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FIA WEC

Seeing through the Spray in Shanghai

Seeing through the spray at the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai

The 2018 leg of the FIA World Endurance Championship 2018/19 ‘Super Season’ is now over. There are three races left and a whole lot still to play for. The weekend in Shanghai certainly had a different feel to it, with far more positivity across the four classes than we’ve seen all season. The racing was good; albeit in tough conditions, and has left us with plenty to look forward to when the season resumes next March at Sebring.

More poor weather
Once again the FIA WEC had to battle through poor weather conditions in China. Heavy rain and low visibility were the order of the day for the race and that prevented the race from running for the entire six hours. However, the race officials once again excelled themselves in making smart, prompt decisions to keep the race going as long as possible.

FIA WEC
The red flags had to make two appearances in the race, which even started under safety car conditions. But the second half of the race ran smoothly, and actually, produced some memorable action as the weather improved. The only real issue the organisers were left to tackle was the fading light at the end of the race, which saw rain and darkness produce an alarming finish to the race for many of the drivers mid-pack who struggled to fight through the spray.

GTE Pro producing the goods
The best racing was found in the GTE Pro class, once again, and it’s clear that the class is becoming closer between the five marques taking on the full season. Not only was the racing door-to-door, but it produced a historic result too, with Aston Martin Racing’s new Vantage AMR scoring its first ever win. Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen in the No.95 were the victors and were masterful in the tricky conditions, aided by strategy calls from the team. Thiim, in particular, had an impressive run in the second half of the race, storming through the field from fourth in the fifth hour after the safety car for the ByKolles CLM catching fire on the pit straight to take control of the race, before Sorensen kept his cool at the end.

FIA WECBehind the Aston, Richard Lietz steered the No.91 Porsche to second in the class after getting past Tom Blomqvist’s No.82 BMW (which faded away), Davide Rigon’s No.71 Ferrari and Alex Lynn’s No.97 Aston Martin (which fell to fourth) during his stint. The championship-leading No.92 Porsche meanwhile, finished up third, pushing the No.97 to fourth at the very end, when Michael Christensen muscled his way past Maxime Martin in the dash to the flag after the final safety car period.

The key here is that Aston Martin is now very much in the fight. BMW has work to do. Its car is quick in the right conditions, but struggles when things get changeable. While AMR would need a remarkable run through Sebring, Spa and Le Mans next year to get in the title hunt, the British team building up to a title challenge in 2019/20 will be the priority.

It must be mentioned that Corvette ran in China, making its first FIA WEC appearance (Le Mans aside) since CoTA 2014. While Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner enjoyed the challenge of taking on the FIA WEC’s Pro field, on unfamiliar ground, it wasn’t easy. Despite making bold strategy calls during the race in an attempt to gain any sort of advantage, they failed to feature and finished eighth. Neither driver could extract enough pace out of the C7.R to keep up in the mixed conditions.

LMP1 getting closer
LMP1 is tightening up, with Equivalence of Technology changes before the race helping keep the privateers within arm’s length for the first time. The race itself, unfortunately, didn’t give us a true flavour of what’s to come, because Toyota won comfortably again, in part because the race didn’t run for the full six hours, and the weather was poor.

FIA WECHowever, in qualifying, it was tight. The pole-winning car this time was the No.7 Toyota TS050 HYBRID, which went on to win, after Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi combined to set a pole-winning 1:42.931. Between the fastest Toyota and privateer, though, it was as tight as it’s been this season. The No.1 Rebellion R-13 came closest, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna taking third with a 1:42.218s, which put them just over two tenths off pole, and less than a tenth off the No.8 Toyota which ended up second on the grid with a 1:43.159s. The headline time from the duo came from Lotterer, whose last-ditch attempt to take pole saw him reel off a 1:42.869s, which proved to be the second-fastest single lap time of the session. Could we see a privateer take pole of the season, and really challenge for a win? It’s beginning to look that way!

