Category Archives: Motorsports News

Porsche Reunites With Penske For Global LMDh Attack

Porsche has announced that it will reunite with legendary American outfit Team Penske for its forthcoming LMDh programme, which will see its new car compete in the FIA WEC and IMSA Sports Car Championship seasons full-time from 2023 onwards. By entering the FIA WEC as a full-season entrant Porsche is also guaranteed entries for the Le Mans 24 Hours, where it will be able to fight for its 20th overall victory.

For this ambitious programme, the first in Porsche history to span two major sportscar championships with a single operation, Penske will work together with the experts from Weissach to run the factory entries in both championships under the name of Porsche Penske Motorsport.

In both series Penske will field two LMDh prototypes, and compete against other major manufacturers and privateer teams. The car will weigh approximately 1,000 kilograms and be based on an LMP2 chassis (which Travel Destinations believes will be the Multimatic chassis that is the base for the Mazda DPi), powered by a 500 kW (680 PS) hybrid drivetrain.

This is a multi-year deal and sees the two entities reunite for the first time since the Porsche RS Spyder American Le Mans Series programme came to an end in 2008. The prototypes will also be entered by Porsche customer teams in both championships as early as 2023.

“We are delighted that we were able to get Team Penske to form this partnership,” says Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG. “For the first time in the history of Porsche Motorsport, our company will have a global team competing in the world’s two largest endurance series. To this end, we will be setting up team bases on both sides of the Atlantic. This will enable us to create the optimal structures we will need to take overall victories at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring, for example.”

“As of 2023, Porsche will compete in the major endurance racing series. Our intention is to support and shape the new era with our LMDh prototypes,” Dr. Michael Steiner, Board Member for Research and Development, emphasizes.

“Not only will we be keeping our fingers crossed for the four factory cars we have in total, but also for our customer teams. The new LMDh vehicle will also be entered as a customer car in both series as early as the 2023 season. These partner teams will be given our full support. Whatever insights we gain from our factory effort will also be shared with them.”

“This is a proud day for our entire Penske organization. We have represented Porsche on the track or in our businesses for more than six decades. The heritage and success we have enjoyed together is unparalleled throughout our history,” adds Roger Penske. “I can’t wait to get started as we build a global racing program with Porsche that will compete for wins and championships well into the future.”

Porsche Motorsport will be operating a team base in the USA together with Team Penske at the American team’s headquarters in Mooresville in the State of North Carolina.

Penske has been no stranger to top-class sportscar racing in recent years. This news comes in the wake of Acura ending its relationship with the US team for its DPi programme in IMSA at the end of the 2020 season.

Penske ran Acura’s DPi effort in the USA between 2018-20 with an exclusive deal that prevented customer teams from running the chassis. During that time Penske won multiple races and the drivers’, teams’ and manufacturers’ titles in 2019 and 2020.

This season Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing have taken over from Penske and are currently campaigning an ARX-05 apiece in IMSA. Both teams will surely hope to compete against Penske again from 2023 onwards as part of Acura’s forthcoming LMDh programme in IMSA.

Porsche meanwhile, has focused on its GT racing efforts globally since withdrawing from LMP1 competition at the end of 2017. Its 2023 LMDh effort will mark the return of the fabled German marque to the top of sportscar racing after a six-year hiatus.

Stephen Kilbey

Images: Porsche, IMSA

WEC 6H Spa Debrief: Hypercar Is Here

The 2021 FIA WEC season has begun and Toyota took the spoils on the debut of its GR010 HYBRID Le Mans Hypercar, narrowly beating out Alpine with its grandfathered LMP1 machine.

Beyond the race, there were plenty of other pressing topics up for discussion in the paddock during the week, giving it that classic ‘first day back at school’ feel we don’t usually get in the FIA WEC’s trips to Belgium. Traditionally the dress rehearsal for the Le Mans 24 Hours, it was both strange and refreshing to know that we still have plenty more WEC action to come before the 24 Hours in August.

The start of a new season is always an exciting time, with so much to take in. Here’s what you need to know after a sometimes controversial, but always interesting 6 Hours of Spa weekend:

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Hypercar makes its debut

The Le Mans Hypercar era has finally arrived. After years of build-up, and plenty of twists and turns along the way in the formation of the new category, LMP1 is no more and LMH has taken over as the top class in ACO-sanctioned racing.

This process hasn’t been without politicking, and right up until the green flag being waved at the start of the race, there was still much debate. The main topic between key stakeholders on this occasion(unsurprisingly) concerned the performance levels of the LMH and LMP2 categories.

The principal issue is that Toyota feels that the LMP2 cars, even after being slowed by new regulations, are still too fast and able to match or even better the pace of the Hypercars on occasion. During the Prologue Test before the race weekend began, and during free practice, the LMP2s were indeed right there on pace. But the rule makers stood firm and made no further changes to the balancing of the classes before qualifying and the race in the face of pressure from the biggest team in the championship.

It proved to be the right decision. Come qualifying and the race, the Toyotas found the pace to lock out the front row. Many may have felt that that Toyota was playing games, sandbagging intentionally to make a case for a favourable change to the performance levels of other teams. Was it predictable that with the chips down, the Toyotas would find the pace? You can certainly make a convincing argument…

Kamui Kobayashi admitted that the team was surprised to find pace after setting his pole-winning lap. “We expected it to be tougher,” he said. We will never know exactly how surprised they were…

The difficulty here is working out which solution is best for the ACO. It was always the intention for the Le Mans Hypercars to be significantly slower than the LMP1 cars they replaced, to save costs, allow for road-car-based models to be competitive and make the developmental curve less of  barrier of entry for new manufacturers. Thus, LMP2 cars, following their major performance boost at the outset of the new regulations in 2017, were always going to have to be nerfed to accommodate for the slower top class cars.

 On the face of it, this may seem like a non-issue. Surely it would just save teams money? But the reality of the situation paints a rather different picture.

All the teams involved invested in LMP2 because of its performance level being as impressive at it was, and spent a lot more money on the current-gen chassis to achieve this. The cars were designed with the original level of performance in mind too. As an example, slowing them down makes it tougher to get heat into the new Goodyear tyres, which have also been designed to assist the slowdown of the cars.

The result is that the cars are now tougher to drive for gentlemen drivers, who lest we forget are the main source of funding for many of these teams. If you are going slower on the straights, it’s harder to negotiate traffic as more daring moves through corners are required, and with tyres that are tougher to switch on. This makes the job of a Bronze driver a lot tougher, and potentially more dangerous for anyone lacking experience. Keeping amateur drivers happy is paramount, especially in an economic climate like this.

There is also another very simple issue, and that is that nobody in racing wants to go slower, ever. This is therefore a tough tightrope to walk.

Thankfully once the race began and everything was set aside, the action on-track was entertaining, and saw Toyota forced to work for a victory against Alpine. Let’s hope this only continues once Glickenhaus joins the championship next time out at Algarve.

