Porsche GT Team pair of Fred Makowiecki and Richard Lietz that are a point off Derani and 11 points of the leaders. The No.97 Aston Martin is now 15 points back in fourth (but truly third) after finishing off the podium at the Nurburgring.

The closest battle in the GTE ranks though, is in the Manufacturers Championship. AF Corse’s win in the Eifel Forest has seen them move level with Ford on 135 points in the lead. Aston Martin have 113 in third, with Porsche on 106 in fourth.

Jackie Chan DC Racing running away with it in LMP2
Meanwhile in LMP2, Jackie Chan DC Racing is running away with it, after its ‘Mighty 38’ trio of Oliver Jarvis, Thomas Laurent and Ho Pin Tung produced their third win in four races this season. It was a dominant run too, after building a lead in the first half they became untouchable for the final three hours of the 6 hours of the Nürburgring, the winning margin was eventually over a lap.

6 Hours of the NurburgringThe only real contender in the title race now, is the No.31 Rebellion, which needs to start winning races if it is to have any shot of even taking the title race down to the wire. But being 46 points behind though, is a pretty tall order. Jackie Chan DC Racing have looked almost unbeatable at times when everything runs smoothly. The only way this gap closes is if they drop significant points on multiple occasions and the No.31 trio are able to capitalize.

Dempsey Proton emerges in GTE Am
The title fights in GTE Am, like GTE Pro, are also tight knit, and have the potential to be decided at the Bahrain season finale. Dempsey Proton Racing had a fantastic run on home turf last weekend, with young rookies Matteo Cairoli and Marvin Dienst steering the team, and teammate/team owner Christian Reid to their first win of the season. That, coupled with the championship-leading Clearwater Racing Ferrari finishing fourth, has closed the gaps considerably.

6 Hours of the NurburgringMeanwhile, in the championship for GT Am Drivers, it is all change. Christian Ried, Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli have moved into the lead, with 88 points after their win, although they are level with Clearwater’s trio, which dropped points at Le Mans by finishing behind guest entered GTE AM drivers. Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda are third, but just two points back. With three clear protagonists, the rest of the season will be fascinating.

The FIA World Endurance Championship now moves away from Europe for the rest of the season, starting at Mexico at the beginning of September. Travel Destinations will be returning to all European rounds again in 2018 and you can register for more information by emailing us at info@traveldestinations.co.uk

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Le Mans 24 Hours

Le Mans 24 Hours 2017: Race review

The Le Mans 24 Hours 2017 may be most remembered for beautiful weather and surprise results; the race was run under sunshine and cloudless skies with track temperatures in excess of 30 degrees centigrade, and surprise results as most of the LMP1 manufacturer team cars fell by the wayside allowing two LMP2 cars on to the winners podium.

LMP1
Although this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours had a relatively low attrition rate, the opposite could be said of the manufacturers in the LMP1 class. By the end, no car had avoided lengthy time in the garage ore retirement on track & only two LMP1s managed to complete the 24 hours. The writing was perhaps on the wall early when a Toyota sustained damage in the early laps, causing debris to hit the ByKolles Racing team car. Despite it limping back to the pit lane, the car was never able to get going again and the garage door was pulled down early.. With the numeric disadvantage of only 2 cars, Porsche suffered a blow when the No. 2 car had to spend an hour in the garage for a rebuilt front axle, relegating them out of the top 50.

Toyota looked to dominate the first period of the race from pole position. They secured a 1-2 for much of this time but could never really pull away from the lone Porsche during this time. The No. 7 Toyota lead the way and looked particularly fast in the early stages. However it was all going to go wrong for Toyota as darkness fell. One by one, they experienced power problems. Only the No. 8 car managed to return to the race, but after losing more than 2 hours in the garage, they were never in contention for the overall win, despite setting the race’s fastest lap.

The demise of Toyota’s challenge left the No.1 Porsche with a free run at the chequered flag. They managed to survive the night and most of the morning, until, with just four hours to go, oil pressure problems left them limping with just electric power down the Mulsanne straight. Despite Andre Lotterer’s best efforts the car ground to a halt and could not get going again.

Le Mans 24 Hours

The demise of the No. 1 Porsche briefly opened the window for an LMP2 win, as No.38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-07 Gibson, inherited the lead. However, their hopes were dashed, with the flying return of the No. 2 Porsche. Despite their early delay in the garage, the No. 2 Porsche came flying back through the field. Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber & in particular Timo Bernhard got the best out of the car, and managed to avoid and pass the traffic with ease. They took the lead with almost exactly an hour to go and didn’t look back, eventually crossing the finish line more than half a lap of the second placed car. A remarkable turnaround then from the No.2 Porsche team, who were not even in the top 50 cars after their technical woes.

LMP2
Whilst the top class suffered with a very high attrition rate, the opposite could be said of the biggest field in the race; LMP2. Only four of the twenty-five cars in this class failed to finish. This is all the more remarkable considering there were new regulations for this class this year, and none of the contenders had completed a race of this distance. Despite many expert predictions to the contrary the LMP2 class not only showed the necessary endurance, but also very nearly pulled of the overall win.

For the majority of the race the two cars from Vaillante Rebellion showed their experience and stayed at the front of the pack. Having raced LMP1 cars over the last few year, the Rebellion team clearly know a thing or two about how to race at Le Mans. The G-Drive and CEFC Manor TRS Racing teams, also showed strong performances, but ultimately the story of this class enfolded late on. Having watched the LMP1 cars disappear in front, and finding themselves more than 10 laps behind the leaders, the LMP2 cars started to climb the leader-board as the manufacturer LMP1s began to retire. When the leading No.1 came to a halt on the track, it was the No. 38 Jacki Chan DC Racing car that caught up and inherited the lead of the race. They managed to defend that position from other LMP2 challenges, and for 2 hours they continued at the front. It would have been the most remarkable story. A David vs Goliath type victory, however it was not to be. Despite the best efforts of Thomas Laurent, Oliver Jarvis and ultimately Ho-Pin Tung, behind the wheel, they were unable to compete with the superior speed of the Porsche No. 2 car that reeled them in; hunting them down shark-like and then passing them with only an hour of the race to go.

Despite this the all involved with the No. 38 car should be immensely proud of what they achieved; not only winning the LMP2 class, but finishing second overall at Le Man. The No. 13 Vaillante Rebellion ended second in class, so took the third step on the overall podium which was just reward for the excellent Rebellion team.

GTE Pro
There had been much criticism before the race about the rule makers and the changes made under the balance of performance regulations. It is a complex thing trying to make all cars competitive and in the past, this has been hugely unsuccessful. However, credit where credit is due, they definitely got it right this time and they provided the spectators with a remarkable race. In fact had Hollywood script writers come up with the story they would have probably rejected the idea under grounds of lack of reality.

No one manufacturer was able to dominate this class. Even Ford’s numeric advantage didn’t help them get ahead. Hour after hour, often minute after minute, the lead changed hands. The racing was so close, that as cars peeled off to complete their pit stops, the next car would inherit the lead. Once that car pitted the baton was passed on. And do it went on throughout the race.

Quite unbelievably going in to the last hour of the 24, each manufacturer had a car on the lead lap. Corvette, Aston Martin, Ford, Porsche and Ferrari all had a chance to win. Nobody was able to pull away and seconds separated all five cars. In the end it came down to pit lane strategy and a bit of luck as to when the race was actually going to finish. Aston Martin were leading, but had to have an extra stop for fuel. This opened the door for Corvette. With the other three cars fast catching, Corvette with Jordan Taylor at the wheel, left the pit lane with Aston Martin and Jonny Adam filling its mirrors. It was going to go right down to the wire. The two cars continued to lap just seconds apart as Jonny Adam looked for a place to attack. It looked as though Jordan Taylor had done enough to keep ahead and take the win, when the Aston Martin braked late at Mulsanne and tried to pass. Quite legitimately the Corvette closed the door as they exited and the corner, but there was contact between the two.

The two cars continued around for one more lap, but suddenly the Corvette had an issue and cut one of the chicanes on the Mulsanne straight, skidding across the gravel, but retaining the lead. However, Jonny Adam could sense he might get one more opportunity. It came literally at the start of their last lap. Coming through the Ford chicane on to the start finish straight, the Aston Martin took advantage of the damaged Corvette and powered past. Despite the great skills of Jordan Taylor there was nothing he could do to protect the lead. As the Aston Martin disappeared to take the win, salt was rubbed in to Corvette’s wounds as the No. 67 Ford managed to catch the limping Corvette and demote them to third in Class. Nevertheless all teams involved should take great credit for their efforts. This was a very hard fault battle that really entertained the fans, and should be remembered for a very long time.

GTE Am
The battle in GTE Am was not as close as the Pro class. In the early running, it appeared that the No. 98 Aston Martin would run away with it. However, technical issues dragged them back. The speed shown by the Larbre Competition Corvette in qualifying never reappeared, and it was left to the Ferraris to dominate the class. The No. 84 yellow and black, JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE took the lead in the darkness and was not in the mood to relinquish the position once daylight returned. For hours they remained at the front of the class, often mixing with the back markers of the GTE Pro field. They managed to spend the minimum of time in the pit lane and came home to be quite comfortable winners in the end. The other class podium slots were also filled by Ferraris, clearly the car to have in this class, with Spirit of the Race and Scuderia Corsa coming home second and third.

Overall this was an excellent race, and one that will be much talked about around the trackside barbecues tonight. Porsche were the outright winners, but the plaudits will be taken elsewhere in the classes below. Le Mans 24 Hours 2017 will be remembered for the hot temperatures around the circuit and the amazing racing that took place on it. Roll on Le Mans 24 hours 2018.

Written by Richard Webb
Photos by Dailysportscar

You can book with us now for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2018 and the Le Mans Classic 2018. Price details and dates are available on this website. Please call us to make your reservations. A deposit will be required at the time of booking.

Nurburgring 24 Hours

Looking back at the 2017 Nurburgring 24 Hours

What looked like a certain 1-2 finish for Audi in this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours, with Land Motorsport crossing the line with a comfortable margin over the chasing WRT R8 LMS, went out the window with two hours of the race to play. Prior to the penultimate round of scheduled stops, the No.29 Land Audi of Markus Winkelhock, Connor Di Phillippi, Kelvin Van der Linde and Chris Mies had led 125 laps, which in Nürburgring 24 Hours terms is pretty much the entire race. But a software glitch caused Van der Linde to slow after the stop, forcing the team to pit him again to reset a faulty sensor. It cost them the lead, and then second, as their hopes of scoring a first win as a team appeared to vanish.

N24But the Nürburgring Nordschleife wouldn’t be the Nürburgring Nordschleife without a surprise change of weather. The forecast all week was bone dry, with mid to high 20s for all the track action. By race day, even with many drivers having competed in VLN 1, VLN 2 and the Qualification Race prior to the N24, nobody had a single lap on rain tyres. Suffice to say, the late-race shower threw a spanner in the works, and with a little over 30 minutes of racing left the race swung back to Land. WRT and the second-place ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3 had just pitted when the rain was first reported, but opted to stay on slicks for the final dash to the flag. Then van der Linde came in, and after a fumbled fuel stop, causing the team to lose further time, the decision was made to gamble on wets as a last roll of the dice. With the South African making his way round the GP loop of the ‘Ring, the TV cameras cut to the end of the lap, where cars were seen battling heavy rain, and down to walking pace on the wrong-rubber. It was the perfect storm (pun intended), and the Land crew went from drowning in sorrow, to crowding around the screens willing on their lead car.

N24Van der Linde, predictably, slalomed through the traffic, eventually taking the lead at the start of the final lap with Rene Rast and Nicky Catsburg deciding to pit the WRT Audi and ROWE BMW for wets with just one lap to go as a means of damage limitation. So, after a final tour of the grueling, rain-soaked circuit, Van der Linde crossed the line first. It was a landmark win, with Van der Linde becoming the first ever South African, and in fact, African to win the race, Di Philippi just the second American, and Land the team responsible for Audi’s fourth N24 victory; its fourth in five years too. With WRT’s sole-remaining Audi coming home second, it was also a 1-2 for the Ingolstadt-based brand.

How did the other manufacturers fare? Like many of the front-running teams, the race proved costly despite the good weather, with multiple on-track incidents taking out pre-race contenders. Along with WRT and Land’s second Audis, the lead Manthey and Falken Porsches, Pole-sitting Traum Glickenhaus and top-five running Schnitzer BMW all crashed out. Lamborghini’s single Huracan from Konrad Motorsport also failed to finish, retiring out on circuit after a fire, and the three Bentley’s failed to feature. The ABT-run Continentals, after positive outings in the VLN prior to race-week, had neither front-running pace, or consistency. The Wockenspiegel Team Monshau Ferrari meanwhile, had an impressive run to seventh place, with its Pro-Am lineup driving well throughout the week, keeping the single 488 GT3 entered, in the running.

N24Mercedes was the other big brand in with a shout, and after its 1-2-3-4 finish in 2016, didn’t have the ultimate pace to challenge for the podium after the halfway mark. The AMG-backed AMG GT3s from HTP Motorsport and Black Falcon didn’t lead at any point, the defending champions in the No.1 Black Falcon entry eventually finishing fifth, while HTP’s No.50, which was high up the order the entire race, crashed out on the final lap in the rain.

N24Outside of the top SP9 class, the Kissing Motorsport Opel Manta – which has built a cult following over the past decade or two – unfortunately didn’t see the checkered flag. The car, which usually runs a steady race, spending extended time in the garage after offs and mechanical difficulties, before retiring. The big story of the many fan-favourite entries went to Aston Martin as a result. The Lagonda team’s Vantage GT8 – with WEC drivers Darren Turner and Nicki Thiim driving – climbed the order, as expected, finishing an impressive 21st, and top of the SP8 class standings.