GTE Am turned on its head
GTE Am has seen major change over the past two weeks. The once dominant No.88 Dempsey Proton Porsche has had all of its points stripped after an investigation into data tampering, meaning it’s now a wide-open title race now. Team Project 1 has taken over at the top of the classification now; an impressive feat in its first year, but there are only 20 points between the German outfit and its nearest challenger, the No.98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage. With Sebring and Le Mans worth more than standard points, one slip up could see the points tally have a very different look by the end of the season.

FIA WECAnd that’s exactly what we want, both GTE classes producing close racing and thrilling title battles.
See you in Sebring!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar.com 

FIA WEC

Looking ahead to Fuji

Looking ahead to the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Fuji

The FIA World Endurance Championship “Super-Season” continues this weekend in Japan, with the first non-European flyaway of the year. The race at Fuji Speedway is one of, if not THE, most popular rounds of the season among traveling fans, media and the teams. It is a stunning country, with a lot of character, and a motorsport history and culture many nations aspire to. Fuji Speedway itself is a real test; it’s a circuit with a near-endless pit straight, as well as a mixture of medium and slow speed corners. When rain doesn’t intervene, (we’ll get to that later), it provides thrilling racing. We hope that tradition continues this weekend, as the FIA WEC heads to the sleepy town of Gotemba for the seventh year in a row.

Will the Equivalence of Technology changes give us a race in LMP1?
While the points standings tell a different story, the on-track action in the LMP1 class this year has failed to live up to the extremely high bar set over the past four or so years. Toyota, being the powerhouse it is, has dominated, in every facet, and only really faces a threat from the No.3 Rebellion R-One in the points standings because both its TS050 HYBRIDs were disqualified from the race at Silverstone after finishing first & second.FIA WECIn order to combat that, the ACO and FIA has opted to change the Equivalence of Technology in the class (with the approval from Toyota), to try and give the privateer field a bit more of a chance. Whether or not the difference will be significant though, is still very much up for debate. For this weekend’s race, the Toyotas will run with more ballast, putting weight in the cars the only real way to make a key difference in the disparity on the pace-front over the course of the race. In addition to that, the privateer’s artificial restriction on stint length (lap cap), which was quietly dropped at Silverstone has now been officially thrown out. Before, the non-hybrids were forced to pit more often and for longer than their hybrid counterparts; it was a decision which was originally made to help along the image of the Toyotas being more efficient. Understandably, there was a lot of feedback, and after three dominant showings from Toyota, clearly a change was needed.

Any time a private outfit takes on the resources of a huge corporation like Toyota, it is never going to be a fair fight. Few were under the illusion that the privateer prototypes, of which all but one were brand new at the start of the season, would be able to go toe-to-toe with the impressive, and proven TS050. But a sniff of competition is still needed to keep it at the very least interesting. We will see this weekend if Rebellion can continue to mount a title challenge and beat Toyota without post-race penalties. It will be tough, especially as Toyota has won at Fuji five out of six years. But, if they can, then the rest of the ‘Super Season’ will look far more interesting!

Will this be BMW’s big weekend?
It’s fair to say that so far this season, BMW has had a quiet showing with its new M8 GTE in the FIA WEC competition. The German marque, which has secured strong finishes with its parallel IMSA programme, but in the WEC there’s been little to shout about. A bit of a factor is of course the Balance of Performance that governs the class. This year, the second for the new automated system, it has not quite provided us with the parity seen in 2017. But, with new machinery, comes new challenges, and it appears that the FIA and ACO’s system is going to attempt to rectify that. BMW will benefit from a lighter car, and an increase in boost pressure. The MTEK-run Bavarian crew will hope that this is enough to see them earn a podium for the first time in the WEC.FIA WECElsewhere in GTE Pro, Aston Martin is looking for a similar change in form, though it heads to Japan with no change to its Vantage AMR’s Balance of Performance. That may seem strange, when you consider that like BMW, Aston’s new toy has yet to earn any silverware, but let’s not forget that at Silverstone, early in the race, the signs were there that the car can compete in its current state. If the change isn’t enough, then Ford, Porsche and Ferrari will again be the contenders here, with their proven machinery, that already has experience of Fuji under their belts.