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An expensive weekend

Spa wasn’t likely to be anyone’s first choice for a pre-season test just days before the season opener, but the decision was nevertheless taken to hold the WEC Prologue at the Belgian circuit this year after the Portimao race (originally scheduled to be the opener) was shifted to June.

As every keen motorsport fan knows, Spa is an unforgiving circuit, which rewards bravery and heavily punishes mistakes. The combination of new drivers, at new teams, in new cars, at Spa during the week resulted in some expensive incidents.

Notably three of the five brand new customer Porsche 911 RSR 19s, two LMP2 ORECAs and two Aston Martins had huge offs, which required major rebuilds. Project 1 even had its weekend ended prematurely after Egidio Perfetti’s shunt at Raidillon during qualifying.

Perhaps a return to Paul Ricard, with its huge run-offs, would be welcomed by the teams next season, despite it being considered a less-than-ideal circuit for testing and data collection?

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Alpine and BMW set to step up?

In better news, it appears that more manufacturers are primed to enter the top class ranks of sportscar racing when the LMDh formula debuts and races alongside Le Mans Hypercars.

Graham Goodwin reported on dailysportscar.com yesterday that Alpine and BMW are legitimate prospects now and are both evaluating top class programmes.

Currently Alpine is competing in Hypercar with a grandfathered Rebellion R-13 LMP1 rebadged as an A480. And it’s welcome news that it is actively considering a programme beyond this season, allowing it to take on rival French brand Peugeot and have a shot at winning the 100th Anniversary running of the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2023 on behalf of Renault.

BMW meanwhile is currently winding down its GTLM effort in IMSA with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Whether or not a top-class programme directly replaces this effort remains to be seen…

Beyond that Bentley, McLaren and a GM brand (likely Cadillac) are also close to making decisions about their future in sportscar racing. It really is remarkable to think that in just two years’ time the top classes of the FIA WEC and IMSA could be awash with major manufacturers all competing with new machinery.

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A word on Oliver Gavin

Before we look ahead to the next FIA WEC meeting at Portimao in June, it’s only right that we celebrate the career of Oliver Gavin, who made the 6 Hours of Spa the final race in his professional career as a driver.

Drivers like Oliver Gavin that spend almost their entire career with one team are rare, so they deserve recognition.

During his time spent with Corvette Racing, he racked up a huge list of accolades, including five Sebring 12 Hours class wins, five Le Mans 24 Hours class wins, five Petit Le Mans class wins, plus multiple GT championships in the American Le Mans Series and IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.

He is everything that Corvette Racing stands for, a key part of a wider family, that showed and was shown loyalty by those around him for two decades. Through multiple generations of Corvette Racing, he was there and winning races, and never showed any signs if slowing down.

He will be greatly missed by everyone who frequents sportscar racing paddocks around the world. In addition to his supreme talent behind the wheel, he was always incredibly approachable and treated everyone around him with respect. Whether you had known him for five minutes or five years, he would always give you his time, and was never be anything other than a true professional.

While it’s a shame that he couldn’t sign off a remarkable stint as a factory driver with a win, it was great to see that he was still able enjoy every moment of his final ride.

Best of luck in what follows, Oliver.

Stephen Kilbey

If you want to be trackside for the FIA WEC race at Spa in 2022 or at the Le Mans 24 Hours, call our office on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to find out more and make a booking.

Images: FIA WEC, Toyota/James Moy, Aston Martin, Corvette Racing

Audi LMDh Set for 2023 Rolex 24 Debut

Audi has revealed that its LMDh programme will make its competitive debut at the 2023 running of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, firing the starting gun for the group of marques all planning to compete in the top category of IMSA and the FIA WEC with brand new LMDh chassis.

The Rolex 24 in January 2023 will mark Audi’s first race as a factory in top-class competition since the end of the 2016 FIA WEC season at Bahrain when its LMP1 hybrid effort came to and end. Audi says its new LMDh (hybrid-powered, LMP2-based prototype featuring bespoke styling cues) will act as the successor to the hugely successful Audi R18 LMP1 which scored wins at Le Mans in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 as both a diesel and hybrid-powered prototype. It is being developed alongside Audi’s SUV that it will compete with in Dakar.

“The new LMDh category fits perfectly with our new set-up in motorsport,” says Julius Seebach, Managing Director Audi Sport GmbH and responsible for Motorsport at Audi. “The regulations allow us to field fascinating race cars in prestigious races worldwide. In addition, we are making use of synergies inside the Volkswagen Group with our partner strategy.”

Audi’s new car is being developed in partnership with sister VAG brand Porsche, which is also set to compete in LMDh. This is almost certainly a strategy which will cut the cost of VAG running two parallel programmes in the same formula. Costs spiralled out of control during the latter years of Audi and Porsche’s LMP1 Hybrid programmes (2014-2016) where both companies were both spending colossal amounts of money to compete against one another.

“A great strengh of the Volkswagen Group is the collaboration of the brands in the development of road cars,” says Seebach. “We are now transferring this proven model to motorsport. Nevertheless, the new sports prototype will be just as much a genuine Audi as the Audi RS e-tron GT that was launched recently and has also been developed on a platform shared with Porsche.”

Audi has selected a chassis supplier for its LMDh, which is rumoured to be the Multimatic LMP2 (the current Multimatic forms the base for Mazda’s DPi chassis), and decided on the concept for its engine.

Andreas Roos, the head of Audi factor motorsport said the “goal is for the first prototype to be on its wheels early next year and to complete its roll-out in the first quarter.” This will be followed by a full test programme ahead of the car’s race debut at Daytona in January 2023.

In addition Audi says it is working on supplying customer LMDh cars in addition to fielding factory entries, with multiple teams already displaying interest.

“With the LMDh project, we are continuing the philosophy of our early years in sports prototypes,” says Andreas Roos. “The Audi R8 was not only the most successful prototype of its time from 2000 to 2006, with 63 victories in 80 races, but it was also very successful in the hands of our customers and easy for the teams to handle. This is also the premise with the electrification of our new sports prototype.

“Our goal is to also put the car in the hands of professional customer teams right from the start, in parallel to factory entries. We are currently evaluating internally how this will work in detail.”

Audi is one of a number of manufacturers signed up to the ACO-IMSA convergence formula, which will see LMDh chassis and Le Mans Hypercars compete together for overall wins in the FIA WEC and at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Using the same cars, LMDh manufacturers are also able to compete in the USA as part of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship field. (No decision has been made yet on whether or not Hypercars will be eligible to race in IMSA.)

Currently, Porsche and Acura are set to compete in LMDh alongside Audi, with Ferrari, Peugeot, Toyota and Glickenhause all signed up to compete with Le Mans Hypercars. Travel Destinations understands via IMSA paddock sources that at least one more LMDh manufacturer is expected to sign up in the coming weeks and months.

Stephen Kilbey

If you want to see the LMDh cars in action, then you can register your interest to attend the 2023 Rolex 24 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours with Travel Destinations today. Call 01707 329 988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to find out more.