The 2017 Nürburgring didn’t disappoint. It featured a world-class field, which in the end provided drama, and an ending which will be remembered for years to come. But it feels like we always end up saying that? Because it’s a special race, which thrives on un-predictability, producing a thrilling 24-hour encounter every year. The 45th running, was no exception.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

The Travel Destinations trackside campsite was another sell out in 2017. Thanks to everyone who came with us. We will be back again in 2018. The provisional dates for the race are the 10th – 13th May 2018. If you would like to stay with us trackside you can register with us now.

Nurburgring 24

Nurburgring 24 Hours 2017 Preview

This time of year the major events in the motorsport calendar come thick and fast. Having just had a great time with hundreds of Travel Destinations customers at the Spa Classic this last weekend, we are swiftly moving on to the Nurburgring 24 Hours this weekend. Once again we are looking after lots of our customers at the circuit for this amazing event. Our man in the stands has taken a look at what our guests can expect to see this weekend.

It is that exciting time of year again, where over 150 cars take on the Nürburgring Nordschleife for 24 hours in an attempt to conquer the world’s toughest circuit through night and day, sun and, most likely at some point, rain! The classification of cars taking part can appear complicated and the garages are certainly crowded, but this all adds to the spectacle.

The SP9 class for GT3 cars; which will almost certainly produce the winner, features no less than 34 of Europe’s best GT teams this time around, spanning seven automotive brands. The marques with the most this year are BMW and Mercedes with ten and seven apiece respectively.

Nurburgring 24BMW will be looking to extend its record of 19 N24 overall wins with the M6 GT3 returning for its second crack at the ‘Ring with Schnitzer, Falken, ROWE, Schubert and Walkenhorst. The driver lineups are stellar across the ROWE, Schnitzer and Schubert entries in particular, with a good mix of N24 veterans and rookies providing the backbone for its effort. It’s been a tough start to the year for the M6 racing on the Nordschliefe though, with its best finish 10th in VLN 2. That won’t necessarily translate to race-week at the Nurburgring though, with Balance of Performance always a factor all the way up until the flag drops on Saturday. The car, while still in its infancy, notably won the Spa 24 Hours last year too, after a disappointing run at last year’s Nurburgring 24. Look out for the Falken team, which is racing with BMW for the first time in its 17-year history at the Nurburgring 24 – and Schnitzer, which took the win back in 2010 for BMW (its last victory) and is back racing in GTs after a handful of seasons in DTM.

Nurburgring 24Mercedes meanwhile, is looking for another dominant run to the finish at the Nurburgring 24 much like in 2016, when its AMG GT3s finished 1-2-3-4 in their first attempt at the race. Globally the AMG GT3 is one of, if not the strongest car in the GT3 ranks, with great speed and reliability, both which are of the utmost importance for the Nurburgring 24. HTP, Black Falcon and Haribo Racing are all back with Mercedes cars, and with another stellar set of drivers are looking to score the Stuttgart-based brand’s third overall victory.

Don’t count out Audi or Porsche though. The other two German marques head to the Nurburgring 24 with the best run of form. Nurburgring 24 stalwarts Manthey Racing bring arguably the strongest lineup to the race, with reining World Endurance Champion and Le Mans winner Romain Dumas and fellow Porsche factory drivers Fred Makowiecki, Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz driving its No. 911 Porsche 911 GT3 R which won VLN 1 and 2. Local favourites Frikadelli Racing and Falken Motorsport make up the remaining teams racing with Porsche in SP9.

Nurburgring 24At Audi, perennial Blancpain frontrunner and 2015 Nurburging 24 winner WRT will bring two R8 LMS GT3s, as will Land Motorsport, which won Germany’s premier GT series (ADAC GT Masters) in 2016 as well as multiple VLN races. Phoenix Racing, which won Audi’s first N24 back in 2012 returns with a single GT3 entry for the Four Rings too, though without factory backing this time. It did win the N24 Qualification Race earlier this month though, and has a formidable quartet of Dennis Busch, Nicolaj Moller Madsen, and Audi stalwarts Mike Rockenfeller and Frank Stippler.

The other three brands are lower in the car count, but will be just as interesting to follow.

Bentley are looking to score a landmark result as the Continental GT3’s lifecycle begins to reach its end. They will race with three Abt entries packed with factory drivers and regional specialists. This year Abt has opted to switch up its tyre partner and race with Yokohama, which could well prove an advantage in certain conditions. It must be noted that Bentley has had a positive start to the season, with second and fourth place finishes in VLN 1 and 2. Everyone back at programme HQ in Crewe will be hoping it can challenge with the frontrunners until the end.

Single Ferrari and Lamborghini entries bring the total to 34 in SP9, with Konrad racing a Huracan GT3 and Blancpain regular Rinaldi Racing operating a Wochenspiegel Team Monshau 488 GT3 for the car’s Nurburging 24 debut.

Nurburgring 24Outside the main interest, there is, of course, plenty of other oddball entries to keep an eye on during the race as well. Two Glickenhaus SCG003Cs will race in SPX against a pair of brand new Audi R8 GT4s run by the aforementioned Phoenix Racing crew. Aston Martin will also compete. Whilst not in SP9 as in recent seasons, the Aston Martin Lagonda team will run two SP8 class Vantages – a  V8 with factory drivers Darren Turner and Nicki Thiim – and a V12.

Nurburgring 24 HoursThe Kissling Opel Manta, with its own cult following is, as ever, on the list, racing a pair of Opel Calibras in SP3 and a pair of Toyota Gazoo Racing Carollas; one of which will be driven by four Thai drivers!

Predicting a winner is always impossible when it comes to the Nurburgring 24, partly because there’s usually 30 cars capable of crossing the line first, and also because the circuit and local climate throws up so many variables. It is strength in numbers though, which is why the German factories come armed with a fleet of their latest kit each year! That’s what makes the Nurburgring 24 a special event. It is pure automotive bliss, supported by the most influential car brands in Europe.

The Nurburgring 24 Hours is a rolling motor show and a week-long festival for the locals, who refuse to let the event become stale, and continue to party in the Eiffel Forest like its 1979.

The Nurburging 24 Hours 2017 is a sell out event for Travel Destinations. However, you can pre-register now for the 2018 Nurburgring 24 Hours by calling 0844 873 0203. You just have to be there!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar.com

 

Toyota LMP1

FIA WEC Spa-Francorchamps Review

The 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship moved on to Belgium and the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit this last weekend. As always this is the last FIA WEC race before Le Mans, so whilst there were battles on the track for championship points, there was also a lot of planning for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Ever present, our man in the stands was present trackside to follow all the action and bring you this exclusive report, looking at the main talking points and what we learned from the race.

1. Toyota’s Le Mans chances look good
Toyota Gazoo Racing has started the FIA WEC season with two wins from two races, and a Le Mans outlook which has arguably never been stronger. The 2017 TS050 Hybrid is a winning machine, with the regular drivers in the No.7 and No.8 cars both proving to be in the form of their lives heading into the big race next month. The question remaining though, concerns the aero-package. At Spa, the No.9 car of Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Sarrazin and Yuji Kunimoto debuted the low-drag configuration of the car, which the team will race at Le Mans, while the No.7 and No.8 full-season FIA WEC entries ran the high-downforce kits that the team will use at the six-hour races all season.
FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-FrancorchampsWhile the performance (a fifth-place finish) for the Le Mans option is likely down to the team using the race as an extended test session for both the car and drivers, it was interesting that it didn’t feature all weekend. The car did briefly take the lead when Lapierre out-braked himself into La Source at the start, but after that it failed to feature in the race for the podium, finishing far behind the two other Toyotas and both Porsches.

The difference is that Porsche has been running its own Le Mans kit all season so far, and has therefore had much more race experience with it, which is confidence building, as even though it hasn’t won yet, it came close at Spa with the No.2 919 Hybrid, which would have been involved in a grandstand finish had Brendon Hartley not lost time in the pits due to a nose change late in the race following a clumsy collision with the No.36 Signatech Alpine.

It remains to be seen how close the two marques will be on-track at Le Mans because of this, though it has all the makings of a classic should Toyota have some speed up its sleeve.

2. Aston Martin struggling for pace?
Aston Martin Racing has had a remarkably quiet 2017. While its two Vantages are still relatively fresh from combining to score the Teams’ Championship and Drivers’ Championship last year, so far this year they haven’t looked like even sniffing a podium.FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa FrancorchampsIn GTE Pro it’s been all Ford and Ferrari so far, with Chip Ganassi Team UK and AF Corse in turn dominating Silverstone and Spa. Porsche has had flashes of pace, but the new car looks to be a few months from being perfect in the reliability and consistency department. Le Mans could well be a different story though. Le Mans will have a separate and thus far undetermined Balance of Performance applied, and this could favour Aston Martin’s Vantages as the cars have looked to be struggling.

In addition, the No.95 did produce one single lap in Free Practice 2 at Spa which put Dane, Marco Sorensen seconds quicker than his teammates, and atop the standings in the class. After that it was unable to produce a similar time, but it begs the question, is there something in reserve?

3. The Ferrari 488 has arrived
As mentioned above, the Ferrari 488 dominated at Spa, and in the second half of the race proved totally untouchable. It has been reliable – which it wasn’t last year – and now has the speed to match. AF Corse’s driver line-up too seems to be strong from top to bottom, with newcomer Alessandro Pier Guidi looking both quick and consistent over his stints in the car.

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-FrancorchampsThe team finished the race 1 & 2, and looked unstoppable. If they can continue their form at the Le Mans 24 Hours, then they may well emerge as title favourites, should Ford not keep tabs, the Porsche get up to speed and Aston pick up the pace.

4. The new LMP2s look reliable
Before the season started there was much speculation as to how reliable the new LMP2 cars would prove. In testing the cars were suffering from electrical woes, and gearbox issues which often prevented teams from having extended runs. Silverstone and Spa though, have been very encouraging, the 2017 cars looking strong over long distances all of a sudden. Last weekend there was only one retirement in the field, which was Tockwith Motorsports’ Ligier JS P217, which suffered from a gearbox failure at the very end of the race. Tockwith is new to racing in LMP2 though, and the FIA WEC is a difficult challenge to master.

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-FrancorchampsLe Mans may be a different story, as going for twenty-four hours is much harder than six. But so far the signs are positive, and Le Mans’ potential to become a race of attrition is looking increasingly slim.

5. And race well together too!
As well as being reliable, the race at Spa put to rest the nay-sayers who assumed the racing in the FIA WEC’s LMP2 class would be poor, with the entire field being made up of Oreca 07s. The cars are aerodynamically sophisticated and performance wise much more powerful, which on paper in effectively a ‘spec series’, has the potential to produce processional racing. So far that hasn’t been the case, especially at Spa, with the 07s able to get a good tow and race close together.

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-FrancorchampsThe drivers are enjoying racing with the new kit, and so are the fans. So when Le Mans rolls around, with a diverse 23-car grid, it could be the class to watch!

The next round of the FIA WEC will be the 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking place on the 17th -18th June 2017.
If you would like tickets to be at the big race of the season then please call the Travel Destinations team now on 0844 873 0203. Availability is limited, but we can still look after you.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC 2017

FIA WEC Silverstone – Round Up

Easter weekend saw Silverstone host the first race in the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship. As always our man in the stands was present to record all the action. Below is his summary of what we all learned from another great race in the FIA WEC.

1. Porsche’s low-downforce aero is scary
Porsche LMP1 Team will head to Spa and Le Mans confident. It didn’t win at Silverstone, but going into the weekend it felt it was very unlikely. Porsche opted to use its low-downforce aerodynamic package for its 919s – which doesn’t suit the ‘Home of British Motorsport’s’ sweeping bends and medium speed corners – to continue its development pre-Le Mans. Toyota on the other hand, used its high-downforce kit in an attempt to start the season on a high.

Porsche at SilverstonePrior to the weekend the team assumed it would be somewhere in the region of two seconds a lap slower because of this, where in reality it was closer to one second. The result? Porsche was able to stay on the lead lap in the first half of the race, and challenge for the win after the Saftey Car went in in the closing stages. The team’s #2 919 of Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard ended up leading in the final hour, with Toyota’s Sebastian Buemi taking the lead with fresher tyres in the final 15 minutes.

Toyota won the race, but Porsche will be extremely satisfied by its potential when the high-downforce kit it will use after Le Mans comes into play.

2. The GTE Am title race looks to be a corker!
The finale to the 6 Hours of Silverstone saw major drama in the LMGTE Am division, with Pedro Lamy and Miguel Molina colliding at Stowe while battling for the lead, allowing Clearwater Racing’s Matt Griffin to snatch the lead just a handful corners from the end on the final lap to take the win.

FIA WEC 6 Hours of SilverstoneAm was a hotly contested class throughout, and while Aston Martin Racing led most of it – before Lamy limped home second – Clearwater Racing and Spirit of Race were in the fight until the end. Aston Martin Racing has been here before with Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Lamy, while Clearwater and Spirit of Race are new to the WEC and once up to speed have the potential to take the title to the wire.

GTE Pro looks a lot tighter this year, and with the addition of a close-knit Am battle, GTE in general could provide fans with the best racing action all season.

3. Plenty of intrigue in LMP2
The new-look LMP2 class in the WEC, while not good on the diversity front, produced some great racing and a surprise winner. Throughout the weekend it seemed that either G-Drive Racing or Signatech Alpine would take the win, but the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca of Oliver Jarvis, Thomas Laurent and Ho-Pin Tung prevailed and finished on top.

FIA WEC 6 Hours of SilverstoneDuring the race the action was close, though the nature of the entire field being Gibson-engined Orecas did make it visibly difficult for drivers to overtake, even with traffic. It should be a close title race though, as there’s clearly four or five cars which have the potential to win multiple races.