WIll Alpine’s Le Mans news push them towards a big finish in Fuji?
The biggest LMP2 story since Silverstone has been the Le Mans results being confirmed. Alpine now officially has won the LMP2 class after G-Drive Racing/TDS Racing’s failed appeal. Thoughts and feelings about the process and length of time the FIA Court of Appeal’s decision took to be made aside, this is a huge bit of news. This means that the French team has two LMP2 wins at Le Mans in three years to its name, and heads to Fuji with the championship lead.FIA WECAt Silverstone, Jackie Chan DC Racing rediscovered its 2017 form and scored a memorable 1-2, but don’t expect things to come so easy this time round. There will be plenty to play for here, especially with the weather set to be a factor again. Watch out for Racing Team Nederland’s Dallara here, if there is lots of Full Course Yellows and safety cars and the team can burn Frits Van Eerd’s driving time early, then the combination of Guido van der Garde, Nick De Vries and Michelin tyres on the Dallara could be a lethal one, and spring a surprise.

Rain, rain, go away
Due to the time of year the 6 Hours of Fuji is held each season, weather is always a talking point before the weekend, and often proves to be a factor. Last year heavy rain meant much of the race was spent under Safety Car conditions or a red flag, which was a real shame, especially when considering that in the past we had a race that only lasted 16 laps because of the conditions track-side deteriorating so much, so fast.FIA WECThe forecast as it stands doesn’t look good, but it can change quickly. Some members of the paddock will welcome light rain to spice things up, but many will spend the whole meeting praying that it stays completely dry, as Japan is a long way to go to sit under an umbrella.

Can anyone stop Proton?
A win at Le Mans, and at Silverstone has given Christian Ried, Julien Andlauer and Matt Campbell a comfortable lead in GTE Am. The trio, who pilot the No.77 Proton Porsche 911 RSR now hold a 33-point advantage over Clearwater Racing’s crew of Keita Sawa, Matt Griffin and Weng Sun Mok. Project 1 Racing are third, a quiet but encouraging run through the opening races of the season leaves Egidio Perfetti, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey in 35 points back, with a chance to vault themselves into the title race at the halfway point of the season.

Like LMP2, the points are the same in the Drivers and Teams standings. GTE Am’s Balance of Performance changes aren’t as extensive as Pro, with just small weight changes made to the Porsches and Aston Martin Vantage GTEs. The two cars are now due to race with an extra 10 and 5kg respectively. It will be interesting to see how the Ferrari teams benefit, especially an outfit like Clearwater, which should shine at Fuji. Weng Sun Mok has a ton of experience racing there over the years, and Keita Sawa is an instructor at the circuit.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

The FIA World Endurance Championship continues in the 2019 at Sebring, followed by Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans. Travel Destinations will be at all these events and you can join us too. Click on the event name above to learn more.

WEC

How it stands in the FIA WEC

The state of the FIA WEC “Super Season” after three rounds

The 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ has been a strange one so far. With a strong grid littered with world-class talent, a good number of entrants in each class and close title races in three categories, it has not been without intrigue in the European races to open the season. There are plenty of talking points up and down the order, as the series looks ahead to the flyaway rounds at Fuji and Shanghai to round off the calendar year.

Toyota dominant, but not in the points standings
Up to this point, Toyota Gazoo Racing, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been far and away the best team in the LMP1 class. With years of running under its belt, and a tried and tested year-old TS050 HYBRID at its disposal, the Japanese marque’s quality has really shown this year against privateer opposition. As many would have predicted, it has been a David v Goliath-type affair. But the Equivalence of Technology debate has raged on from the Paul Ricard Prologue, all the way through to the week after Silverstone, as artificial regulations have left Toyota with the upper hand in both performance terms, and in the sporting regulations. Until Silverstone, the privateers were forced to pit earlier than Toyota in each stint, and spend longer refueling, meaning even if they were on pace with the TS050s, they would still lose precious seconds at multiple points during the race.