Image: Audi Sport

Super-Sebring

Super Sebring Set To Return In 2022!

The ‘Super Sebring’ IMSA-FIA WEC double-header event at Sebring International Raceway is set to return! The hugely popular double-bill which debuted in 2019 and featured the 12 Hours of Sebring and a 1000-mile FIA WEC race on the same weekend, was shelved last year due to the pandemic, but is now officially scheduled for next March (17-19).

Wayne Estes, Sebring International Raceway’s President and General Manager, confirmed the intention to run the bumper event in 2022 in a note to fans and stakeholders last weekend.

“Now that the 2021 edition of the Sebring 12 Hours is over, the cleanup is nearly complete, and car clubs are back on the circuit, the team that presents this great event is reviewing those things that must be addressed before the 70th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the return of the WEC 1000 Miles of Sebring and a return to a post-pandemic open paddock,” he said.

“We believe that the world will be restored a year from now, that fences and gates used to meet CDC protocols will be gone, that grid walks and party zones will be back.

“After the performance of the teams this year, a 70th anniversary to celebrate, WEC’s new Hypercars adding to the 1000 Miles race, we expect demand to be at an all-time high.

“As the world gets control of itself again and bids farewell to the current health crisis, we see a very bright future for sportscar racing and for Sebring International Raceway. The WEC is rolling out new Hypercars over the next two years, and IMSA’s LMDh cars are not far behind.”

2022’s Super Sebring is sure to be a huge event for sportscar racing, with celebrations surrounding the 70th anniversary of the 12 Hours and the return of the FIA WEC to the USA. In IMSA it will be the final race at Sebring for the DPi class and the first for GTD Pro, while in the FIA WEC all eyes will be on Peugeot Sport, which is set to debut its brand new Le Mans Hypercar at the start of the 2022 season and take the fight to Toyota, Glickenhaus and Alpine.

If you want to be on-hand to soak up the atmosphere and experience ‘Super Sebring’ first hand next year, then call Travel Destinations today on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to find out more information and make a booking.

Le Mans Classic Postponed To 2022

Historic racing event organiser Peter Auto, has announced that the 2021 edition of the Le Mans Classic in July has been postponed to 2022 and will now run from June 30th to July 3rd* next year.

The decision has been made in light of the current health guidelines in France which would prevent it from hosting the event with a large crowd and all its usual fan-facing activities. By pushing the event back a year Peter Auto hopes to put on a spectacular show in 2022.

It has also confirmed that it will hold the Le Mans Classic on two consecutive years for the first time as a result of this change, with a 2023 event now scheduled too. This allows Peter Auto to hold the Le Mans Classic on the centenary year for the Le Mans 24 Hours and add to the celebrations and festivities the ACO is planning for the 24 Hours proper in June 2023.

“The maximum figures of people imposed by the government do not allow us to maintain this event on the initial dates (July 1 to 4, 2021),” said Patrick Peter, head of Peter Auto. “Moreover, even though it had been considered, a Le Mans Classic without fans would not do justice to this event and would considerably reduce the beautiful tribute to the great history of endurance. A Le Mans Classic without the public, without exhibitors and without car clubs is not the Le Mans Classic.

“We will nevertheless meet again in August during the 24 Hours Le Mans race week, with the presence of Endurance Racing Legends cars as the support race. Enthusiasts will have two successive years of Le Mans Classic since we will do another edition in 2023 which will be an opportunity to reinforce the tribute to the centenary of creation of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.”

Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, added: “Organising Le Mans Classic behind closed doors would not make any sense. This event is made for the public, and the lack of visibility on the current situation generates this logical decision.

“This event loved by all enthusiasts will be held in 2022, before a return in 2023 for a centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans which promises to be exceptional.”

Anyone who has a booking with Travel Destinations for the 2021 Le Mans Classic will be contacted individually in due course by email and phone to discuss options. We would therefore request that you refrain from contacting us to ask about the status of your booking at this time.

The Travel Destinations team would like to thank you for your patience, loyalty and understanding and we look forward to seeing you all again soon.

*2022 dates currently provisional and subject to ratification. The event may be moved to the second weekend in July if the date of the Le Mans 24 Hours falls a week later than usual. Confirmation is expected in September.

F1 Season Preview: Can Anyone Catch Mercedes?

With Travel Destinations now selling Formula 1 Packages to fans, a periodical Formula 1 column will feature on the website from now on, packed with analysis of the world’s premier form of motorsport.

The first column looks ahead at the 2021 season after the pre-season Bahrain test, where Stephen Kilbey wonders if anyone is up to the colossal task of beating Mercedes, and Lewis Hamilton to the Formula 1 World Championship crown?

The big question on every Formula 1 fan’s mind this year is can anyone match up to the juggernaut that is Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes F1 team? Years of dominance have solidified Hamilton’s place among the greats, in the pantheon of F1 drivers, and with the start of the new regulation cycle pushed back to 2022, many are expecting more of the same this year, as all the teams on the grid are running evolutions of their 2021 chassis.

However, testing in Bahrain ahead of the season opener at the Sakhir circuit has sprung a few surprises, and led some within the paddock to believe that a shake up of the running order is more likely than one might think.

Let’s consider Mercedes first. The big headline from the the three days of testing was its lack of running due to reliability issues. Mercedes completed the fewest laps of any team, and more than a hundred fewer than Alpha Tauri, which managed an impressive 422. Not only that but the raw pace wasn’t there either. Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas appeared to struggle with getting up to speed with the new characteristics of the W12, Hamilton in particular having a couple of uncharacteristic spins. The result was a best time of 1:30.025 on Day 3.

Now, testing is never a true indicator of form. Each team was running to its own plan, with different fuel levels, a variety of set ups and completed different stint lengths on different tyre compounds. This means reading too much into lap times is most certainly going to be a mistake, especially in this year’s pre-season which was been reduced to just three days of running. Does anyone expect the likes of Alpha Tauri to be top of the shop this weekend? No, not yet at least. There’s a long way to go before the midfield teams that made the headlines in testing can prove their worth at the front of the field. 

Keen F1 fans will remember the 2019 pre-season test, where Ferrari appeared to have the pace over Mercedes in Barcelona, and Hamilton and Bottas looked vulnerable. That was the last time Mercedes ‘struggled’ in testing, and that didn’t translate at all once the season began, the Silver Arrows winning 15 of the 21 races and both titles.

Perhaps the most important aspect of testing to follow as an observer not directly involved in the sport is the general mood and vibe of each team. Body language and atmosphere can tell you a lot about a team’s performance in testing, without looking at the lap times. And that’s not just applicable in Formula 1, it’s evident in any area of the sport. 

A team will have a run plan going into a test, and an expectation of how the car will perform after a rigorous development cycle. If putting tyres on tarmac and putting said car through its paces springs surprises and more than a handful of new-car niggles, then behind closed doors, a team will know it’s in trouble before competitive sessions begin. This works both ways. Remember Brawn GP’s 2009 Tour de Force? The team knew quietly in pre-season testing that its car was far and away the best on the grid, and did its best to hide that performance before the teams went to Melbourne. Testing in public is just as political as the racing itself, this should never be forgotten.