In driver terms, while the usual names featured, Matthieu Vaxiviere shone for TDS Racing, steering the team to a podium finish by race end after an astonishing final stint. Emmanuel Collard in his return to prototype racing impressed too, as did gentlemen driver Francois Perrodo, who in his prototype debut was able to lap with the other drivers in the class of his driver grading admirably.

4. Toyota’s serviceability gets a thumbs up
While it’s always hard to take positives from a big accident, WEC debutant Jose-Maria Lopez’s shunt at Copse provided Toyota Gazoo Racing with some valuable in-race practice of repairing the new TS050. All signs are positive, as the car – which didn’t have much left of its front-end after the impact – was out after just an hour in the garage. It was therefore able to finish fourth in LMP1, scoring valuable points.

Toyota LMP1That sort of practice could come in very useful at a race like Le Mans, where the Japanese team will have three cars and will look to turn a car into a Guinea pig should it get caught up in an incident during the race.

5. Ford looks strong in Pro
The Ford GT now looks like the car which we all thought it would be last year. Harry Tincknell (who notably had the drive of his life), Andy Priaulx and Pipo Derani combined to hand the UK Chip Ganassi team the win in their #67 GT, which should have been the headline for a Ford 1-2.

The No.66 ran with it, but faded late in the race after running 1-2 at the top for much of the middle-stint. Nevertheless the car appears to hold the advantage early doors in the title race, and with no BoP adjustments until the round at the Nürburgring (though at Le Mans there will be a separate BoP process), the No.67 crew should be odds on for a good result at Spa.

Ford in the 2017 FIA WECIt must be noted though, that the new Porsche 911 fared well and scored a podium (though one did retire after an engine fire) and AF Corse’s 488s came on strong in the race on the performance front, making for a thrilling battle between the three teams.

Aston Martin Racing meanwhile, will have some work to do prior to Spa, as it failed to feature at all, with a lack of raw pace which prevented either one of its cars challenging for a podium.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

The FIA WEC moves on to Spa-Francochamps from the 4th – 7th May. The last opportunity to see the cars in action before Le Mans. Please call us for last minute ticket details.
Of course we will all be at Le Mans for the biggest race of the year on the 17th – 18th June. We do have some ticket availability for the 24 hours. Please call for us for further details.
Then the final European round of the FIA WEC takes place at the Nurburgring from the 14th – 17th July. We have trackside camping available for this event. Please call us to book.

Porsche Le Mans prototype 2017

FIA WEC Preview: The Prologue

This last weekend saw the FIA World Endurance Championship Prologue take place at Monza. This was a first chance for the public and the media to see this season’s cars on track and it revealed some insights in to what we may expect in the forthcoming FIA WEC season. As ever, our man in the stands was trackside in Monza and has filed his latest report.

The 2017 LMP2s flexed their muscles
Last week at Monza, for the first time in a public setting, the new breed of LMP2 cars were shown off, and they didn’t disappoint. The new LMP2s are quick, look sleek and are being driven by arguably the best crop of drivers in the category’s history this year. While the FIA WEC LMP2 class doesn’t have any variety in chassis, it won’t detract from the racing. At Monza, the Oreca 07s – in their high downforce configuration – all managed speeds close to 200mph with their Gibson engines, with the best lap time – Bruno Senna’s 1:36.094 – eclipsing the 2008 LMP2 pole time by almost a second. And when it comes to the full season, we expect that figure to rise, especially at Le Mans, as at the Dunlop test before the Prologue one team managed to reach 220mph in the high downforce package.

FIA WEC LMP2

Who knows what can be achieved down the Mulsanne straight this year?
Either way, the important thing to note here is that the LMP2s are likely to be quicker than LMP1 cars in a straight line, which could provide some hairy moments in heavy braking zones. Those images of LMP1 cars skipping past the LMP2 field may be just memories of seasons gone by.

Porsche’s new GTE car impresses
Porsche’s new 911 RSR GTE car continues to impress. It is reliable, and notably fast. Michael Christensen set the quickest time of the Prologue – a 1:47.379 on Saturday – as the team consistently sat at the top the timing screens. The car also ran without any hiccups, racking up a ton of mileage and getting its drivers even more tuned into its new characteristics.

FIA WEC Porsche GTE Pro

While testing times win no awards, they are an indication of what  we can expect to come. For this year the Balance of Performance system has been overhauled for the GTE Pro teams, and at Monza the cars were running with their baseline BoP. So it is first blood for Porsche GT Team heading into Round 1 at Silverstone next week.

LMP1 reliability
Both Porsche and Toyota’s new LMP1 challengers were officially unveiled at Monza and initial signs were good; Not only in their continued advancements in hybrid technology, but in their ability to complete long runs. All four factory LMP1 hybrids on show managed to complete well over 1000km of running over the two days, with the No.2 Porsche 919 clocking up the most mileage from 327 tours of the circuit, which totaled just a fraction under 1,800km.

Porsche LMP1

None of them spent any extended periods in their garage aside from during the thunderstorm on Saturday night, and aside from a couple of brief technical hiccups, there were no dramas on track either. The preparation from both Toyota and Porsche in the off season therefore looks to have paid off, with Porsche confirming it had completed at least one 24-hour test, and Toyota stating that it had completed four 30-hour runs.

After last year’s shaky start to the season on the reliability front, this year could be a turn around, and the races at Silverstone and Spa could turn into sprint races rather than races of attrition & constant niggles.

Dunlop makes further GTE gains
Dunlop has drawn in more interest in the GTE side of its endurance commitments, with both Dempsey Proton Racing and Gulf Racing making the change away from Michelin tyres for this season. Last year Aston Martin Racing took the risk and ran with Dunlop tyres, which at the start of the season left the two Vantages in the GTE Pro class heading into Le Mans with consistency, but not much to show for in the outright pace department. From Mexico onwards though, and with a new compound, Aston Martin made incredible strides, winning races and eventually the Drivers and Teams championship. For this year, Gulf Racing and Proton Racing are hoping for similar results in GTE Am, as their 2015-spec Porsches – and Aston Martin’s No.98 entry – take on the likes of Spirit of Race and Clearwater Racing with their different sets of rubber. The WEC’s GTE tyre war is now in full swing, and should be fascinating to keep tabs on as the season progresses.

Gulf Racing

Monza magic impressed the paddock
This year’s trip to Monza was the first for Le Mans Prototypes in an officially sanctioned event since 2008, and it was greeted positively up and down the paddock. Not only is it a circuit which everyone enjoys making the visit because of its history, but it is a valuable place to test on too. The Paul Ricard circuit, where the Prologue took place in previous years, is hard to test on because of its hard winds and unique surface which is tough to read when It comes to tyre testing. Monza meanwhile provides a good simulation for the teams ahead of Le Mans, and it showed, as most teams made the most of the chance to run their cars on both days.

Fans turned up in their droves too, making for an extremely busy pit walk on both Saturday and Sunday, and giving the grandstands a bit of an atmosphere at times. There’s certainly a case for Monza being put onto the full FIA WEC calendar for a race in the future, which would prove popular with the series’ increasing supporter base.

The FIA World Endurance championship begins with the 6 Hours of Silverstone over the Easter weekend. You can also join us for the following rounds at Spa-Francorchamps in May and then the Nurburgring in July.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Sebring

Sebring 12 Hours; Preview

This weekend sees the 65th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring. This is one of our favourite races on the motorsport calendar and this year looks set for another exciting race. If you like small tight circuits, old fashioned concrete tracks, lots of action and of course the Florida sunshine then you just have to go to Sebring. Here our man in the stands takes a look at what we can expect from the race this weekend.

Cadillac held back?
After dominating proceedings at Daytona, the three Cadillacs racing at Sebring have been pegged back by the IMSA Balance of Performance process. The three DPi V.Rs have had weight added and had the air flow to the engines reduced in an attempt to allow the other prototypes to compete over a single lap. Whether it will work at Sebring or not remains to be seen, as the Cadillacs proved to be the most reliable, as well as the quickest in almost all conditions at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The prototype field which Action Express and Wayne Taylor Racing is up against, as a whole, is still impressive following Daytona. Entries from Mazda, Cadillac, Ligier, Oreca, Riley and Nissan grace the class, making for the most diverse prototype grid on the planet. Only DragonSpeed has fallen off the list since January. With the gloves off at Sebring, it’ll be very interesting to see who actually emerges on top!

Sebring
Alex Lynn out to impress
While the Cadillacs entered are the same as at Daytona, the driver lineups have seen some tweaking. The most notable change heading into the race is Wayne Taylor Racing’s addition of British driver Alex Lynn. Lynn takes the place of newly-retired Max Angelelli in the team’s third seat for the endurance rounds of the WeatherTech Championship this year, and is set to impress on the North American endurance stage. Since moving over from single-seater racing last year, Lynn has raced with Manor in the World Endurance Championship as well as United Autosports in a one-off LMP3 race. He’s fast, consistent and used to high-pressure situations. If you watch a lot of sportscar racing, then you’ll be seeing a lot more of Alex too. With appearances in the VLN championship and Nürburgring 24 Hours with BMW, Petit Le Mans with Cadillac and the full World Endurnace Championship with G-Drive Racing. He is going to be busy.

Sebring Title Defence Beckons For ESM
After winning both the Rolex 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours last year, Extreme Speed Motorsports is back for another crack this year to try and repeat at least one of its high-profile victories from a year ago. At the Rolex 24, the Ligier-based Nissan DPi impressed over the full race, with only minor issues setting it back and preventing it from truly challenging for a podium spot in the final hours.
In its return to Sebring since its big win, it continues to field a stellar lineup, with Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and Pipo Derani in the No.2 car and Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, Bruno Senna and Brendon Hartley in the other. We still don’t know for sure who the favourites for the overall title are this year, but we’ll have more of an idea after this weekend. If ESM take on the punishing airfield-based circuit this weekend and come away with a good result, then it’s game on for the remainder of the season.

Sebring
Ford Brings Three
Ford Performance is set to field a trio of GTs in the GTLM class this year, after taking a quartet of them to the Rolex 24 Hours. Out to win the big races, Ford knows that it has the chance to win the Le Mans 24 Hours, Rolex 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours in less than nine months if it can seal the deal this weekend. Driving the third car is the World Endurance Championship crew of Billy Johnson, Stefan Mucke and Olivier Pla in the No.68, which should provide a formidable third bullet in the Ford gun. It would be mightily impressive but not necessarily surprising to see them win its second Floridian race this year; as even a year later the GT still looks just as much like a prototype (if you squint your eyes) as it did at its debut. The GTLM field will be close though, with Porsche, Corvette and the Risi Ferrari all looking capable of taking the win at Daytona. There is not much between them as they head to Sebring.

Sebring
GTD looks wide open
After Alegra Motorsports took a surprise victory at Daytona, with its Porsche 911 GT3 R that had a quiet run to the front, anything can happen going forward. Alegra will race at Sebring – after its impressive run prompted it to extend its commitments for 2017 – but it’s so close that we will likely see a second winner in as many races. Will the Acura NSX GT3 show its true potential? Can the Mercedes AMG GT3 runners mimic their European counterparts? Is counting out the Audi teams going to be a mistake? At this point we just don’t know, which should make the GT3-based class a fascinating watch.

Sebring

It certainly looks like Travel Destinations guests trackside at Sebring this year are going to be royally entertained on the track. With the addition of the Club 12 bar and grill in the centre of the track alongside live music and entertainment throughout the weekend, there is plenty going on around the circuit too. It is going to be fun!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar.com

If you would like to be at the 12 Hours of Sebring next year, then you can register with us now to be the first in line to choose your travel, accommodation and tickets. Register your interest by calling Travel Destinations on 0844 873 0203 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk

Le Mans Classic 2018

Le Mans Classic 2018 tickets available now

Le Mans Classic 2018The confirmed dates for the next Le Mans Classic event were revealed at a press conference in Paris last night. The Le Mans Classic 2018 will take place from the 6th – 8th July. As this historic motorsport event only comes round every two years, the Le Mans Classic is much anticipated by drivers and spectators alike. In 2016 more than 123, 000 spectators traveled to the Le Mans circuit to witness the spectacular on track action as well as participate in what has become part of the ongoing Le Mans story.

The Le Mans Classic promises to be another great event, having won Motorsport event of the year for 2016. Already the return of the popular Group C class has been confirmed as well as special exhibitions and displays commemorating the 40th anniversary of Alpine’s victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours, as well as the 70th anniversary of the Porsche 356 and the 50th anniversary of the 908.

As well as being an ABTA & ATOL bonded tour operator, Travel Destinations are official ticket agents for the Le Mans Classic, which enables us to offer all our customers the best options for travel, tickets and accommodation for the Le Mans Classic 2018. Demand for this event is always high, so early booking is recommended.

Travel Destinations has a number of hotels available for the Le Mans Classic 2018. All our hotels are within a short drive to the circuit, to enable you to come and go as your please. We also have a number of B&B options for those that like to stay away from the circuit.

The majority of people prefer to stay on the circuit for the Le Mans Classic. In addition to the basic circuit run campsites, we have introduced 2 private trackside campsite exclusive to Travel Destinations. Located at different parts of the circuit, these camping  areas offer 24 hours security, fully serviced showers & toilets as well as a hospitality marquee, serving food and drinks across the weekend.

Increasing popular at the Le Mans Classic are our glamping and pop-up hotel options. Travel Destinations’ Event tents (glamping) are located in the centre of the circuit, adjacent to the Porsche Curves. These pre-erected bell tents are 5 metres in diameter and come fully carpeted, with mattresses and all bed linen. The tents sleep between 2 – 4 people and secure car parking is provided. As an alternative to camping, the Travel Destinations’ Flexotel Village (pop-up hotel) offers lockable bedrooms in the centre of the circuit. Each Flexotel room can sleep 2 people in separate beds, and also comes with all bed linen. The Flexotel Village is located on hard standing so mud & dust are not an issue and secure parking is available near to your room.