FIA WECSo to put it lightly, it has been a rough ride for the privateers. Rebellion’s R-13s have been reliable, and quick, but not enough to challenge, SMP Racing’s BR1s have proven to be fragile, ByKolles’ CLM despite an up-curve in performance is still way off, DragonSpeed’s season has been marred by big incidents at Spa and Le Mans thus far, and CEFC TRSM (due to financial difficulties) has only taken part in one race.

The cars themselves, in isolation, are solid, and with such a high standard of drivers behind the wheel, they are impressive when you consider just how quick the class went from a single entrant to eight; all it took was collective ambition from multiple parties, and just one off-season. Make no mistake, these are the most sophisticated and head-turning bits of LMP1 Privateer machinery in FIA WEC history, but they are no match for the factory cars; at least not yet!

Despite all that though, the title race is extremely tight at the top, after Toyota lost its Silverstone 1-2 after its cars were disqualified for failing post-race technical checks.  That outcome meant that the No. 3 Rebellion R-13 of Gustavo Menezes, Mathias Beche and Thomas Laurent inherited the win and have closed the gap to just two points. Despite its rather disappointing circumstances – no podium celebration for the team to experience – it is still a significant milestone for the championship. The win is not just the first privateer overall win in FIA WEC history, but the first non-hybrid win since 2012. And in terms of drivers, Menezes became the first American to win a FIA WEC race outright, and amazingly, the first American to win the Tourist Trophy – the oldest prize in motorsport.

The question now is, will the title race still be close when the series heads to Sebring next year? It is all down to regulations, as if it continues as it is now Toyota will still stroll to the title. But if the ACO can find a way to balance the hybrid and non-hybrid cars to the point where the privateers, whose cars are less efficient and slower through traffic without hybrid boost have a legitimate shot of winning, then fans will flock to races.

Porsche on top in GTE Pro
No LMP1 programme? No problem for Porsche, who are creating a fine set of headlines in the GTE ranks this year, after a popular GTE Pro win at Le Mans, and a consistent run from its No.92 911 RSR at Spa and Silverstone. Atop the drivers’ standings, are Le Mans winners Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, who have accumulated 71 points. Their lead is relatively comfortable, as the gap back to Ford’s Silverstone winners Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke is now 14 points. Despite not taking part in Silverstone, Billy Johnson, Pla and Mucke’s teammate for Spa and Le Mans, is third with 48 points, while Silverstone victors Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado are fourth on 43.5. While the gap to the leaders for BMW and Astons best placed drivers may seen cavernous, it must be remembered that there are still five races to go, one of them being the second Le Mans of the season, which hands out 1.5x the standard points.

WECIn the GTE manufacturers race, it’s Porsche leading with 177 points, over Ford with 77. Ferrari is third with 71. But the big talking point here, hasn’t been the spectacular racing, instead it’s the ever-present elephant in the GT racing room: Balance of Performance. The current automated process, is, categorically better than the previous methodology used by the series organisers to create parity, but it is not perfect. This is evident in the results achieved by BMW and Aston Martin. BMW’s new M8 GTE, which has now won a race in IMSA as part of Team RLL’s parallel programme, has struggled for pace, particularly in the races, where it has at times been wildly off. Aston Martin meanwhile, struggled at Spa and Le Mans in a similar fashion, but at Silverstone, with a pre-event BoP change looked stronger. Nevertheless, during the race in the UK, both marques faded away, while Ford, Ferrari and Porsche scrapped for the podium positions. What we don’t have, is one brand running away with it constantly, but work is required to ensure that the racing is a little closer, and produces races similar to last season, which turned out to be memorable.