So is Mercedes sandbagging at this stage? Don’t for a second rule it out, but also, don’t rule out the other teams that have shown real potential. It is unlikely that the Mercedes freight train falters this year, so expect Lewis Hamilton and Valteri Bottas to be fighting for wins at every Grand Prix, as they have done in recent seasons. The variable this time could be whether or not any of the other teams on the grid have closed the gap enough to consistently challenge.

On the face of it, Red Bull Racing genuinely looks like a threat with its Honda-powered RB16B and 1-2 punch of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez this year. In recent campaigns the Red Bull chassis have proved tough to drive, and suffered from strings of inconsistent results, ultimately costing the team’s number 1 driver Verstappen a chance at fighting for the title. 

But the RB16B appears to be an all-rounder, something which will be a welcome sign for Christian Horner and the members of the team’s top brass on the pit wall. It looked ‘planted’ and set the fastest time of the test, a 1:28.960. Even more promising was the feedback from Red Bull’s drivers. Both appear confident and cautiously optimistic about the car’s abilities and seem as prepared as anyone for the season ahead after just three days behind the wheel. 

Put simply, Red Bull must ensure that it picks up podiums on weekends where its car doesn’t set the pace. If it is to have a chance of winning either the Driver’s or Constructor’s titles then it cannot throw away points on weekends where it faces an uphill battle. Verstappen also has to step up to the plate and prove himself as a championship-winning driver.

Lest we forget that Red Bull’s prospects pre-season bodes well for its sister team Alpha Tauri too, which had an extremely productive test with fast times and the most mileage of any team.

If the 2021 Honda RA621H engine, in the Japanese manufacturer’s final year before Red Bull takes the engine development in-house, proves to be fast and reliable, then Pierre Gasly and F1 debutant Yuki Tsunoda can look forward to some standout results once again. Who knows, maybe the team can snatch another victory or two if things fall into place like they did at Monza last season?

So what should we make of the rest of the field? 

Ferrari will always be in the limelight and under pressure to perform. It’s been a dismal run for Ferrari since its last title way back in 2008, and quietly the team is almost certainly focused on next season and the new regulations, rather than trying to win the title this year. Last year was a disaster, the SF1000 struggling for outright pace with an engine that wasn’t up to the task, so a big turnaround is unlikely

This year the Scuderia appears to have made strides with its new car, though it remains to be seen just how it will stack up to the Mercedes, Renault and Honda teams once the season truly begins. If its engine is up to scratch and the team has made gains in the aero department then Charles Leclerc and his new teammate Carols Sainz will be aiming for podiums and wins wherever possible. Meanwhile, Haas and Alfa Romeo – customer teams of Ferrari – will also be hoping fight for points throughout the season, in an attempt to become midfield challengers.

However, the teams not powered by Ferrari haven’t stood still in the off-season and there-in lies the problem. Someone has to finish last, and right now it’s not quite clear which team will struggle to get out of Q1 each weekend. The best guess would be Haas, especially as it is fielding two rookie drivers this year in Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. Haas does have a reputation of finding ways to punch way above its weight with limited resources though, so it shouldn’t be counted out just yet.

In order to put last season behind it, Haas will first need to overcome Alfa Romeo and the new-look Williams effort. Williams, while still unlikely to fight in the top half of the order, looks poised to make a big step in 2021. Its FW43B, with a striking new livery, represents the new era for the Mercedes-powered team, with the Williams family no longer part of the effort and the new owners in charge and ready for their first full campaign at the helm. 

Williams’ success hinges on the talents of George Russell and his ability to extract the maximum out of a car. He’s a real talent, and one for the future. In what looks to be an incredibly important year for the young Briton, serving as an audition for a drive at a front-running team in future years, regularly fighting for points with what the team believes is an improved package is a must.

That leaves three more teams, Alpine, McLaren and Aston Martin. All three have high aspirations and are aiming to be best-of-the-rest behind Mercedes and Red Bull. Which of the three appear strongest? It’s hard to tell at this stage, though McLaren and Aston Martin – with Mercedes power – look safer bets than Alpine.

McLaren has slowly been improving under the direction of Zak Brown, and a first win since 2012 is surely the number 1 priority this term. Lando Norris and his new sparring partner Daniel Ricciardo are more than capable of challenging for wins, both are fast and ruthless behind the wheel and should make for quite a duo for the British team. After finishing third in last year’s Constructors’ standings, the desire is there to break into the top two. It won’t be easy, but if any team can manage it, it’s McLaren. The biggest factor here is the switch in engine supplier, will the move from Renault to Mercedes power provide the team a tangible boost in Year 1?

Aston Martin Racing meanwhile, returns to Formula 1 after a lengthy absence and a stream of successes in sportscar racing, replacing Racing Point on the entry list.

Racing Point’s Mercedes ‘clone’ from last year proved to be a race winner and allowed Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez to fight at the head of the field and score a famous win at Bahrain. This should bring confidence to the new-look team heading into this year. Team owner Lawrence Stroll has invested heavily in his outfit and looks to push it forward as a works effort with ample resources to fight for titles in the medium term. What we see this year may prove to be the foundation for this ambitious team’s future. Expectations are high, now it’s up to a revitalised and unshackled Sebastien Vettel and steadily improving Lance Stroll to deliver the goods.

The final team on the grid is Alpine (formerly Renault). The French outfit is the only team this year running with Renault V6 power, and it remains a mystery if this will prove to be an advantage or hinderance to its campaign. The A521 looks radically different in places to its predecessor from Renault last year and not just in the livery department (the airbox in particular is an eye-opener) and its driver pairing of a returning Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon mean business. 

Whether or not the pair can finally put a French constructor back on the winners’ step of the podium in 2021 is one of the many pressing questions ahead of the opening race weekend of the year…

Stephen Kilbey

Want to experience the thrill of travelling to an F1 race this year? With Travel Destinations we can help you every step of the way! We currently offer packages to the Austrian, Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix and are looking to add further races to our portfolio in the coming months. Call us on 01707 329 988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to find out more.

Photos: Alpine, Aston Martin Racing, Williams Racing, Getty Images (Mark Thompson), Red Bull Content Pool & Mercedes (Wolfgang Wilhelm/LAT).

Sebring 12 Hours Debrief: Cadillac Reigns Supreme, Again.

While normally my Travel Destinations Debrief columns feature lots of sections covering various topics after major sportscar races, the 2021 Sebring edition is going to focus on one subject: the Cadillac DPi. Why? Because it deserves our attention and respect after yet another huge IMSA endurance victory last weekend at the hands of JDC Miller Motorsport.