Further information about the Le Mans Classic is available on this website and all these options are available to book now. Please call our team on 0844 873 0203 to reserve your place at the LE Mans Classic 2018. A deposit will be required at the time of booking.

Bathurst 12 Hours

Bathurst 12 Hours Review

The 2017 Liqui-Moly Bathust 12 Hours continued its growth this last weekend, with a record 40,000 spectators glued to the action trackside. Along with the ever growing international audience on TV, radio and the live streaming on the internet, there is no argument that the Bathurst 12 Hours is an event not to be missed. Our man in the stands looks back at the action from this year’s race and picks out his highlights.

The success of the Top 10 shootout
It doesn’t get much better than seeing drivers run flat out in GT3 cars on Mount Panorama. The circuit lends itself well to hot laps with its tight, technical and dangerous nature. That’s why this year’s Top 10 Shootout to decide the front of the grid before the race was such a huge success. In the “new-for-2017” format change, the top 10 cars (after the pair of standard qualifying sessions) each got a single lap to try and score pole position.

Bathurst 12 Hours

What resulted was a dramatic half a hour of action, with ten of the world’s best sportscar/GT/Supercars drivers pushing their cars to the limit; with Maranello Motorsport’s Toni Vilander (more on him later) eventually emerging on top. The format of the Bathurst 12 Hours and its regulations have evolved over the past 10 years, and most definitely for the better. The addition of a Top 10 Shootout only added to the event’s spectacle.

What could have been for Tekno?
Come race time, there were countless storylines, though the big talking point early was the rough weekend for reigning Bathurst champions Tekno Autosports. Tekno Autosports’ fielded a pair of Mclaren 650S GT3s gunning for the win in the Pro class once again. But it didn’t go to plan for the 2016 winner. The No.59 crashed out in Qualifying with McLaren GT’s new Driver Academy young gun Ben Barnicoat at the wheel, and the No.1 had to start the race from the pit lane following an engine change overnight before the race.

McLaren at Bathurst

To make matters worse the No.1’s engine appeared to give out at the start of the second hour as Rob Bell was carving his way through the field. Bell nursed it back to the garage for repairs which cost the car three laps, which left the No.1 trio of Bell, Come Ledogar and Alvaro Parente having to fight their way back into contention for the remaining 10 hours of the race.

In the end, the car – remarkably – finished fifth overall, just one lap off the lead, after climbing as high as fourth in the closing laps. During Parente and Ledogar’s stints in the second half, the 650S GT3 was formidable in terms of pace, and came feet away from getting back on the lead lap and therefore in the running for the win. Had it not had its early issues, the No.1 would surely have been in the fight at the front.

Tough day at the office for van Gisbergen
Bathurst expert Shane van Gisbergen (who let’s not forget holds the circuit’s lap record after breaking it during Qualifying for the 12 Hour in 2016, before going on to win the race) had a weekend to forget this time round. Partnered with fellow Kiwi Craig Baird and Mercedes’ Nurburgring 24 Hours master Maro Engel, Van Gisbergen was in the running for the win for most of the race. The AMG GT3 the trio drove, for Scott Taylor Motorsport, was quick and extremely nimble through the constant flow of traffic, but it all turned sour very quickly in the closing stages.

Bathurst 12 Hours

The team made a bold strategy call at the final pit stop to gain track position over the Maranello Ferrari by staying on old tyres. It left van Gisbergen just under five seconds ahead when he rejoined the race. Shane van Gisbergen pushed as hard as he could, but eventually Jamie Whincup on fresh rubber got the better of him – banging doors and with two wheels on the grass over the crest of the Conrod Straight.

Shortly after, out of sheer desperation, van Gisbergen made an error through the final chicane, pushing a lapped Porsche into the barriers and causing one final safety car period. For that he received a penalty – which would have ended the team’s chances – but moments before the team were set to radio him with the bad news after the restart, van Gisbergen nose-dived the wall at The Dipper before grinding to a halt in the middle of the track on his way back to the pits. It was far from his finest hour.

Engel’s outburst
Shanve van Gisbergen’s mistakes at the end of the race didn’t go down well in the Scott Taylor garage, as you would expect. But van Gisbergen’s teammate Engel emerged as the most frustrated of the bunch. In what turned out to be one of the most eye-opening sequences in recent memory, Engel was seen storming into the team truck, kicking tyres and slamming doors on his way. The German was then pulled aside for a TV interview, where he openly criticized his teammate.

“It’s not motorsport in my book,” he said. “Um, yeah, gotta watch out what I’m saying. All I’ve seen this weekend is a lot of mistakes by Shane. Yeah, it’s a tough one.” It made for an explosive final chapter to what was already an explosive race.

Vilander’s incredible drive
If there’s anyone who shone this year at Bathurst, it was Toni Vilander in the winning Maranello Ferrari. The Finn, who was an architect in the team’s second overall win in the race, ran faultlessly throughout and put in one of the most incredible stints in GT racing history. With the race on the line in his final stint, Vilander was forced to drive economically to reduce the time of the final pit stop, and create a healthy lead to reduce the other cars’ chances of winning.

Vilander

And he did just that, creating a gap to the field with a series of hot laps off the penultimate restart, which in turn prevented Alvaro Parente in the aforementioned Tekno Mclaren getting past and back onto the lead lap. He was visibly quicker than all the other contenders and was both aggressive but controlled through traffic. His performance secured the lead for the team when it mattered most and ultimately forced HTP into making its make-or-break decision on tyres. He, and the entire Maranello team, very much deserved the win.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

If the action at this year’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hours has whet your appetite then you can join us at Mount Panorama in 2018. Our exclusive package includes hospitality at the circuit, accommodation in Bathurst as well as a hire car to enable you to get around. The Bathurst 12 Hours 2018 will be a book early to avoid disappointment event, so to be one of the first to learn more about our exclusive 2018 offer, please register your interest by emailing us now.

Cadillac dominates at Daytona

The dust is still settling after the Rolex 24 at Daytona and our man in  the stands has returned home having watched every second of the action. After the controversial finish, that saw Wayne Taylor Racing victorious & each driver walk away with a new watch, Stephen Kilbey reviews last weekend’s events.

Cadillac has a clear advantage
The debate on Balance of Performance was rampant at the Rolex 24 Hours, but unusually, in this instance concerning the prototype class rather than the GTs. Cadillac dominated the meeting at Daytona from start to finish, topping every practice session, qualifying and the race. The other DPis in the new class and the global LMP2s were still competitive at times, but only in certain conditions and during certain periods of the race.

Rolex 24 at Daytona

What we were left with was a fierce battle between Cadillac entries with rival teams Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express at the end, which ended in dramatic fashion with a lead change in the final 10 minutes. The change in lead was controversial as contact was made causing the Action Express car to spin. Ultimately no further action was deemed necessary by the stewards so Wayne Taylor Racing took home the Rolex watches, and began the new era of North American prototype racing in fine style. But going forward, Mazda, ESM and the LMP2 teams are going to have to step up if they are to have any chance of fighting for the title or even winning races for the rest of the season.

The new prototypes impressed overall
A big question mark heading into the Rolex 24 was going to be the fragility and durability of the new prototypes, which were all making their global race debuts in South Florida. Everyone was left pleasantly surprised though, as despite various mechanical niggles and incidents up and down the field, there were no retirements until the 20 hour mark when the No.70 Mazda’s engine expired in a big way up and down the pit lane. There’s obviously room for improvement though, which in turn will create better racing as the season wears on. What we have though, is a class with serious potential, stunning looking cars, good sounding entries and manufacturer interest going forward. IMSA appears to have it right this time round.

Ford is the team to beat in GTLM
GTLM was arguably the most exciting class throughout this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, with four of the five manufactures represented having a shot to win the race in the closing stages. In the final two hours seven of the GTLM runners were competing for the lead, creating an absolutely thrilling end. Porsche with its new car, Corvette with its proven C7.R and Risi with its ultra-quick Ferrari all looked poised at various points, but in the end the four-car armada from the Blue Oval came out on top.

Rolex 24 at Daytona

All four GTs in the race made it home, and the No.66 of Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller in particular was the class of the field for a significant portion of the race before winning it all at the end. The Ford GT is now both reliable and fast, with a set of drivers in its two full-season entries that can go toe-to-toe with the best the class has to offer. Corvette won the title last year, but this time round Ford surely has to be the team to beat?

Alegra surprised us all
In one of the most incredible runs to the flag in recent memory, Alegra Motorsports’ GTD Porsche 911 GT3R managed to storm to the win in the Rolex 24, after spending 22 of the 24 hours biding its time climbing the order. Up against arguably the best and most diverse GT3 field ever assembled on American soil, Alegra Motorsports proved that staying on the lead lap and ensuring your star driver is in at the end is the key to winning. Daniel Morad, Carlos de Quesada, Michael de Quesada, Jesse Lazare and Michael Christensen all combined for a historic run for Porsche, cruising into Parc Ferme with no scratches on the car after the race. Alegra’s entry was supposedly a one-off, but after such an incredible performance by the Canadian outfit, surely further appearances will spawn off the back of its success?

Porsche 911

LMPC’s tenure has run its course
After eight years, the LMPC class with the spec Oreca FLM09 chassis is way past its expiry date. The racing wasn’t great, with performance Tech winning by over 20 laps, and the driving standards were mostly poor as well. Starworks and BAR 1’s entries spent way too much time in walls or on the grass in the treacherous conditions, causing multiple safety car periods which prevented the whole race from ever becoming rhythmic.

LMPC

Originally a class with a sole purpose to bolster the American Le Mans Series grid during tough years, it has now run its course. The cars are old, the interest is now minimal and the field overall is so strong that it feels a redundant class. As of next year the class will be written out of the rule book, and that’s a good thing, but it is going to be interesting to see what the current teams in the class will do, given the opportunity to step up to LMP2 or race in GTD/GTLM in the future.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Travel Destinations was pleased to host another great group of race fans at this years’ Rolex 24 at Daytona. We will be back again in January 2018 so if you would like to join us please do register with us now to be the first to receive all the details.

Rolex 24 at Daytona

Rolex 24 at Daytona Preview

On the eve of Rolex 24 at Daytona; the first chance to see some of this years’ new machinery in action, our man in the stands takes a look at some of the talking points and things to look out for at this year’s race.

DPi vs LMP2
The new era for prototype racing in North America starts now at Daytona. Seven DPis and five brand new global LMP2s will all make their global race debuts at Daytona. It is very early days for all of the cars taking part, with limited running and plenty of niggles for most of them during the two official Daytona tests prior to this race week. Having said that, they are fast. They look good and are set to be driven by some incredibly talented drivers come Saturday afternoon.

Cadillac at Daytona

The three Cadillacs run by Action Express and Wayne Taylor Racing look to be the fastest over a single lap at this stage, but the race is a long one, and the durability could be in question. In the LMP2 corner meanwhile Rebellion has been consistently quick through testing and practice at the speedway, with Neel Jani in particular showing off his ability to mix it with the Cadillacs and outpace the Mazda and Nissans. Outside of Oreca, both Ligier and Riley/Multimatic are represented by PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and Visit Florida Racing respectively. Both are capable teams, and are set to race in the full season of IMSA. Time will tell if they’ll be able to compete for wins though as the season wears on.

 

GTLM winner?
With the entire Prototype field made up of unknown and unproven quantities, the chances of a surprise GT winner or at least top three may be higher than you’d normally think. There is no argument that the DPi and LMP2 prototypes are far quicker than those down in the GTLM field, but over the course of the 24 hours, history suggests that the new technology is likely to hit some trouble at one point or another. It could therefore turn into a chase to the finish with the leaders in the prototypes attempting to track down the more reliable GTLM leaders. It has happened before, and as recently as 2003 when TRG won the race overall title in a GT2 Porsche when the then new Daytona Prototypes in the field all fell by the wayside. And aside from the very real opportunity to score a 1-2-3-4 in GTLM, Ford bringing four GTs to the Rolex 24 Hours could very well be an attempt to maximise the opportunity of winning the Rolex 24 outright.

Ford at Daytona

 

Lexus, Mercedes and Acura join the fray
In the GTD class, the main interest is going to be the progress of the new Acura NSX GT3 and Lexus RCF GT3s, as well as the debut of Mercedes in this class. For Lexus, the RCF GT3 is finally set for its North American debut after years of development. The cars on track at Daytona are the same specification as the Lexus which raced – and won overall – in the VLN at the tail end of last season. The team, formerly known as Rocketsports Racing, is keen to put its past, with the failed Jaguar XKR GT3, behind it as the face of this Lexus project. The time is now for Paul Gentilozzi, who with the backing of Lexus North America, will want to be gunning for wins, certainly by the end of the season.

Acura’s IMSA programme meanwhile is headed by Michael Shank Racing. The team, which has been racing prototypes in recent seasons has been tasked with running the brand new NSX GT3 partnered with the brand in its endurance programme. It is a big ask for the team, which clearly understands the magnitude of the challenge at hand. It remains to be seen how competitive the car can be this early in its debut season, though Balance of Performance will as always be a leveling factor, no matter which side of the performance equation it sits early on. The main focus for the Rolex 24 at Daytona will be ensuring that it’s up to scratch in the durability and serviceability department.

 

Stars in cars
Beyond the galaxy of returning IMSA talent the Rolex 24 at Daytona once again dishes up part of its unique appeal; the opportunity for drivers from other parts of the sport to take on the challenge of Daytona in a proper endurance race. There is little doubt who the biggest draw is likely to be this week with legendary NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon back at Daytona racing in the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi.