Alpine vs Jackie Chan DC Racing in LMP2
With three races down, three contenders have emerged in the LMP2 class; Signatech’s Alpine, and the pair of Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECAs. Alpine’s win at Le Mans after G-Drive’s post-race disqualification has left the French team in the driving seat to take the title. But Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet don’t have a comfortable lead, as a 1-2 finish by Jackie Chan DC Racing at Silverstone has put the No.38 ORECA of Gabriel Aubrey, Ho-Pin Tung and Stephane Richelmi in with a real chance.

WECHere’s hoping that the LMP2 title fight turns out to be as enthralling as last year, when after Le Mans, Rebellion Racing and Jackie Chan DC Racing’s top ORECAs slogged it out for the title towards the end of the season.

Proton pulls away in Am
In GTE Am, it is a different story. In the class, which has arguably provided the most entertaining racing this season so far, Proton Competition is running away with the title. A win at Le Mans, and at Silverstone has given Christian Ried, Julien Andlauer and Matt Campbell and comfortable 33-point lead in the class. The trio, who pilot the No.77 Proton Porsche 911 RSR will hope to continue to finish ahead of their rivals at Clearwater Racing; Keita Sawa, Matt Griffin and Weng Sun Mok.

WECProject 1 Racing are third, after a quiet, but encouraging run through the opening races of the season leaving Egidio Perfetti, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey 35 points back. The German team, which is new to the FIA WEC, almost won at Silverstone, and certainly looks as well-oiled of a team as is required to string podium finishes together before the end of the season.

Travel Destinations can help you enjoy some of the FIA WEC races track-side during this “Super Season”. As well as Le Mans 2019, Travel Destinations also have exclusive offers for the rounds at Sebring and Spa-Francorchamps.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Spa 24 Hours

70th anniversary for Spa 24 Hours

This weekend is set to see a landmark for GT racing, with the 70th running of the 24 Hours of Spa. A grid of over 60 GT3 cars, from 13 marques, with plucky privateer teams, factory-backed efforts aplenty, and a Pro class that has the potential to provide those trackside and at home with a thrilling Spa 24 Hours.

Our man in the stands looks forward to four of the things he is most looking forward to seeing during the 2018 Spa 24 Hours.

Endurance Cup title battles
The Blancpain GT Series and Intercontinental GT Challenge has created a plethora of title races across the board, with so many trophies available for teams to gun for now. But, at its core, the Spa 24 Hours is a round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup, and for the majority of European GT3 teams, winning the Endurance Cup titles for Drivers and Teams is the crown jewel they most want.

As it stands, at the head of the field in the teams title is Emil Frey, and it has been a remarkable story so far for the Swiss team and its new Lexus programme. After years of running its Jaguar GT3s (which it is still running this year, but in the Silver Cup), it is now racing with a pair of Lexus RCF GT3s, which already have proven to bring far more to the table than just variety. Emil Frey won last time out at Paul Ricard, and will look to continue that form heading into this weekend’s race. That won’t be easy though, as with it being so tight at the top, it is often a lottery at Spa. Strength in numbers can be a deciding factor between a manufacturer winning or struggling to get a car inside the top twenty. It is close though, as ex-FIA WEC team Strakka Racing (Mercedes) and Team Parker Racing (Bentley) are within 10 points.

Spa 24 Hours
In the Drivers standings meanwhile, it’s WRT’s trio of Alex Riberas, Chris Mies and Dries Vanthoor leading the way, by just two points over Emil Frey’s trio of Marco Seefried, Albert Costa and Christian Klien. The WRT crew’s win at Monza has proven to be the deciding factor here, but with three sets of points on offer during the 24 (at hours 6, 12 and 24), it’s an incredibly important event for the teams, and strategy will be at play to ensure that cars are high up the order at various points during the race to score points. And, if it all falls into place, the conclusion of the Spa 24 will not only provide fans with an incredible finish, but will also see a set of title races that will go down to the wire at the season finale in Barcelona.