Cadillac’s future beyond the 2022 season in IMSA is currently an unknown. LMDh is coming and as it stands the GM brand has yet to commit going forward. In fact, due to the company’s reluctance to buy-in to a hybrid-powered future in motorsport, many industry observers believe Cadillac may well exit IMSA after 2022, making way for another marque in GM’s stable to compete in the LMDh category.

Should Cadillac depart IMSA, then it will leave a hole, after years of dominance in the championship’s headline events. The Caddy has been almost unbeatable in the major races since DPi began in 2017, winning the Rolex 24 and Sebring 12 Hours four times and Petit Le Mans twice. In fact it was such a fast and reliable prospect from Day 1 that IMSA forced Cadillac to change its engine for the second year of DPi to help balance the field…

However, after Wayne Taylor Racing stormed to victory at Daytona back in January this year, handing Acura its first Rolex 24 victory with the ARX-05, one could make the inference that Cadillac’s days as the top dog in IMSA were coming to an end. Not only had it lost its most decorated team (WTR) to its rival marque Acura as a replacement for the Penske effort, but it won at Daytona on its debut. It was no doubt a big blow.

Last weekend though, Cadillac showed once again that it can still win big races, as JDC Miller Motorsport stepped up to the plate this time to add another memorable victory to the DPi V.R’s tally. Acura may have taken the spoils at Rolex, but the Cadillac contingent clearly won’t be going down without a fight this season.

Until the Cadillac DPi is fully retired from racing, I fear many won’t appreciate how remarkable the car is. This is in part because it hasn’t had the chance to stretch its legs and prove its worth at Le Mans – which is a real shame.

For a time, there were rumours that DPi would be accepted into the Le Mans 24 Hours in its own class, or as part of a converged class with the WEC’s cars, with BoP governing the performance levels. But that idea never came to fruition; instead, the ACO and IMSA settled on a grander plan to allow both its forthcoming rulesets to compete with each other at Le Mans as part of the FIA WEC allowing LMDh cars to compete alongside Le Mans Hypercars from 2023 onwards. For this reason, the Cadillac will be remembered fondly by North America’s sportscar faithful, but not necessarily by the wider fanbase in Europe and Asia.

We shouldn’t forget how surprising the DPi V.R’s story is. The car is based on Dallara’s P217 chassis which in its LMP2 form has been a failure in the marketplace up against the might of ORECA’s 07. Beyond a freak win in the ELMS at Paul Ricard back in 2017 and a mercurial effort from Carlin in the Asian Le Mans Series back in 2019/20, the P217 has struggled almost everywhere it has raced.

The P217 suffers from ‘porpoising’ issues on its front-end, especially at high speed, which unsettles’s the balance of the car and makes it incredibly twitchy and unstable during more technical sections of a circuit. The Dallara is always fast in a straight line, but an ‘edgy’ prospect in medium and fast corners, and even more so in its low-downforce Le Mans configuration.

An attempt was made to rectify the issues when the ACO granted Dallara a ‘joker’ upgrade back in 2018, but the evolutions the Italian company released to customers made little difference. It is has therefore been fascinating to see Cadillac’s version of the P217 perform so well in IMSA.

It’s a tale of what might have been. The DPi V.R is a window on the changes Cadillac and Dallara wanted to make to the front aero of the LMP2 car. Had the Dallara been a more competitive prospect globally, then the entire marketplace – currently dominated by ORECA chassis – could look completely different right now, and certainly more competitive.

The Cadillac DPi V.R didn’t blow its competition away during last weekend’s race at Sebring, it did what it always does: remain consistently quick in every stage of the race. It appeared to be the only one of the three chassis in the class capable of building a lead too.

Sebring though, is never a simple race, and all seven cars in the class led at one point. But Cadillac’s effort never appeared to be faltering, even when its contending cars hit trouble. A heroic effort from Sebastien Bourdais late in the race was needed to seal the deal here, although it didn’t feel like a surprise to see the Mustang-Sampling liveried Cadillac on the top step of the podium.

Heading into Mid-Ohio it’s now one race win apiece for Cadillac and Acura, with Mazda still searching for its maiden win this year. It’s going to be a fascinating battle throughout the season. With competition still so hot in IMSA in 2021, ahould the Cadillac go on to win other major races like the 6 Hours at The Glen and Petit Le Mans later in the season, then the DPi V.R will surely have cemented its place in the pantheon of all-time great prototypes. It’s a car that is worth travelling thousands of miles to see. Trust me when I say that we’re living through a memorable era for sportscars in North America, and you will regret it if you don’t make the effort to see the Cadillac up close…

Stephen Kilbey

Do you want to be trackside to see the Cadillac DPi V.R race in 2022? We are on sale now for the 2022 Rolex 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours. Call us on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking.

Images courtesy of IMSA, Acura and Andrew Hall

Peugeot’s Le Mans Hypercar Effort Progressing Apace

The 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship campaign hasn’t even begun and already excitement is building for the 2022 season. The past few months have been packed with positive sportscar racing news, with Toyota revealing its GR010 HYBRID Hypercar, Porsche, Audi and Acura all committing to the LMDh formula and Glickenhaus and Alpine revealing their Le Mans Hypercar class driver squads for the upcoming season.

After a steady stream of news from the aforementioned collection of OEMs almost weekly since last November, today it was Peugeot’s turn to make the headlines with more information concerning its 2022 Le Mans Hypercar effort.

The French marque, which is returning to the Le Mans 24 Hours after a decade-long hiatus, has revealed more information about the status of its new chassis and named a roster of seven drivers for the 2022 season.

Let’s take a look at the most important aspect first: the car itself. Peugeot has opted to create a Le Mans Hypercar because it allows a greater level of aerodynamic and philosophical freedom than IMSA’s forthcoming top class LMDh platform (which is eligible to compete with Le Mans Hypercar under a converged set of rules).

The car will be powered by a 2.6-litre bi-turbo engine, which will produce up to 680 horse power. The ICE will be assisted by a battery co-designed with partner company TOTAL, which will add an additional 200kw boost from harvested energy to the front wheels when traveling in a straight line, making the car (part-time) four-wheel-drive.

Jean Marc Finot, the Director of Stellantis Motorsport, says the car will be “100% a Peugeot Sport car, with our DNA. The regulations give us a lot of freedom in the design. You will be able to recognise the hypercar as a true Peugeot.”

https://twitter.com/peugeotsport/status/1338401329719422977

Behind the scenes, the design and manufacturing processes appears to be on schedule. Despite the clear potential for the sort of delays, hiccups and general issues that can hinder every race car’s inception, Peugeot believes it is on track to get the car out testing before the end of the year, therefore giving the team ample time to prepare for the 2022 season opener which is likely to be at Sebring in March.

“We are going to build the first engine in the next few weeks and hope to put it on the engine dyne before the end of April,” says Olivier Jansonnie, Peugeot Sport’s technical director. “We will then test the front electrical engine on our rig and put the front and rear together on our four-wheel-drive dyno in November.