From the sportscar universe, there are no fewer than nine recent, and for the most part current, FIA WEC LMP1 factory drivers listed among the 43 men due to do battle in the Prototype class. The names on the list include two current Porsche men, 2016 World Champ Brendon Hartley and current title holder Neel Jani. Toyota are well represented too with 2014 Champion Seb Buemi, plus the experienced Sarrazin, Conway and ex Toyota man, and current LMP2 WEC and Le Mans Champ, Nico Lapierre. Add in 2013 World Champ Loic Duval, current Audi DTM man plus the ultra-fast Rene Rast and Filipe Albuquerque and you’re left with a real chance to see the team mates and friends, now wearing completely different kit, going up against each other.

Rebellion at Daytona

There’s also a bunch of WEC LMP2 race winners like Bruno Senna and Ryan Dalziel on the list too with ELMS race winner and previous LMP1 privateer champ Mathias Beche and reigning European Le Mans Series LMP3 Champ Mike Guasch also set to race. IndyCar is also well represented, as Jack Hawksworth is set to drive a Lexus RCF. James Hinchcliffe will be aboard the No.70 Mazda. Buddy Rice will pilot a PC. Graham Rahal will peddle an Acura and Tony Kannan has a real chance of winning GTLM whilst making his debut with Ford.

 

Porsche’s new toy
With the GTE/GTLM machinery continuing on its vertical developmental curve, Porsche is the most recent marque to bring a fresh car to the category after Ford brought the GT to the party in 2016. The new mid-engined 911 RSR promises to make strides in both performance and serviceability as the brand looks to get its premier GT programme back on track after a tough 2016 campaign on both sides of the pond.

Porsche at Daytona

In terms of drivers Porsche’s works stable has a fresh look to it, with Audi-stalwart Laurens Vanthoor set for his debut, along with ex-BMW man Dirk Werner. The new men will race with regulars Patrick Pilet, Frederic Makowiecki, Kevin Estre and Richard Lietz, who all know how to develop a car and turn it into a winner. At the Roar Before the 24, the Porsche crew didn’t set any particularly notable lap times, but did manage to complete a significant amount of on-track running. It is going to be interesting to see if the new car can hit the ground running before its trip to Sebring and then the start of the WEC season which of course includes Le Mans, which the team will of course hope to win for the first time since 2014.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona 2017 promises to be quite a race, so sit back and enjoy the ride!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Travel Destinations are once again hosting customers at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. They are currently staying at our exclusive hotel overlooking Daytona beach and enjoying all the action at the Speedway. The tour includes car hire to enable you to be independent but is also escorted by one of our staff to help and guide where necessary. If you would like to join us in Florida for the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January 2018 please do call or email us now to register your interest.

Ford GT40

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai

Our man in the stands has returned from the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship in Shanghai with some thoughts on where we are an what to expect next.

Audi’s performance in China was a microcosm of its 2016 season
Well, Audi has just one race left in LMP1, and its only chance of ending its season on a high is with a win, not a title. Audi bowed out of both the Manufacturers and Drivers World Championships last weekend in China, once again failing to win or even compete for a win after yet another series of miscues and poor luck. A fuel-rig issue robbed the No.8 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Loic Duval and Lucas Di Garssi  (which was firmly in the Drivers Championship race) of a chance to win, before a clumsy incident with the sister No.7 R18 in turn ended Benoit Treluyer, Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler’s chance of a podium.

Audi R18
In the end the two cars limped home a distant fifth and sixth; not what Audi wanted, especially under the cloud of its announcement to terminate its FIA WEC programme at the end of the season.
With six hours of racing left for the Four Rings, it’s going to be an emotional end, but thankfully there’s still one last chance for a send-off worthy of its 18-year-long effort.

Toyota and Porsche are neck and neck
For the second race in succession and the third race this year (including Le Mans) Toyota and Porsche looked perfectly matched. Qualifying was again incredibly tight on Saturday, and on Sunday Toyota was able to go toe-to-toe with the winning No.1 Porsche. Rotten luck stood in the way of victory for Toyota, once again. Fresh from its triumph on home turf, it looked like a second win was more than just a possibility, and in the final third of the race, the No.6 TS050 of Mike Conway, Stephane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi looked set to take the lead of the race after a bold call on tyre strategy. But the team was dealt an unfortunate blow, when a second puncture on the No.6 forced the car to pit an extra time, allowing the No.1 Porsche to cruise home.

FIA WEC
Now, the No.6, by finishing second, and crucially two spots ahead of the championship-leading No.2 Porsche which continues to disappoint on pace, still has a chance to win it all. It’s an outside chance, as the crew have to win or finish second and hope that the No.2 has a woeful day, either retiring or finishing way down the order, to steal it. Never say never though, as we saw at Le Mans, never count anything out. If anything though, it’s promising that the two brands look evenly matched as the Audi era concludes.

GTE Pro at Bahrain has the potential to be one for the ages
The cyclical nature of this season’s GTE Pro results, have left all three titles in the class going down to the wire, with Ford, Ferrari and Aston Martin all with a shout of taking the title. At the moment it looks to be advantage Ford, with two-straight dominant wins, but Ford’s title chances are the slimmest of the three marques. Aston Martin narrowly leads the Drivers and Teams Championship with the No.95, Ferrari narrowly leads the Manufacturer’s Championship and Ford’s only real chance is in the Teams race, as it still lags behind in all three. If it kicks off at Bahrain though, with door-to-door action, then expect fireworks and it could be a classic.

LMGTE Pro
Alpine’s exceptional year ended with the LMP2 title 
Gustavo Menezes, Stephane Richelmi and Nicolas Lappiere  (driver ranking debates aside) have been the class of the field in LMP2 at almost every round this year, and fully earned their LMP2 titles. It was a fitting to see the Alpine team battle with the RGR Sport by Morand battle all the way to the end at China, capping off an exciting, and at times shocking, season in LMP2.

Signatech Alpine
With Signatech Alpine presumably in damage-limitation mode throughout the weekend, knowing it didn’t need a podium to secure its titles, G-Drive took its second win of the season in dominant fashion. Had lady luck been on the Russian team’s side it may have been a different story this season, she wasn’t though, and Alpine became 2016 LMP2 World Champions.

AF Corse’s Am squad is almost certain to win the title at Bahrain
To keep the GTE Am championship races alive, the No.98 Aston Martin had to win; and it did. Problem was that Francois Perrodo, Rui Aguas and Manu Collard finished second (following a post-race penalty for KCMG). That means the trio hold an almost insurmountable 25-point lead heading into the Bahrain finale. The only way the Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda can win is if they win and the No.83 retires, because by matching the Ferrari trio will mean they will win based on number of wins. It’s such a strong lead, that the No.83 car can win the title in Saturday Qualifying, by scoring an extra point. Obviously it’s not 100% certain, but Collard, Perrodo and Aguas can breathe easy for the next week or so, knowing that they’ve got the championships all-but locked up.

AF Corse Ferrari

The final round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Chanmpionship takes place in Bahrain on the 19th November. There will be much to celebrate for the victors and wounds to lick for those without trophies, but most eyes will be moist as the Audi Sport team say goodbye.. for now.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

6 Hours of Fuji, Japan

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji

Just back from Japan, our man in the stands takes a look at some of the talking points arising from the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji

The LMP1 manufacturers have never been closer
Qualifying ahead of this year’s 6 Hours of Fuji saw the best Audi, Porsche and Toyota laps all within two tenths of each other, and then all of them finish up the session within half a second. The result? A stunning race in which all three factory teams had a chance to win.

6 Hours of Fuji

Audi once again had the fastest car, but pit stop blunders ultimately cost the No.8 car of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas Di Grassi and Loic Duval the win. In the end it was Toyota’s No.6 TS050 that were victorious, with Stephane Sarrazin, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway taking the win by under two seconds in the end, after a bold strategy call at the final round of pit stops catapulted the car ahead of the No.8 Audi despite trailing it almost the entire race.

It was the first win for the Japanese brand since the final round of the 2014 season, so it’s been a long time coming. Audi meanwhile, will spend the next two weeks reflecting on their future (see below), after what turned out to be a very odd weekend for the German LMP1 stalwarts.

 

Audi’s LMP1 programme may have an expiry date
Rumours seem to swirl every year, that Audi will be pulling the plug on its LMP1 programme; especially now that it’s been racing a sister brand in Porsche since 2014. This time it does seem that there may well be some substance to the speculation. Prior to the on-track running at Fuji Speedway, German media outlet Auto Motor und Sport reported that the Audi board will terminate the programme at the end of 2017 season, therefore running it until the end of the current WEC regulation cycle. Now, there’s no full confirmation that this is the case, but the piece was written by a well respected journalist in Marcus Schurig, who this writer can say whole heartedly wouldn’t publish a story of that magnitude unless he was more than 100% sure there was something there.

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji

Losing Audi would send shockwaves through sportscar racing, that’s for sure, and it would be a crying shame to see it leave. But these things happen, and it certainly wouldn’t come as a total surprise given that Audi Sport certainly don’t owe the sport anything after supporting it through thick and thin since 1999 and in a classy manner too. As the Audi crew congratulated the Toyota team though, with full of emotion after the race last weekend, John Hinhaugh on the WEC commentary feed did make a very interesting point: “That’s why they won’t be leaving, there’s too much passion, it means too much to them.” Watch this space.

 

Ford’s UK GTE team has life
After what was a very underwhelming season until the trip to Fuji, the UK arm of the Chip Ganassi Ford programme finally kicked into gear and took what seemed like an easy 1-2 in the Pro class. At each race to that point the pair of Fords had under performed, often having reliability issues or on-track blunders which cost them multiple podiums; lets not forget that the pair of GTs from the USA Ford team were the ones that had the dream run at Le Mans this season.

Ford

With two rounds remaining, it appears that both Aston Martin Racing and AF Corse will finally have to deal with the Ford squad when it comes to racing for the win, after consistently finishing above them in each of the rounds prior to the race in Japan. And that’s great for the class.

 

LMP2 in its current form is spectacular
Yes next year’s cars will be considerably faster, and the quality of entries looks to take another jump; but what the LMP2 class has at the moment should be cherished. The variety in chassis was on full display last weekend at Fuji Speedway, with six of the cars in the class all having a legitimate shot of winning the race. It is safe to say that it turned into one of, if not the best LMP2 race in WEC history, with multiple nail-biting moments and clean racing throughout the field.

Start at the 6 Hours of Fuji

After hours of duels between Alpine, RGR Sport, Manor, Strakka and ESM it came down to Will Stevens in the leading G-Drive Oreca and Bruno Senna in the RGR Ligier. And the battle between the two ex-F1 drivers didn’t disappoint. A gamble on tyre strategy from RGR promoted the Mexican team’s Ligier to the top spot after G-Drive led the whole race from the start. Stevens then had to fight his way back, taking the lead just a couple of laps before the flag. For G-Drive it was an incredible way to take its long-awaited first win of the 2016 season, and for RGR its title chances became even less likely, with Alpine holding a very healthy lead heading into the round at China.

 

The No.2 Porsche needs to return to form
After Le Mans it looked like the No.2 Porsche of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb would be a lock to win the title after winning at Silverstone and taking the full double points finish at the 24 hours at La Sarthe. But the trio have struggled since, finishing off the podium at each round and at Fuji looked totally lost, coming home a distant fifth.

Porsche at Fuji

Now, they still lead by 23 points but all of a sudden the No.6 Toyota, which sits second in the standings looks like the stronger car. A couple more wins for Conway, Sarrazin and Kobayashi and the title fight could turn into a thriller that goes down to the wire. It wouldn’t be the first time…

The FIA WEC now moves on to China where the Six Hours of Shanghai takes place on the 6th November.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Gulf Racing

FIA WEC 6 Hours of COTA

FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Circuit of the Americas

Our man in the stands, has just returned from Austin, Texas following the latest round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Porsche may have taken the win, but Stephen Kilbey takes a look behind the scenes and reports on some of the other stories around the paddock.

1. Toyota will head to Fuji confident
After struggling for pace and reliability at all of the six-hour races prior to COTA this season, Toyota Gazoo Racing travel to the final three races of the year knowing it is capable of more podiums; even with the high-downforce kit for the TS050 lacking in top-end speed.

Toyota at COTA
In Texas both cars had the raw pace to compete with both Porsches during the race, and in the end the No.6 of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin finished the race third, just seconds from the No.8 Audi in second. The sister car would have been there or thereabouts too, but suffered intermittent waste-gate issues with its turbo and came home fifth. Nevertheless, the whole team is on the up, and is looking to finally put its Le Mans demons behind it before the end of the season.

2. The final WEC/IMSA double bill for the foreseeable future could have been better
Once again, the paddock left Austin underwhelmed by the IMSA/WEC event in the USA, which was a shame, as it seems unlikely that it will happen in the future, with the relationship between the two governing bodies appearing strained at best. The crowd – despite the (much bloated) figure touted – was poor once again, with almost all the grandstands appearing empty for the entire meeting. The racing was also all on the Saturday, which during the fall in Texas is suicide, because a huge portion of the population is focused on college football all day each Saturday.

COTA Austin, Texas
The temperature was also extremely high; too high for many. Drivers suffered through their stints without air conditioning, and everyone else, including the fans, spent most of the meeting desperately trying to find shade, or cooler areas to escape the 30+ degree heat and 80-90% humidity. Holding Lone Star Le Mans event at the start or end of the season would be more prudent going forward.

3. LMP2 is all but sewn up
With yet another win this season, the No. 36 Signatech Alpine of Gustavo Menezes, Stephane Richelmi and Nicolas Lapierre holds a sizable 38-point lead heading into the final rounds. The trio has won four races so far in 2016, and consistently has the pace to outclass their rivals in the RGR Sport by Morand Ligier.

LMP2
Obviously a retirement for the No.36 and an RGR win would close the gap significantly, but if the French team’s form continues then there’s they can wrap it up before heading to Bahrain.