The stacked Pro field
The race’s organizing body, SRO, has intentionally capped this year’s Pro class in the Spa 24 Hours, to ensure that the private teams are able to make up the majority of the field. But that is unlikely to detract from the race for overall honours, as instead, it’s forced the factory teams and high-end privateer efforts to concentrate on fewer cars, and stack them with talent. This year’s 30-car entry in Pro for the Spa 24 Hours is stunning, an all-star cast, with no real weak links. And with efforts from Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lexus, McLaren, Mercedes, Nissan and Porsche, there’s no real favourite either.

Spa 24 Hours
There’s plenty of new machinery in amongst the class too.  Bentley brings its new Continental GT3 to Spa for the first time, a car which looks and sounds stunning. Whether or not it is ready for a big win this early in its life though, remains to be seen. As mentioned above, Lexus too, brings spice to the party, with the RCF GT3, which may not be a brand-new car (in fact, it’s been in development for years and raced with customers in 2017), it is new to Blancpain and despite being ahead in the points standings, Emil Frey is still a dark horse here with real potential. The final new beast, is from Nissan, it’s 2018-spec GT-R GT3 a fundamentally different car to the previous model, with the engine placed lower and further back in the chassis, and radically different aero at each corner of the car. The results haven’t shown yet, but with RJN running the new car, and Balance of Performance a factor, there is no reason a signature result can’t be achieved here. Add in existing cars from the other brands, and you’ve got an unmissable battle at the head of the field.

Honda’s return
Outside of the Pro class, the entry which will likely receive the most attention at the Spa 24 Hours is the Castrol Honda Racing NSX GT3. 18 years on from its last Spa 24 Hours appearance, Honda is back with this effort at Spa, which will be run by JAS Motorsport. This weekend’s race is both the NSX GT3’s Blancpain GT and European 24-hour race debut, as part of a push from the brand’s customer programme.

The car will compete in the Pro-Am class, with Bertrand Baguette and Esteban Guerrieri, ex-F1 driver Riccardo Patrese and Loic Depailler. This will be a very interesting entry to follow, and surely a fan favourite with its Castrol-livery. And the NSX GT3 has a real chance to have a clean run to the finish, as badged as an Acura in the USA, it’s had some notable results already with Michael Shank Racing. But, in this environment, and with a relatively inexperienced driver crew, whether or not it will be a contender in its first appearance, remains to be seen…

Spa 24 Hours
Star drivers
This year’s Spa 24 Hours field, as well as featuring a vast selection of machinery, is one of the most incredible list of GT drivers ever assembled. And in among those are some real stars, that aren’t necessarily known for GT3 racing. As mentioned before, Riccardo Patrese is part of the entry, an F1 race-winner. Another F1 race-winner meanwhile, is Rubens Barichello, a man who had a similar career to Patrese, just decades later. Barichello will race with Strakka Racing, for the team’s second attempt at trying to win at Spa, and after competing at Le Mans last year, he is clearly inspired to carve out a small post-F1 career in sportscars.

Spa 24 Hours
Outside of that, Attempto Racing will race with DTM ace Jamie Green, back for his second Spa 24 Hours, again competing in an Audi, to match his touring car commitments. Former Le Mans winners and LMP1 stars Marcel Fassler, Marc Lieb and Timo Bernhard will also be present, racing for WRT, Manthey Racing and Team75 Bernhard respectively, so it’s safe to say they all have a real chance at an overall podium or win.

And finally, slightly out of left field, Top Gear presenter Chris Harris is also back again, this time with Garage 59 in the Am class driving a 650S GT3. Thus far it’s been a hugely successful season for Harris, who with his teammates leads the class standings after winning two races this year. It is safe to say he’ll be more motivated than ever at this years Spa 24 Hours.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by 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

 

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

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

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.

Porsche at Bahrain

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Bahrain

Our man in the stands has just returned from Bahrain, following the last round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Below are a selection of his thoughts following what was a memorable and emotional race.

