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