4. AF Corse needs to sort out its Am-leading 458’s lack of pace and durability quickly
The No.83 AF Corse Ferrari, which currently leads the GTE Am championship, saw its lead take a hit last weekend, when the car was nowhere in qualifying and had electrical issues during the race that resulted in it finishing last of the classified runners. Prior to that the car struggled for pace in Mexico, though the team scored well when both its title rivals at the time retired.

AF Corse Ferrari
Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas hold just a 33-point advantage going forward, with both the No.98 Aston Martin and No.88 Abu Dhabi Proton Porsche finding form.  If the team is unable to compete for wins once again in the trips to Asia and the Middle-East, then the title race could go down to the wire, which would be a real surprise.

5. LMP1 reliability is still an issue
Remember the race at Spa this year? When every LMP1 H entry had issues, resulting in a surprise win for the No.8 Audi and a podium for the No.13 Rebellion? Well it certainly seems like that sort of race could happen again after the race last weekend in the USA. During the race, the No.8 Audi had a total electrical failure, the No.6 Toyota had turbo issues, the No.7 Audi had issues with its drinks bottle and door. Both Porsches had almost faultless runs this time, but in the past they’ve been subject to a variety of niggles.

Audi mechanics
Sure, none of the six factory cars retired from the race at CoTA, but even at this late stage of the season they still seem fragile. If for whatever reason, the title race goes down to the finale at Bahrain, then it could be interesting to see how the cars hold up when the teams and drivers get desperate.

The FIA WEC now moves on to the Fuji circuit in Japan for the next race on the 16th October.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photos by Dailysportscar

Porsche in Mexico

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Mexico

Following on from last weekend’s inaugural trip by the FIA World Endurance Championship to Central America, our man in Mexico takes us through five key post-race talking points from the 6 Hours of Mexico 2016.

1. Audi should have won
In a year that’s turning out to be very un-Audi for the long-standing German manufacturer, Audi Sport once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Both the No.7 and No.8 R18s were the class act of the field on pace in the race, and in the early stages looked to be on course for a 1-2 finish. But a mixture of bad luck and good fortune for Porsche resulted in Audi coming away from Mexico with even less of a chance of winning either titles available to the LMP1 class.

Audi at the 6 hours of Mexico

In the race the No. 8 had a hefty shunt after a front-left wheel bearing failure while Oliver Jarvis was leading the race, and the No.7 finished second after an extra pit stop was required following a costly error by Andre Lotterer while tracking down the leading No.1 Porsche in the closing stages.

The board will be deciding the future of Audi’s factory motorsport programmes in the coming months. If the round in Austin sees it continue its rough string of results, then it may be harder than ever to for those high up at Audi Sport to justify continuing the programme heading into 2017. And that, would be a crying shame and would send ripples across the FIA WEC.

2. Aston Martin is back!
Balance of Performance debates aside, Aston Martin Racing’s WEC GTE Pro programme has had a rough couple of years, which has seen them unable to compete for race wins on a regular basis. Mexico City – with its high altitude and its tight, slow course to race on – favoured the boys in green, and this saw them dominate all weekend. During the race, AMR were running 1-2 in the Pro class by as much as 90 seconds at one point, and only a mistake by Nicki Thiim in tricky conditions prevented a total sweep of the weekend for the British marque.

Aston Martin Racing

All of a sudden, Darren Turner leads the Drivers Championship, and the team leads the World Cup for GT Manufacturers by three points, and seem odds on to win it all if its cars can continue their consistent points scoring performances all the way through to Bahrain.

3. The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez deserves its place on the WEC calendar
Disappointing crowd figures (38,000) aside, the event was run extremely well. The efforts of promoter – and LMP2 race winner – Ricardo Gonzalez paid off, with the circuit suiting the racing and the fans treated to a good fan area and selection of food and places to watch the action from.

Mexico

It has a long way to go before it becomes as well respected as the races in Fuji and Spa, but for year one, it’s was a very good start. When the calendar was first announced, the decision to hold a round in Mexico City was met with a lot of scepticism, but thankfully most of the initial concerns were not a real issue. It was well promoted locally and felt like a proper race meeting.

The 6 Hours of Mexico is here to stay, at least for the next two years, and that’s a good thing.

4. The Am title is very much AF Corse’s to lose

With four rounds remaining, it looks like the No.83 crew of Francois Perrodo, Manu Collard and Rui Aguas have their title dreams firmly within their grasp. Another very impressive performance in finishing second, while their title challengers – the  No. 98 Aston Martin and Larbre Corvette – faltered, seeing them head into the round in America with a 35 point lead over the Abu Dhabi Proton team.

AF Corse Ferrari

What was most eye-opening about their run last weekend was that they struggled in each session prior to the race with power. Being 7000 feet above sea level left everyone down on power, up to 25% in some cases! But for the sole Ferrari 458 it seemed as if it was doomed to finish last after being far off the pace in Free Practice and Qualifying. However, cooler temperatures on race day, an almost faultless run and being able to capitalize on the misfortune of others, leaves them the team to beat in the second half of the season.

5. The champions have found form
In the race, Porsche took the win, but the No.2 car of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas, which leads the points tally, once again was on the wrong end of the results sheet. Now, because their closest rivals in the No.8 Audi heading into the race scored just 1 point, they head to Texas with a 41 point advantage. Finishing fourth was by no means impressive, but it was enough. They will know though, that if Brendon Hartley hadn’t crashed into the Gulf Racing Porsche at Silverstone and had reliability issues at Spa then it could be a very different story.

Porsche 919

In a repeat of the Nurburgring 6 Hours, the reigning champions in the No.1 Porsche 919 were the class of the Stuttgart-based brand, and took their second win of the season. Don’t be surprised if their new found form continues in the next three months.

The next round for the FIA WEC will take place in Austin, Texas on the 17th September and much could be decided both on and off the track after that race.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photographs by Dailysportscar.com

Lamborghini at Spa 24 Hours

More from the Spa 24

Five things we learnt from the 2016 24 Hours of Spa

Following the Spa 24 Hours last weekend, our man in the stands, Stephen Kilbey, takes a look at 5 main points that arose from the race.

The BMW M6 has come into its own
Few people would have predicted a BMW M6 would come out on top, after a lengthy battle with Bentley for the win at the Spa 24 Hours this year. After the Nürburgring 24 Hours (the M6’s big 24-hour debut) didn’t go to plan with various incidents and mechanical failures prevented it from splitting up the Mercedes armada, hopes were not high. But Spa was different. With Mercedes’ uber-quick AMG GT3s on the back foot before the race even started, Audi having yet another very un-Audi race, McLaren proving to lack strength in numbers, Bentley suffering bad luck and serving penalties and Lamborghini not having a real challenge it suddenly became ROWE Racing’s to lose; and this time they didn’t.

BMW at Spa 24 hours
For any new car to come in and win a 24-hour race in its first year is impressive, and that’s definitely a worthy adjective to describe ROWE’s performance top to bottom. Alex Sims, Philip Eng and Maxime Martin all drove flawlessly and in the end had the luck, bold strategy calls and speed to win the race and deliver the team its first big win. After so many attempts at winning both Spa and the N24, ROWE Racing wont be forgetting this year’s Spa 24 Hours in a hurry. Neither will BMW, as the M6 looks like it’s a good all-round package that will remain a challenger on big stages for years to come.

Driving standards have improved
After the debacle of two years ago, when the Spa 24 Hours of 2014 was marred by a series of huge incidents following multiple safety car periods, it was good to see that such an enormous 65-car field produced a clean race. In recent years, the amateur/gentlemen drivers have really upped their game in the spirit of competition and its safe to say that it’s been at the benefit of GT3 racing across the board. Whilst there were naturally a couple of big shunts (one particularly scary one on pit-exit which saw Kevin Estre’s Attempto Porsche thrown into the Armco after contact with a Ferrari running at full speed) the racing overall was hard and fair, with most of the field leaving the event feeling encouraged by the performances of their peers.

Spa 24 Hours
As much as enormous grids are used as a yard-stick for the success of a series/event these days, safety is just as important. It’s good to see that the SRO’s Blancpain GT Series continues to attract quantity and quality.

Mercedes has some post-Spa PR work to do
This year’s race will most certainly always be remembered for the post-qualifying exclusion of the Mercedes runners in the Top-20 Shootout. What should have been a 1-2-3-4-5-6 formation on the grid for the Stuttgart-based brand turned into a PR nightmare after an illegal engine map was found on all the cars, giving them a pace advantage. All the six cars featured several values in one of the three homologated maps in the car (Qualifying/ Race and Safety Car) that did not comply with the quoted values. As a result, they lost their qualifying times and received a five-minute stop and hold penalty at the start of the race too, effectively putting all the Mercedes contenders out of the running before the lights went green. It is an  incredible achievement that the leading AKKA ASP Mercedes came home second, overcoming an enormous disadvantage.

Mercedes at Spa 24
It’s one thing to dominate due to sloppy Balance of Performance (BoP) adjustments, but when the manufacturer does more than just ‘play the game’ it is another entirely. Mercedes declined to comment on the reason for the issues, but failed to put in an appeal because they ‘ran out of time’. If it genuinely didn’t have any part in changing the engine maps on purpose, then so be it, but a lot of people will look at the 1-2-3-4 at the Nürburgring 24 Hours earlier in the year and now become suspicious of the result.

Bentley blew its big chance
The Bentley Continental GT3 has won plenty of races in its lifespan, but has thus far failed to win a marquee race. This year, with ex-Audi engineer Leena Gade at the helm, the British M-Sport crew had a very good chance of winning, pushing the ROWE team to its limits as the race wore on. A mixture of bad luck under full course yellow conditions, penalties and a late puncture cost the Bentley squad dearly. It was agonizing for the team after having the lead with just over two hours remaining in the race.

Bentley at Spa
In years past Bentley hasn’t featured in the running for the win of either the Spa 24 Hours or the Nürburgring 24 Hours, and it felt like that it may of missed out on its big chance last weekend to get a signature victory under its belt before the next chassis comes in to take its place in the coming years.

Maxime Martin got his big win
It has been a long time coming, but Maxime Martin finally has a career-defining win. The Belgian GT star, who will always be remembered for his astonishing performance towards the end of the 2013 Nürburgring 24 Hours, where he hunted down the leading Mercedes through adverse weather in the closing stages, only to finish second, now has a big 24-hour race win. After coming so close at both Spa and the ‘Ring in recent years, the 30-year-old Belgian couldn’t contain his emotions after winning the ‘big one’ on his home soil. And it is no surprise because every Belgian GT driver wants to win the Spa 24.

Podium at Spa 24hrs
It was a very deserving victory. Martin still has many years left in his career to add to his resumé as a BMW factory driver be it in GT3, DTM or wherever he ends up in the future. Few people have any doubts about his talent, and he now has a trophy to show for his efforts.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Corvette at Le Mans

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Nurburgring Preview

What to watch out for at the FIA WEC 6 Hours Nürburgring

The Le Mans hype train may have reached its last stop in 2016, but the FIA WEC’s world tour still has six more rounds to run. Next week the FIA World Endurance Championship runners and riders hit the track for the first time since the Le Mans 24 Hours when the series travels to the Nürburgring for the final European race of the season. Here, our man in the stands, takes a look at some of the main talking points ahead of the fourth round of the 2016 WEC season:

Toyota to Bounce Back
After missing out on winning the race in truly crushing fashion at Le Mans, Toyota Gazoo Racing will be extra motivated to have a strong showing at the Nürburgring as it sets its target to winning the WEC World Championship. The big issue is that the points situation highly favours Porsche in both the manufacturers and drivers championships following Le Mans. Porsche leads the factory points tally by 32 points over Audi and 48 over Toyota, while Le Mans and Silverstone winners Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas control the drivers standings by 39 points. The Japanese outfit has a mountain to climb in the remaining six rounds if it is to challenge for any sort of trophies this year. But you can bet that they will throw the kitchen sink at it if they have to.

Toyota at FIA WEC 6 Hours of Nurburgring

Ford dominance
Ford’s Le Mans victory was a tale of both triumph and anti-climax. Everyone close to the sport should have been impressed by the Blue Oval coming to Le Mans on its first year back and competing for a win; but instead were left disappointed. Anyone who followed the GTE ‘fiasco’ in any level of detail at Le Mans, knows that in the world of Balance of Performance Ford lapping four to five seconds quicker than the other cars in the Pro class on its way to a 1,3,4 at La Sarthe should never have happened.

Ford win at Le Mans

Had Ford showed such prowess from the Prologue onwards, then the ACO would have surely the been more prepared, but instead, Ford failed to reveal the GT’s capabilities until Le Mans week. You can argue that they played the game well, and they did, but at the detriment of good racing. With that in mind, going into the Nürburgring, the powers that be will have to reign the cars in somewhat dramatically to prevent further uproar. Currently Ford is on a streak though, having won both IMSA GTLM races since Le Mans, meaning the round in Germany could prove to be a crucial one for the future of the GTE Pro class if they are able to win again in convincing fashion.

Aston’s Tactical Shakeup
The sheer amount of changes to many of the driver squads ahead of the 6h Nürburgring is astounding, with some big names joining the action and some losing their drives. Aston’s movements have proved to be the most seismic though. In the AMR stable, both Fernando Rees and Jonny Adam have lost their seats in the No.97 Vantage for the rest of the season. Richie Stanaway will instead be paired up with Darren Turner, leaving Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørenesen to drive the No.95. Not only does it give the four drivers more track time at each circuit, but it spreads the points in both cars, meaning Aston can still win the GT Drivers Title with both entries as it has pilots from the No.95 — which had a better start to the season — in both Vantages.