Audi bows out in style
Audi could not win a title in its final season of LMP1 racing, but they did manage to win one final race. In true Audi fashion, the No.8 R18 of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas Di Grassi and Loic Duval dominated the 6 Hours of Bahrain, headlining an Audi 1-2, giving the team one final hurrah before its 18-year Le Mans prototype programme came to an end. It was an incredibly emotional weekend all round for all those connected to Audi, with tributes to the team aplenty throughout the meeting courtesy of both the race organisers in the FIA and many of its competitors. Toyota in particular were as classy as ever, sporting tributes to Audi on the nose of their TS050s, and getting its team to hold a banner which read “Thank you Audi. We will meet again, some time, some where.” on the final grid walk of the season. The WEC came together as one, and in the fairest way possible, gave Audi a worthy send off.

Audi Sport

Then, once the race got underway, both the R18s raced off into the distance and were unchallenged past the first hour of the race. All season long the the 2016 R18 has proven to be the quickest of the three hybrid LMP1 chassis, but also the most unreliable. In Bahrain though, that was not the case, as the pair of Audis ran faultlessly for the duration, finishing the race over a minute ahead of the No.1 Porsche. The result left everyone wondering what could have been, had Team Joest been able to replicate such dominant performances earlier In the year.

Alonso states his intentions
It appears that Audi’s sudden departure has done little to effect the attractiveness of the FIA WEC to world-class drivers, as two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso all but confirmed his intention to drive for Porsche at the end-of-season FIA WEC Awards Ceremony. In a tribute video to mark the end of Mark Webber’s driving career, a personal message from Alonso was shown on the video boards at the gala, in which Alonso said: “You’ve had a fantastic career and now all your success with Porsche. You didn’t wait for me there, it would have been nice but you’ll still be around and I will ask you many things when I join your adventure.” Fernando Alonso joining the party would give the FIA WEC a huge boost at a time when it’s in dire need of a good news story. He would bring not only talent, but a wealth of publicity to the championship, which could go a long way in attracting further manufacturers into the LMP1 H class.

Aston Martin almost completes the triple
While Aston Martin Racing left Bahrain with a pair of GTE Pro championships, the team at one point looked to have all three sewn up. At the halfway point of the race, Aston’s pair of Vantages were running 1-2 at the head of the field, until a wheel came off the No.97, forcing Darren Turner to pit the car for repairs. The result was AF Corse taking the Manufacturers World Cup for Ferrari with a second and fourth place finish.

Aston Martin Racing

Nevertheless, it was a great result for the British marque, which after five years of trying, now has championship wins to show for its efforts. GTE Pro this season was a strange one, with Balance of Performance rows aplenty and on-track battles frankly too few and far between. But Aston Martin Racing proved that you don’t need a turbo-powered car to win in GTE, and that a budget like that of Ford’s doesn’t necessarily ensure you are any more competitive than the next team. Ultimately, that’s exactly the philosophy that the FIA and ACO are trying to achieve.

Regulation freezes
Audi’s withdrawal from the sport has already started to send shockwaves across the sports car racing world. The first notable one coming last weekend when the ACO announced that the current LMP1 H regulations will be frozen until 2020. That ensures that costs are kept down due to development and testing restrictions, put in place, presumably to keep Toyota and Porsche coming back for more. It also means that running a third energy recovery system with a 10 megajoule package is now not on the horizon. Will it attract any new manufacturers? That appears unlikely unless there is a real cost-capping system in place. Never say never though.

The unlikely champions
When all was said and done on Saturday night, Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani were crowned champions, despite failing to finish on the podium in the six races after Le Mans. The trio in the No. 2 Porsche scored consistently throughout the year following their triumphs at Le Mans and Silverstone, but never found the combination of pace and luck needed to claim more silverware from the series’ trip to Germany onward.

Porsche

Nevertheless Porsche are worthy champions, and their championship represents the spirit endurance in almost every way. The No. 2 car battled issues, incidents and rotten luck to finish every race with points, and cruised home to take the title at Bahrain sixth after an early puncture put them three laps down. What will be interesting though, is what the future holds for all the Porsche drivers, as there have been rumours swirling about that the Porsche lineup will feature some new names for the 2017 FIA WEC season.