“As for the aero development. The brand styling elements was the most challenging thing, as well as meeting the required performance levels to cater for the Balance of Performance regulations. We know what the car is going to look like. We have to go into the details and deliver the design and release everything for production at Summer time.”

Simulation work has also begun, and that’s where the input of Peugeot’s new driver crew comes in. After conducting a lengthy study, and whittling down a huge list of potential drivers from “50 to 12”, Peugeot has settled on a diverse driving crew featuring youth and experience, from sportscar racing, Formula One and beyond.

Perhaps the most high-profile signing is Kevin Magnussen, fresh from his debut in sportscar racing at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona last month (below) in the wake of his departure from Formula One.

Magnussen brings both credibility, marketability and heritage to the programme. He’s a rapid driver, with an extremely high ceiling, who has experience of operating at the pinnacle of motorsport for the likes of McLaren and Haas’ F1 teams.

But his surname is, and always will be, etched in sportscar racing lore. This is thanks to his ultra-successful father Jan Magnussen, who after a brief foray in Formula One himself in the late 90s, went on to forge a lengthy career as a Corvette Racing factory driver, picking up multiple Le Mans 24 Hours class wins, countless trophies from major sportscar races in the USA, and multiple titles along the way. Though he no longer races for Corvette full time, he is still very much involved in sportscar racing, and will take to the FIA WEC grid this year with Danish outfit High Class Racing in LMP2.

“I’m so happy for Kevin to have this opportunity with Peugeot, they have a great history at Le Mans,” Jan Magnussen told Travel Destinations. “He’s in for a fantastic time and he has a chance to reach his own personal goal of fighting for victory at Le Mans. He really enjoyed Daytona, it was fantastic for him, he was in the fight until the last 10 minutes. He’s super happy with where he is, an is loving his time with sportscars and Ganassi Racing so far.

“This on top of it too is fantastic. He’s quick to adapt, he’s done it his whole career, this will be no different. The Peugeot is going to be a sophisticated car, they’re going all in. I have no doubts he’ll be fast when the time comes!”

Wouldn’t it be something to see both father and son challenge for Le Mans different class wins in different in the same race next year?

As for the rest of the squad, young gun (and fellow Dane) Mikkel Jensen joins Magnussen, along with former Audi LMP1 ace (and Le Mans winner) Loic Duval, multiple Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne, LMP1 stalwart Gustavo Menezes, former F1 and DTM driver Paul Di Resta. Japanese Super GT specialist James Rossiter has also been named as a seventh member, though he will act as a test/reserve driver.

“This line-up is stacked, when I saw it I was shocked,” Menezes told Travel Destinations. “Peugeot is a giant in the automotive field, and it is making giant moves in motorsport with this line-up. We’re all eager to get behind the wheel later this year, it is going to be a busy fall and winter for all of us!”

This selection is a real statement of intent for Peugeot. Beating factory efforts from the likes of Toyota, Alpine (assuming it continues in LMH beyond 2021) and eventually Porsche and Audi, will be extremely tough. But the French brand knows what it takes to win Le Mans, and will hope that its work today is laying the foundations for a fourth overall victory at La Sarthe and an FIA World Championship title to boot.

Stephen Kilbey

Want to be at the Le Mans 24 Hours this year or in 2022? We are on sale now! But act fast as availability is becoming limited for many of Travel Destinations’ accomodation options.

Travel Destinations is also selling packages to FIA WEC races beyond Le Mans. You can contact our office by calling 01707 329988 or emailing info@traveldestinations.co.uk to get your next motorsport holiday booked.

Images courtesy of Peugeot Sport and Rolex

Rolex 24 Debrief: Acura’s Gamble Pays off

The 2021 of the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona is in the books and it was truly memorable edition, with much to reflect on from each one of the five classes.

In our first debrief column of the year we take a look at the headlines after a thrilling weekend of action to kick off the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season:

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Acura’s gamble pays off

Just days after committing to IMSA long-term with an LMDh programme, Acura scored its most significant DPi victory after Wayne Taylor Racing’s stunning performance in the final hour, which saw Filipe Albuquerque cross the line just four seconds ahead of the Ally Cadillac after the challenge from the factory Ganassi DPi V.R faltered due to a late puncture.

There is so much to unpick here.

Wayne Taylor Racing has now won three Rolex 24s in a row, and with two manufacturers. The team is an absolute powerhouse in long endurance races, and appears to be simply unbeatable at Daytona.

“So much went into this,” said Ricky Taylor, (driver, and son of Wayne) who scored the second overall Rolex victory of his career yesterday. “It was definitely a test of trust and a testament to preparation and sticking to a plan. … We skipped all of the offseason testing because the guys needed time to do everything properly. They know how to win this race. I feel like we were all lucky to be a part of it.”

The victory comes after Acura cut ties with Penske, which ran the brand’s factory effort from the inception of the 05 in 2018 until the end of last season. It was an incredibly bold move to step away from an American team which has such a rich heritage, but it appears to have paid off already. While Penske was able to win an IMSA title last season with the ARX-05, and a handful of other races, the jewel in the crown of the IMSA season is the Rolex 24 and Penske just couldn’t quite better the dominant Cadillacs each January.

You know what they say? If you can’t beat them, join them…

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Corvette’s GTLM dominance

Despite BMW’s success at Daytona the past two years in GTLM, Corvette scoring a dominant 1-2 didn’t feel like a surprising outcome this time around.

Corvette’s #3 C8.R led the #4 sister car home after leading virtually the entire race. It’s a significant victory for the C8.R, its first in a 24-hour race, which saw its new car come of age with a mature performance.

But the GTLM class didn’t quite feel right. With BMW scaling back its effort to just the endurance races this year, Porsche’s challenge coming from a single WeatherTech entry after withdrawing as a factory and Risi Competizione bringing a single Ferrari to ensure the class reached six cars, it felt like a throwback to the final days of GT1 when Corvette raced itself primarily, and a rotating cast of other outfits.

It’s a real shame to see GTLM fade like this, but sportscar racing is cyclical in nature. IMSA is having to adapt and transition to a new era; change is on the horizon for GT racing in IMSA which looks to revitalise it. And we’ll get to that later in this piece…

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Era, Winward and Riley also emerge victorious

In the other categories there was plenty of action too. Era Motorsport scored an impressive LMP2 win up against an competitive field with its crayon (fan-designed) liveried ORECA 07 Gibson.

In GTD, Mercedes claimed its first Rolex 24 class win with Winward Racing, after a hammer-and-tongs battle for the lead in the closing hours with a Spirit of Race Ferrari. Behind, SunEnergy1 made it a 1-2 for the German marque, ending Lamborghini’s reign at the top in the Rolex 24 in emphatic style.

And in LMP3, it was Riley Motorsport that took the honours. LMP3’s Rolex 24 debut as a category was, as expected, somewhat of a race of attrition, with almost every car in the class suffering mechanical issues. It was however, notable that only one retired. As others in the class ran into trouble, the #74 Ligier JSP320 fielded by Riley took control and eased victory. An impressive run from Bill Riley’s merry band.