Aston Martin Racing at Le Mans

Merhi on a charge
With the Manor team improving at each race, it’s surely only a matter of time before the ex-F1 outfit takes its first LMP2 win. At Le Mans, arguably the star of the race in LMP2 was Roberto Merhi, who drove incredibly well in his 24-hour debut. He led the class and took the fight to the best drivers in the 23-strong field early on in the race before a string of issues hampered the team’s chances. The Spaniard looks like a true sportscar star in the making, and should be one to watch throughout the second half the season following his coming out party in June.

Manor Racing at Le Mans

Packed stands
Last year when the WEC held a round at the Nürburgring for the first time, the entire paddock left on Sunday night satisfied with its atmosphere and organisation. The event ran smoothly, the racing was good and most importantly the general public showed up in their droves. There was well over 50 thousand fans trackside at the ‘Ring on race day in 2015, which was incredibly promising to see. Hosting the final European round in one of the Meccas of Motorsport, which coincidentally is a home race for two of the three major manufacturers in LMP1 should be applauded. Keeping up the interest in the WEC each season after Le Mans is imperative in its growth and future stability. So If the weather holds out and the local promoters do their jobs, expect there to be more people watching than last year, and therefore even more positivity going into the next rounds.

Crowds at Le Mans

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Audi at Spa 24hrs

Looking forward to the Spa 24hrs

5 things to watch for at the Spa 24 Hours

The Spa 24 Hours is in many ways a marquee event in world Motorsport these days, with tons of factory interest, entries and a world-class venue to race on. This year, 65 cars are entered for Blancpain’s ‘blue riband’ event, with 29 in the full pro class at the front. Here’s five interesting storylines to follow from the runners and riders who will feature at the head of the field:

1. Garage 59’s three-car assault
McLaren GT customer squad Garage 59 has emerged as the team to beat so far this season in the Blancpain Endurance Cup, with two wins out of three races. The team’s leading No.58 650S GT3 of Rob Bell, Shane van Gisbergen and Come Ledogar has been both fast and consistent all season long and looks to continue its title challenge at Spa after victories at both Monza and the Paul Ricard 1000km.

In the second No.59 car is the trio of McLaren GT Driver Academy boys, Straun Moore, Alex Fontana and Andrew Watson, but the No.60 is the one to watch out of the other two. The No. 60 is a one-off entry which has 2016 Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours winner Pipo Derani, experienced Brit Duncan Tappy and ex-F1 driver Bruno Senna aboard. While they won’t be worried about picking up points as much as the #58 will, they’ll be just as motivated to win the race outright.

Spa 24hrs

The Spa 24 Hours hasn’t been a kind event to McLaren over the years, especially during its days with teams running the MP4 12C GT3, but that looks set to change. The 650S GT3 won the Bathurst 12 Hour earlier this year with Garage 59 and the winning car proved to be practically bullet proof in the process.

2. Audi’s attack
After the sheer disappointment of this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours, Audi is out for redemption at Spa, with eight cars in the Overall (Pro) class; the most of any brand in the top category. Of the octet, three are backed directly by the factory, with two run by Team WRT and one by Phoenix Racing.

WRT’s lineup is stellar – as usual – with Nürburgring and Spa 24 winner Laurens Vanthoor, Nico Muller, Rene Rast and ex-F1 driver Will Stevens fresh from his first Le Mans to name a few. Pohenix meanwhile has Audi veteran Frank Stippler aboard, one of the safest pair of hands in the business.

Audi at Spa 24hrs

Last year the R8 LMS was in contention all the way to the end, but had to settle for second behind Marc VDS Racing’s BMW Z4 in its first run at the race.

3. DTM takeover?
This year’s race sees DTM drivers from Audi, Mercedes and BMW taking part. The biggest name is 2005 DTM champ Gary Paffet, who is making his GT debut at the race driving with fellow Mercedes DTM driver Max Gotz in the No.86 HTP Mercedes. Daniel Juncadella and is also on the bill in an AMG GT3.

From the BMW camp, GT stalwart Maxime Martin will be driving in ROWE Racing’s No.99 BMW M6 GT3, and Audi will field Italian driver Eduardo Mortara in Stippler’s usual ISR seat in the No.75 car.  Certainly some big names to follow in headlining cars.

4. Linkin Park link up
World-famous rap rock artists Linkin Park will be present at the Spa 24 Hours, not just as fans, but also with their name on a car. The No.00 Black Falcon Mercedes AMG will sport an eye-catching silver and red live ring with Linkin Park branding. The band itself are huge Mercedes AMG fans, and will present the car to the public on race week.

Linkin Park livery

It’s not going to be just a rolling billboard either, in fact it could well be the headlining Mercedes in the field come Sunday afternoon. Driving it will be the fierce combination of this year’s N24 hero Maro Engel, ageless former Spa winner and all-round Mercedes legend Bernd Schneider and ex-Marc VDS pilot Yelmer Buurman.

5. Two Jags
The plucky privateer Emil Frey team will most certainly be one to watch. For years it has developed its own Jaguar GT3 car from an unreliable garage-sitter that was often off the pace, to a solid and on the pace car which has become an evert-present Blancpain fan-favourite. Usually, the Swiss outfit brings just one to Blancpain Endurance Cup rounds, but for this year’s Spa 24 it’s going all out to prove the car’s worth on the biggest stage.

Spa 24hrs

The team comes with a very intriguing lineup of 2015 Spa winner Markus Palttala, Jonathan Hirschi and former Red Bull F1 drvier Christian Klien making his Spa 24 debut. The trio should be quick, and capable of making noise in Qualifying as well as during the race if things fall their way.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photographs by Dailysportscar

Daytona

Eyes on Daytona

Eyes Of Racing World Focused On 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona
Entry List Features 54 Cars, Drivers Representing 24 Countries, Four Female Drivers

The world will be coming to Daytona International Speedway for the grand opening of its motorsports stadium, with a solid international field set for the debut race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship: the 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 30th – 31st.

A 54-car field with drivers representing 24 countries serves as the opening race for Daytona Rising, the $400 million reimagining of the historic venue. In addition to kicking off the WeatherTech Championship, the race also will open the four-race Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.

“As the International Motor Sports Association, we take great pride in having strong international representation in the Rolex 24 At Daytona,” said IMSA CEO Ed Bennett. “We are fortunate to have an outstanding field of drivers, teams and manufacturers representing every corner of the world join us for this year’s race. The eyes of the racing world truly will be on Daytona International Speedway during the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Between the debut of many awe-inspiring race cars and being the first race in the Daytona International Speedway motorsports stadium, the view will be spectacular.”

Daytona International Speedway founder Bill France Sr. envisioned sports car racing as bringing international recognition to his venue with the running of the inaugural Daytona Continental in 1962, an event expanded to 24 hours in 1966.

Now, 50 years later, that event has grown into the Rolex 24 At Daytona. The field will include 12 world-class automotive manufacturers across the four classes, reigniting decades-long rivalries in addition to building new ones.

In the Prototype category, the battle for the overall victory will include the classic Ford vs. Chevrolet rivalry, but will be expanded to include Honda, Mazda, Nissan and BMW-powered prototypes, in addition to the one-of-a-kind DeltaWing. Ford and Chevy have split the overall victories the past two years, but if speeds at the recent Roar Before The Rolex 24 At Daytona were any indication, any one of the 13 entries in the Prototype class could feasibly pull into Victory Lane on the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 31st.

The GT Le Mans (GTLM) class features the pair of Corvette C7.Rs that won the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015, as well as the defending WeatherTech Championship GTLM championship-winning Porsche North America team.

However, many sports car racing headlines over the past year have gone to the new Ford GT program, which makes its competition debut in the Rolex 24 At Daytona with a two-car effort fielded by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. The return of the Ford GT begins a new chapter in the Ford-Chevrolet battle, while also reigniting a 50-year-old Ford vs. Ferrari fight. The field also will include a pair of brand-new BMW M6 GTLM race cars from BMW Team RLL.

The GT Daytona (GTD) class, which has adopted full FIA GT3 technical regulations in 2016, features a 22-car field and seven different manufacturers. Familiar GTD brands Audi, Porsche and BMW all will debut brand-new race cars in the Rolex 24, alongside updated machinery from Ferrari, Dodge and Aston Martin. Joining the GTD fray this year for the first time will be Lamborghini, with five Huracáns in a field stacked with manufacturer, team and driver talent.

In Prototype Challenge (PC), eight teams and a host of strong driver lineups will battle it out for class honors.

In total, all but three of the 54 entries feature driver lineups with mixed nationalities. The United States has the most drivers entered with 87, while Germany leads the list of visiting countries with 23 drivers represented in the preliminary Rolex 24 entry. Great Britain is next with 19 drivers, followed by Italy, 16; France, nine; and Canada, seven. Austria, Brazil and Mexico are each represented by six drivers.

Four female drivers are set to compete in this year’s race. British driver Katherine Legge returns to the No. 0 Panoz DeltaWing Racing coupe in the Prototype class. Competing in GT Daytona (GTD) are German Sabine Schmitz in the No. 30 Frikadelli Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R; Christina Nielsen of Denmark in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 GT3; and American Ashley Freiberg in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3.

Practice for the Rolex 24 At Daytona begins the morning of Thursday, Jan. 28th , with qualifying taking place later than afternoon. The weekend also includes the BMW Performance 200; the opening round of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

Travel Destinations customers will be back again this year enjoying the full spectacle. If you fancy joining us at Daytona in January 2017 call us now to register your interest and we will let you know when you can reserve your place at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

FIA WEC

FIA WEC Update: LMP1 Class

The LMP1 class of the 2015 FIA WEC has seen sportscar racing technology skyrocket. But until the Asian flyaways we hadn’t seen what the most technologically advanced racecars in the world could do in the wet – Japan and China gave us a double opportunity to see just that!

Rain is a great leveller and Toyota hoped that the wet conditions at Fuji International raceway might just get them in amongst the Audis and Porsches and from the off they did just that, albeit briefly!

Porsche continued their qualifying whitewash but after 40 minutes under the safety car on a sopping wet track a frantic first few green flag laps saw Mark Webber run way wide, lose ground and then Romain Dumas tangled with Alex Wurz, formation spins saw both rejoin but only after Audi had profited from their competitors misadventures, they ran 1,2.

They fended off the Porsches into the second hour too, Dumas dealing with a fine attack from Nakajima in the #1 Toyota and Webber still fighting back from his early delay.

From there on in it was a matter of the pendulum swinging gradually back to Porsche, and as the track looked set to dry i was Audi that were on the back foot and looking for an edge, an early change to intermediates for the #7 R18 was a disaster, the car losing a full lap on pace as track conditions not only didn’t improve, but worsened again.

At the flag it was a third win on the bounce for the #17 Porsche, a fine fightback, but in reality a late race shuffle under team orders swapped the Porsches around for maximum effect in the Drivers Championship, the Porsche boys taking the lead in that order for the first time in the season.

Audi too shuffled their pair at the end, to restrict the points damage but by the end of the day in Japan it was clear that nothing short of disaster in China would prevent Porsche from taking the all important Manufacturers title.

China had a sense of deja vu about it, Porsche again on pole and the weather on race day again wet, and as in Japan the weather hung around, and worsened, despite forecasting to the contrary!

After just a couple of laps behind the Safety Car the #18 car got away the better of the two 919s.

Within a lap though there was drama as Marc Lieb and Andre Lotterer tangled when the Porsche man gave the team car some racing room. That left the #18 to fight back from the very back of the field as Lotterer tried and failed to get onto terms with Brendon Hartley.

All the weather forecasts had predicted a drying track after an hour, it took WAY longer than that and the race became a tale of when to change rubber and to what.
Audi had to make the braver calls and it almost paid off more than once, a slower drying track than everyone thought though meant that Marcel Fassler simply couldn’t exploit his intermediates vs the Porsche’s full wets sufficiently to close the gap.

Again the Porsches seemed to hold at least three of the Aces, and with the delayed #18 back in the mix after a great fightback.

Audi’s move to slicks briefly again looked like it might make an impact but the Porsche squad’s ability to maintain pace on their worn wets, then an inspired tactical move to get the #18 back on track ahead of both of the Audis at the final stop proved the killer punch, Porsche 1,2 and the #17 crew a 12 point advantage in the driver’s standings to take to the season finale at Bahrain.

More than that though there was history – Porsche claiming the World Manufacturers Championship with a race to spare.

There was a Championship confirmed too in the Privateer stakes as the #12 Rebellion crew of Mathias Beche and Nico Prost fended off the challenge of their team-mates in the #13 R-One and the improving ByKolles CLM.

Written by Graham Goodwin

FIA WEC

FIA WEC Update: LMP2

LMP2 was looking like almost a runaway championship win for KCMG before the Asian flyaways.

Wet weather, controversy, and real drama though gripped the class in Japan with a further turn of the screw in China setting up a grandstand finish to a thrilling season in Bahrain.

Realistically in Japan the championship was already down to just three cars, the points leading #47 Oreca 05 Nissan of KCMG, and the chasing pair of G-Drive Ligier Nissans. The stakes were high, and all too soon it showed.

In Japan, the fight back in the points standings from the #26 car began with a dominant pole position ahead of the sister car, this after an error from Nick Tandy left the championship leaders scrabbling for a time.

In the race though the Oreca came back, but only after Sam Bird had put in a magnificent stint in the poll sitting car.

The middle period of the race though saw a long run from Nick Tandy, handing over to Matt Howson, begin to payoff leaving Richard Bradley to deal with the challenge of Roman Rusinov in the closing stages.

It was hard fought, sometimes wheel banging fight, the two unchallenged from behind with third placed #28 car a lap down.

An ambitious move from Bradley up the inside at Turn 1 to take the lead seemed to anger the Russian, more side to side action eventually ended with substantial contact, front of Ligier to rear of Oreca, Bradley forced to pit for a checkover of the car, the Ligier through to take a lead it wouldn’t cede to the flag.