FIA World Endurance Championship Calendar 2017

6 Hours of Silverstone, U.K. 16th April 2017 (Click here for ticket offers)
6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 6th May 2017 (Click here for travel & ticket offers)
24 Hours of Le Mans, France, 17th & 18th June 2017 (Click here for travel & ticket offers)
6 Hours of Nurburgring, Germany, 16th July 2017 (Click here for travel & ticket offers)
6 Hours of Mexico City, Mexico, 3rd September 2017
6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas, U.S.A. 16th September 2017
6 Hours of Fuji, Japan, 15th October 2017
6 Hours of Shanghai, 5th November 2017
6 Hours of Bahrain, Bahrain, 18 th November 2017

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

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

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

FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nurburgring

Home win for Porsche

Porsche claimed a 1–2 victory ahead of fellow German rivals Audi in the 4th round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) held at the famous Nurburgring this weekend. A large crowd of more than 62,000 race fans across the weekend witnessed the No. 17 Porsche driven by Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley take the win ahead of their sister car and the No. 7 Audi.

Start of the FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nurburgring

The Nurburgring’s 3 mile F1 circuit is relatively short and twisty compared to Le Mans, where these cars last went head to head, so traffic management was as much a key as straight line speed for all the prototype teams. At the start of the race the pole position Porsche (no. 18) with Neel Jani at the wheel took advantage of clean air to quickly build a 20 second lead at the front. The No. 17 Porsche pitted early with nose cone damage, that dropped them down the order, but they were quick to regain ground with Audi unable to capitalise.

Problems began for the leader on the 54th lap. A problem with an engine sensor caused the car to consume more fuel than officially allowed, so they were penalised with a series of stop and go penalties until the problem was sorted. Clearly it was not an easy problem to fix as 3 increasingly long penalties were awarded by race control, dropping the No. 18 Porsche down the field.

If evidence were needed that Toyota were a long way of the pace, even after the penalties the No. 18 Porsche rejoined in 4th place, behind the Audis and still ahead of the Toyotas. The battle was then on in the remaining hours for second place, with the two Audis being reeled in by the charging Porsche. Eventually the Audi’s could not defend their positions and with 45 minutes left on the clock Porsche regained their 1-2 al be it with the No. 17 car in the lead. This was how it finished with Porsche celebrating from the top 2 steps of the podium in front of their home crowd.

KCMGat the FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nurburging

The LMP2 was dominated by the KCMG Oreca of Nick Tandy, Matt Howson and Richard Bradley. The started the race from pole and maintained that position throughout most of the race. A slow pit stop in the first half the race opened the door slightly for the 2 G-Drive Ligiers, but they couldn’t take advantage and eventually settled for second and third position in class.

GTE Pro field at the FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nurburgring

There were lots of smiling faces on the Porsche fans at the Nurburgring as the German manufacturer secured another 1-2 in the GTE Pro class. The No. 91 car driven by Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz, claimed the win ahead of their No. 92 sister car. The 2 Porsches benefited from electrical troubles suffered by the championship leading AF Corse Ferrari (No. 51), that ground to a halt within 15 minutes of the start of the race. Although the car was recovered to the pits and did rejoin they were always laps down from the leaders. The sister Ferrari (No.71) did keep the fight going and despite some bodywork damage and a puncture managed to hold on and climbed the third spot on the podium.

SMP Racing Ferrari

The No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari managed to build on their Le Mans win with another victory in the GTE Am class at the Nurburgring. They were pushed all the way by the No. 98 Aston Martin that eventually finished only 30 seconds behind in second place. These two cars traded the lead between them as they worked through their different race strategies but they were always ahead of the rest of the field. The No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari claimed third spot, narrowly edging out the No. 77 Dempsey Proton Porsche.

The FIA World Endurance Championship now moves away from Europe with the first stop being the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. That race will take place on the 19th September and we also expect the provisional 2016 calendar to be announced during the event.

Written by Richard Webb
Photography by Dailysportscar