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A look to the future

The opening IMSA race of the season at Daytona is traditionally filled with speculation and announcements regarding the future and this year was no different.

The major news concerns the GT ranks of IMSA. With the increase in popularity for the forthcoming LMDh formula (which will debut in 2023), and the the GTLM category becoming light on numbers, IMSA has decided to drop the GTE-based class and add a GTD pro category for 2022. This will allow factory and private teams alike to field all-pro line-ups and GT3 cars from a wealth of manufacturers.

This has ramifications for the current GTLM teams and manufacturers, particularly for Corvette Racing, which is only in Year 2 of its C8.R programme. Unfortunately the C8.R was not designed to be easily converted to GT3-spec like Aston Martin’s Vantage or Ferrari’s 488 GTE, meaning Chevrolet will need to carry out a major redesign of the car to carry on competing with the C8.R in IMSA after this season is over.

The downsides are that this will bring unexpected cost to the programme, and prevent it competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours with the car it races in IMSA from next year (as GT3 cars are ineligible to race at La Sarthe currently). However, there is a major upside and that is in its potential competition. GT3 is still very much a healthy formula, and factories and privateer teams alike are likely to see the chance to race with an all-pro line-up for the full IMSA season with existing cars, at a budget significantly lower than in GTLM, as a tantalising prospect.

Beyond the GT news, there’s been plenty of speculation surrounding LMDh, as you would expect. With Audi, Porsche and Acura all signed up, the focus has shifted to the other marques that appear poised to join the top class in two years time. Travel Destinations understands that Ford, BMW, McLaren, Mazda, Hyundai and an un-disclosed GM brand are all expected to make a decision either way (at the very least internally) very soon.

Stephen Kilbey

Do you want travel to an IMSA race in the future, or attend the Le Mans 24 Hours? Then give Travel Destinations a call on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking or find out more.

Photos courtesy of IMSA, Acura, BMW and Corvette

LMDh Continues to Gain Traction as Acura Jumps on Board

And then there were three…

The news yesterday that Acura is set to continue its presence at the top of IMSA with an LMDh programme from 2023 onwards is extremely important for the future of sportscar racing in North America. It now means that along with Audi and Porsche, three manufacturers are signed up for the new ruleset, giving credibility to not only the LMDh platform, but the ACO and IMSA’s top class convergences plans too.

The short of it is, that in 2023 we are due to see Audi, Porsche and Acura racing with the LMDh platform and Peugeot, Toyota and Glickenhaus racing Le Mans Hypercars, with the potential for all six to come together for the Le Mans 24 Hours and the big IMSA races at Sebring and Daytona. That’s without any further announcements from other interested manufacturers such as Mazda, McLaren and Ferrari that are all known to be taking a close look.

This commitment to LMDh from 2023 onwards makes perfect sense for Acura. It has a long history of competing in sportscar racing in North America, through the IMSA GTP, American Le Mans Series and IMSA Weathertech eras. It has always seen value in competing for victories in big races at circuits across its core market in the USA against brands it views as direct competitors.

Details are scarce at the moment, though one would expect Acura will pour a lot of resources into its LMDh programme, especially if it hopes to keep its two new customer teams – Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing – onboard beyond the DPi era.

There are two big questions in the immediacy of this announcement:

The first concerns the programme overall. In simple terms, what will it look like? At present we don’t whether or not it will race alongside its customers as a full factory team, focus purely on creating a customer base and boosting it with technical and financial support, or centre its entire effort exclusively around one private team as it did with Penske?

The second concerns its chassis partner, specifically: will it stick with ORECA? While Acura hasn’t quite found the level of success it hoped for with its DPi to this point with Penske (zero wins at Daytona the key omission from its list of accolades in recent years), continuing this relationship appears on the face of it to be the obvious choice. Why? Because continuity is important, and ORECA’s expertise in LMP2 chassis development is incredibly valuable.

In the longer term this would make sense too, especially if it begins to look at taking a seat at the table for the next generation of sustainable motorsport beyond the (cost effective) mild-hybrid solution that LMDh presents in the short to medium term.

Honda (which Acura is the luxury division of) recently announced that it will be withdrawing from Formula 1 as an engine supplier after 2021, and stated that it is looking at developing ‘zero emission technologies’. Now this is pure speculation, but, stars have seemingly aligned here. With ORECA (its current DPi partner) and Red Bull (its Formula 1 partner) now involved in developing a chassis for the forthcoming Le Mans Hydrogen category, surely Honda would, at the very least, consider being a part of the ACO’s ambitious future vision from 2024 onwards?

That leads us to Le Mans. Will Acura compete at Le Mans with its LMDh chassis? This is not a given, as the entire programme is funded from North America. However, while Le Mans 24 Hours does not take place in a target market for Acura, it does for Honda.

The solution to this problem is simple: swap the badges. Its presence in the Intercontinental GT Challenge provides an interesting case study, as the factory effort from Honda sees the NSX GT3 compete badged as a Honda in Belgium, Australia, South Africa and Japan, and an Acura in the USA. This also occurred just over a decade ago, when Highcroft Racing came over from the American Le Mans Series to race at the 24 Hours running its LMP2 Acura badged as a HPD alongside Strakka Racing.

The precedent is already there. You would like to think that the proposition of taking its LMDh to Le Mans for a one off with a chance of winning overall will be too good to pass up? Convergence between IMSA and ACO regulations exists to cater for this very scenario after all…

Besides, even if Acura as a factory decides it doesn’t want to take cars to Le Mans, there’s nothing to stop a customer team such as Wayne Taylor Racing or Meyer Shank Racing making the trip across the Atlantic on its own.

LMDh is coming though folks, and it looks to be a smash hit, featuring multiple major manufacturers. Patience is paying off for IMSA President John Doonan and his team behind the scenes, who have worked tirelessly since the change of the guard last year to secure the championship’s future.

“Given the commitments already announced, and the number of auto manufacturers that continue to study LMDh as a marketing and technology platform, there is a tremendous amount of momentum for the future of our sport,” Doonan pointed out in the wake of Acura’s announcement.

“Our loyal fans worldwide are in for a real treat.”

Stephen Kilbey

Do you want travel to an IMSA race in the future, or attend the Le Mans 24 Hours? Then give Travel Destinations a call on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a booking or find out more.

Images courtesy of Acura, Martin Spetz & IGTC

The 33-Car FIA WEC Entry Is Something To Celebrate

The entry list for the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship season has been revealed today, with 33 high quality entries signed up for the full campaign across the four categories.

Given the circumstances, it’s remarkable to see such a high number of entrants, with plenty of teams new and old ready to do battle over the course of the year to fight for world titles and of course, a win at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

There are plenty of headlines up and down the list, so the place to start is at the top in the new Le Mans Hypercar category.

Toyota’s pair of new GR010 HYBRIDs are the stars here. The Japanese marque launched its new challenger earlier this week and has been out testing over the winter in preparation for the debut of its new car in March.