The drama though wasn’t over, Bradley emerged this time just ahead of the other Ligier, Colombian Gustavo Yucatan still off the lead lap but looking for a way by the #47 to unlap himself from the now second-place car.

Again the fight was hard fought, Both drivers aggressive both in attack and defence but it was the lap down Ligier that made contact, again to the rear of the Oreca, that turned the car around, forcing another pit stop for the #47.

Astonishingly, yet again, Bradley emerged in front of a Ligier, this time though it was Yacaman, now on the same lap, challenging the third place Oreca for the final podium position, the Signatech Alpine having by now put a lap on the pair up into second place.

From here though things would get worse, certainly for the Oreca, the Ligier seeming to have found considerable straightline speed there was wheel banging, and there was driving that seemed more than aggressive, Yacaman forcing the Oreca Man across to the pit wall on the long, full tilt straight with Bradley staying ahead and giving as good as he got until contact to the rear of the £47 pitched it sharply to the right into the barrier.

It was game over almost on the spot for Bradley, the driver mercifully OK but KCMG relegated to a DNF and losing their Championship lead to the #26 in the process.

In the aftermath of the incident packed last hour the Race Stewards were kept busy, eventually determining that the final incident was actually the fault of Bradley, the Oreca driver braking earlier than on previous laps – Their decision stands as one of the more controversial in WEC history!

Fast forward to China and again the #26, now the Championship leader, took pole position.

Again race day was wet and it saw significant incidents that bookended the six hours in Shanghai, the very first racing lap (after 14 minutes behind the Safety Car) saw Nick Tandy lose control of the #47 and lose a lap in the gravel, it was looking like the title was slipping away.

A race long fight back though saw the Oreca forge back up the field, their charge helped by a fine run from the Alpine, their new signing Tom Dillmann eventually sealing a victory, the team’s first in the WEC, by outpacing Roman Rusinov.

The #26 though was on course to score a substantial further advantage over the #47, the Chinese team’s fight back through the field looking set to stall at fourth, Nick Tandy’s late race charge towards the now third placed #28 looking hopeless after a late race full course yellow left the gap too much to cover as the clock ticked down.

That though was reckoning without an extraordinary last lap error from Ricardo Gonzales, putting the #28 into the gravel at T2 – Tandy was through into third, the Ligier a DNF and now out of the Championship race into the bargain!

The Championship finale then sees #26 lead #47 by 16 points, with 26 up for grabs – Realistically that means KCMG need to win, and the #26 needs to hit trouble – Place your bets!

Written by Graham Goodwin

FIA WEC

FIA WEC Update: GTE Classes

The FIA World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) has been racking up the air miles in October with back-to-back six hour races at Fuji International Speedway in Japan and Shanghai International Circuit in the People’s Republic of China.

The two race meetings have seen Close competition, controversy, and the first titles of the 2015 season settled. Both races have also seen, For the first time in 2015, sustained wet weather running. With the season finale fast approaching in Bahrain, It’s time to review where things stand across V four classes.

First up are the GTE classes.

GTE Pro became a two manufacturer race from Le Mans onwards with Aston Martin failing to score a podium since the second round of the championship in Belgium back in May.

Whilst balance of performance was blamed for much of the downturn in their fortunes, the V8 Vantage dealt a swingeing restrictor cut, more recently it seems that a chunk of the gap is accounted for by increased investment in tyre development by Porsche which has also led to a step up for Ferrari, the Front engined Aston meanwhile has taken a step back in relation to the competition.

Japan saw the start of a fightback by the Championship defending #51 AF Corse Ferrari crew. Toni Vilander producing an epic three hour plus run on a single set of Michelin wets that was good enough to see off effective competition from the usually wet weather dominant Porsches.

Japan also saw some astonishing wheel to wheel action between the Porsches and Ferraris with the 71 Ferrari in particular continuing to impress, James Calado and Davide Rigon now regularly showing the kind of form that Ferrari expect from their factory drivers. AF Corse it seems now have two consistently strong pairings in the championship.

That pace was not good enough in Japan to secure Ferrari a 1,2 finish. The #92 Porsche Team Manthey crew coming through the race long war to claim second place, valuable points in the manufacturers championship, though #92 was the wrong car the Porsche to claim the best possible results in the drivers standings with Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen coming home fourth it all tightened up just a little.

Shanghai again saw a mighty performance from Toni Vilander. This time his stint covered the start and then the finish of the race, well over four hours in very challenging conditions. This time though the 91 Porsche did come through to win, Lietz bolstering his championship lead the driver standings but with the minor placings falling beautifully to give us a grandstand finish at the final round in the manufacturers championship, just four points the gap between leaders and defending champions Ferrari, and challengers Porsche.

GTE Am meanwhile looked like a cruise to the title, even as early as Japan, from the SMP Racing Ferrari team, the #72 crew having scored three wins in a row starting with the double points scoring Le Mans 24 hours.

It wasn’t to be though, a puncture in Japan, and a strategic error in China left the championship leader off the podium in Japan and a fighting third in China with the closest challenger, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari closing the gap dramatically, helped in fine style by the team’s first win last time out in Shanghai.

The #72’s Chinese fightback did though eliminate two other possible challenges from the championship race with neither the #98 Aston Martin nor the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche now able to catch the Ferraris.

The crowd pleasing Larbre Corvette meanwhile continues to have a huge amount of luck, all of it bad, in 2015, the team controversially losing pole position in Japan and continuing to hold seemingly magnetic qualities for contact with other cars.

The #96 Aston Martin has been another luckless combatant, there have been moments though to savour, in particular Stuart Hall’s double pass on the battling Ferraris to lead on sopping wet track in Japan.

Through all of that the maths for Bahrain are fairly simple.

If the SMP racing car runs to the finish the Russian team will take the title. Even if they don’t, with 19 points separating them from the chasing #83 458 the AF Corse must win to take the title.

Expect then a battling performance from the evergreen Emmanuel Collard, Rui Aguas, and the fast improving Francois Perrodo as they attempt to wrestle the title from Andrea Bertolini, Aleksey Basov and Viktor Shaytar.

Written by Graham Goodwin

Porsche

Porsche dominate in Austin

The 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship touched down in Austin, Texas for a 6 hours race that was dominated at the front by the Porsche teams. However, with Audi taking the other 2 steps on the podium there is clear evidence that there is no room for error this season.

Start of the 6 Hours of the Circuit of the Americas

Sunshine and warm weather greeted all the teams on the grid for the Six Hours of the Circuit of the Americas, with the 2 Porsches heading the field. In the early stages the two frontrunners were battling each other with the No 17 car managing to pass its sister for the lead. The Audis and Toyotas were also fighting for the minor places but it appeared the Porsche was the car to have.

Audi at the FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Circuit of the Americas

As the race continued the spectacle became a little scrappy with mistakes and penalties ruining team strategies and some of the excitement. The No. 2 Toyota driven by Mike Conway was the first to exit the battle after losing control on the kerbs and hitting the barrier quite hard. Audi had an unusual pit stop issue when an airline got entangled with a tyre causing the mechanic to slip; a one minute stop go penalty for the incident delayed their progress. Porsche were not blameless either as the No. 17 car also incurring two stop go penalties, one for just overshooting the garage.

Porsche at the Circuit of the Americas

All these incidents enabled the No. 18 Porsche to extend a big lead and all was looking good for them until electrical issues caused the car to return to the garage (only to return for the final lap). Audi perhaps sensed a chance to take the race and certainly pushed hard, but the No. 17 Porsche managed to avoid any more problems and penalties and ultimately lead the LMP1 cars home by just over 60 seconds. The two Audis gained good points in the overall Championship with their 2nd and 3rd place finishes. On reflection this was perhaps a missed opportunity for the Audi team.

In the privateer LMP1 class victory was taken by the ByKolles CLM car after both the Rebellion cars suffered electrical issues.

G Drive Racing at the Circuit of the Americas
In the LMP2 class the Ligier Nissans of the G-Drive team claimed 1st and 3rd place on the podium with relatively untroubled runs. KCMG claimed a very creditable 2nd place having started at the back of the grid following a penalty from qualifying. Behind them there was a scary incident for the No.31 ESM Ligier when brake failure occurred through turns 19 & 20, which led to hitting the kerb, becoming airbourne and impacting hard with the barriers. Fortunately Ed Brown, who was behind the wheel at the time, was OK; the car, however, was not.

Porsche GTE Pro

Porsche were also the dominant car in the GTE Pro class, with an unchallenged 1-2 on top of the podium. Aston Martin Racing had looked quick early on, but their fight was quickly dampened by the Porsches. The No. 51 Ferrari that has set the standard in this class over recent years, was besieged by technical problems and pit lane penalties and didn’t feature, whilst the sister Ferrari got ahead of the Aston Martins to claim the final step on the podium.

SMP Racing at the Circuit of the Americas

Ferrari fared better in the GTE Am class. The early challenge of Corvette and Aston Martin faded in the Texas heat, leaving a battle between Porsches and Ferraris. Dempsey Racing’s Porsche looked strong and led after a great stint from Patrick Long. The No. 82 AF Corse Ferrari was eventually able to pass them, only to be overtaken themselves by the No.88 Abu Dhabi Proton Porsche that had made up ground from the very back of the grid. However, the eventual winner was the Championship leading SMP Racing Ferrari that waited until the last hour to hit the front and then didn’t look back. They now have a 35 point lead over the chasing pack in this year’s championship.

The FIA World Endurance Championship now changes continents again and moves on to Japan for the 6 hours of Fuji next month.

Written by Richard Webb
Photography by Dailysportscar.com

Porsche

Mid season for FIA WEC

Graham Goodwin looks back at the last FIA WEC round at the Nurburgring and what we learnt from on the track and in the paddock.

The FIA WEC’s first race at the Nurburgring proved to be a great success. A highly believable 62,000 attendees over the three day weekend at a mainly sunny and slickly organised meeting ensured that when we hear about the 2016 calendar later this month at the Circuit of the Americas we’re likely to see the German track back on the schedule for a second year, though likely a little earlier in the year to reduce the gap after Le Mans.

On track there were dominant performances from Porsche in LMP1, a first ever 1,2 from the Porsche 919s in a 6 hour race with the No.17 of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber taking full advantage of mid race woes for the sister No.18 car which was penalised three times for excessive use of fuel, this after Neel Jani had romped off into the distance at the start.

A combined total of 95 seconds of penalties, Plus a further 90 seconds taken for the three runs down the pit lane to serve those penalties, saw the No.17 gain a lap lead and the No.18 fall back to fourth.

Thereafter though the Porsche fought back hard with some fantastic battling with the pair of defending Audis.

It proved though to be an unequal struggle and in the closing stages the 1/2 for Porsche was confirmed.

LMP 2 saw a dominant performance by KCMG, the Hong Kong based team running away at the front from the start courtesy of a very quick No.47 Oreca 05 Nissan with 2015 overall Le Mans winner Nick Tandy pulling away from the chasing Sam Bird.

The hard fought advantage though disappeared as the car was balked at Tandy’s final stop, the KCMG team needing to push the car back to the fuel rig for service.

Matt Howson though fought back to the lead and then Richard Bradley pulled out a huge advantage for Tandy to defend to the flag. The G Drive Ligiers completed the podium with the SARD Morand Morgan coming home 4th after spending part of the meeting impounded after the team failed to pay an early season catering bill.

In the race though the car went well with regular drivers Oliver Webb and Pierre Ragues joined by young Brit Archie Hamilton.

The GT classes saw trouble for the championship leading No.51 Ferrari, The car stopping in the first hour with electrical problems then suffering a further delay before the AF Corse found a solution.

The pro race ended with another Porsche 1/2, but only after a controversial incident that saw the second No.71 Ferrari suffer damage after substantial contact from the No.92 Porsche as the race went Full course yellow.

The Am class saw another Le Mans winner take the honours, the Russian flagged SMP Racing Ferrari consolidating its points lead in the championship.

The Nurburgring race saw a pair of overall Le Mans winners from this years race competing and, oddly neither of them were racing an LMP1 car as Nick Tandy raced to the win in LMP2, and Earl Bamber joined Abu Dhabi Proton in their Porsche, a move which brought a unique moment during the German race with Porsche factory drivers leading the race in every class.

The WEC moves into its flyaway staged now with the next race later this month at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas.

That race meeting sees the World Championship on the same bill as the US-based Tudor United Sportscar Championship, both races taking place on a Saturday with the American race in the morning and the WEC racing into darkness.

There was more good news for the future of the WEC at the Nurburgring as more details emerged of further commitment to the championship from the existing LMP 1 teams.

All three currently active factory teams look set to bring entirely new cars to the track next season with Porsche confirming commitment through to 2018, Toyota confirming their new car, with a new twin turbo V6 and battery based ERS system and commitment to 2017 ” at a minimum” and Audi, though more diplomatic in stating length of commitment, also confirming a new car, Long rumoured to also adopt a battery ERS system, with paddock sources suggesting they too will be in the WEC until 2018 at the least.

In LMP2 were waiting to see any details of the new cars proposed from Dallara and Riley/ Multimatic. The American car allegedly already has multiple buyers and whilst some sources have suggested that the Italian concern has struggled to come up with a convincing commercial case for their entry into the LMP2 chassis market, Industry insiders have suggested that the effort is well on track.

Next up in the preparation for the new LMP2 scene in 2017 is the announcement, due imminently, of the supplier selected for the standard engine which will power all cars in the WEC, and most, it is planned, in the future ELMS

In the GT ranks the manufacturers are rushing to prepare their 2016 machinery for a mandatory test session at Michelin’s Ladoux test facility in France later this month.

That test will include not only the brand-new Ford GT but also the new Ferrari 488, and revised cars from Porsche, Aston Martin, and Corvette, together with, If plans come together, the USA only BMW M6 GTLM, this an upgraded version of BMW’s forthcoming M6 GT3.

Written by Graham Goodwin