Feedback has been promising from engineers and drivers alike thus far, with plenty of confidence that it can score wins right away.

To take another Le Mans win and a WEC title, it will have to overcome challenges from Alpine’s factory team (racing with a grandfathered Rebellion R-13 LMP1 car renamed the A480) and Glickenhaus’ pair of non-hybrid 007 LMHs.

Let’s talk Alpine first. The French automotive marque, in parallel to this Le Mans Hypercar effort, is taking over from Renault in Formula One, so it’s a big deal that it has decided to continue (and step up) in the WEC. This is incredibly ambitious for a small, boutique brand that has yet to truly establish a presence in the modern motoring space. But, two major motorsport programmes will go a long way in marketing its road car and performance brand role for Renault and building a customer base in the long run.

The A480 Alpine brings to the WEC is a proven race-winner, a car that has been developed over the past two years by Rebellion and its partner ORECA. It’s not a perfect prototype, it isn’t bullet proof mechanically and in certain conditions it can be a handful for even the most seasoned driver. But it is fast, and it has potential to mature further with Alpine coming on board.

With both WEC titles and Le Mans class wins to its name in LMP2 in recent years, Alpine knows what it is doing in big races. For that reason, it should be considered a serious challenger for Toyota, especially in the early part of the season if the GR010 fails to hit the ground running and the Balance of Performance system works as planned.

As for Glickenhaus, its commitment to bring a pair of Pipo-powered 007s to the WEC this year is really encouraging. The development of the car is progressing, albeit at a slower pace than Toyota’s GR010 which has already been put through its paces on track ahead of the season.

Glickenhaus hasn’t been able to try out its car yet, and is almost certainly going to skip the opening round of the season at Sebring, but Jim Glickenhaus has a reputation of delivering on promises. We will have to wait a little while longer to see just what the 007 can do on track, but there’s no reason to believe it cannot compete if the car proves to be reliable.

The seriousness of this programme is apparent when looking at the first two drivers listed for 2021 on the entry: Rebellion refugee Gustavo Menezes and Indy Car star Ryan Briscoe. Both are capable and bring a wealth of experience to this programme.

For all the positivity in Le Mans Hypercar this year, there is one slight disappointment, and that is the ByKolles effort not featuring on the list. The Austrian team, which opened up on plans to build road cars alongside its race car at the end of last year, is nowhere to be seen at this point. Will it show up later in the season? We will have to wait and see…

In the other classes, while there are no new cars to examine, there are plenty of big storylines to follow in LMP2 and the two GTE classes.

LMP2 features 11-cars, a real coup for the WEC which has attracted some of the world’s best teams and drivers (five of which have Formula One starts to their name). Among the entries are some new faces, Richard Mille Racing’s all-female crew, Real Team Racing and plucky Polish squad Inter Europol Competition (below) stepping up from the ELMS, to race against experienced WEC teams High Class Racing, DragonSpeed, United Autosports, JOTA and Racing Team Nederland.

The pleasant surprises here are the additions of Asian Le Mans stalwart ARC Bratislava with a Ligier chassis and Audi customer team WRT with an ORECA.

WRT’s foray into the WEC is most interesting, as its return to prototype racing (after a one off ELMS appearance in 2016 at Spa) comes in the build up to Audi’s return to top-line sportscars with an LMDh programme. Could this be a toe-in-the-water operation for WRT that leads to a factory or customer LMDh effort down the line?

GTE Am, like LMP2, is big in numbers and quality. The category features 13 cars, with Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin all represented. The entire full-season field from last season returns, with the addition of another all-female crew from Ferrari team Iron Lynx and Japanese fan favourite D’Station Racing that brings an a third Vantage to the party for Aston Martin.

The only major omission in the GTE ranks is the full-fat GTE Pro factory effort from Aston Martin Racing. AMR has cut back its sportscar effort this year as it shifts focus to Formula One. It is represented with Paul Dalla Lana’s No. 98 Vantage in Am, but that is privately funded by Dalla Lana himself. Aston Martin’s pair in Pro will be sorely missed after their exceptional Le Mans and WEC title wins last term. We can only hope that like Audi, Aston Martin’s WEC hiatus as a factory doesn’t last long…

For now though, we’ll have to savour what promises to be a hotly contested battle in GTE Pro between Ferrari and Porsche, with the potential for Corvette to dip in and out throughout the season.

Stephen Kilbey

Photo credits: Toyota, Inter Europol, WRT, Glickenhaus

Want to be trackside at a WEC race this year? Call our office to make a booking. We are currently on sale for the Sebring 12 Hours (March 19th), 6 Hours of Spa (May 1st) and Le Mans 24 Hours (June 12-13th). Call our office on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to find out more.

WEC Debrief: Bahrain And Beyond

With the 2019/20 FIA WEC season over and the 2021 campaign fast approaching, there is so much to digest and look ahead to.

After what has been an extraordinary second half to the year for motorsport in terms of schedule congestion, it has been so hard to keep up with all the movements within the major sportscar championships. 2021 though, should look a lot more like a traditional motorsport season. And in the case of the FIA WEC, it returns to a standard calendar that doesn’t cross over two calendar years.

In his latest Debrief column Stephen Kilbey takes a look back at the season finale in Bahrain, and all the news you need to know about from the world of ACO sportscar racing:

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Champions Crowned

Before looking ahead to next season and beyond, congratulations are in order for the prize-winning teams.

The 2018/19 FIA WEC season was supposed to be a rare, extended campaign, to see the championship through a transitional period. The 2019/20 season however, would end up running longer than normal, beginning at Silverstone in September last year, and ending in Bahrain earlier this month.

What a ride it was, with thrills, spills, and even a set of postponed and cancelled races thrown into the mix. But the organisers did a superb job of navigating the challenges 2020 created and finished the season in style at Bahrain.

For Toyota, it was the No. 7 crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez that took the LMP1 honours over their teammates in the No. 8 TS050 HYBRID with a faultless performance. Winning a world title represented somewhat of a consolation prize after years of heartbreak in the title race of the FIA WEC and at Le Mans for the trio in the No. 7.

It’s just a shame that LMP1’s final race wasn’t a classic, instead it was a head-to-head clash between two cars from the same team, with no competition from other factories or privateers. But we will get to that a bit later in this piece.

In the other classes the titles were settled too. The No. 95 Aston Martin duo of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen winning the GTE Pro title, capping off an incredible season for Aston Martin Racing which lest we forget saw it win Le Mans too with its No. 97 Vantage.

A fourth place finish in or United Autosports’ No. 22 ORECA was enough to secure the Richard Dean’s team the LMP2 title, and in GTE Am, Francois Perrodo and Manu Collard’s completed a remarkable comeback to the category with a second title alongside Nicklas Nielsen in AF Corse’s No. 83 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO.

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LMP1 Remembered

It was not a classic, it wasn’t particularly entertaining either, but the LMP1 race in Bahrain was nonetheless memorable because it was the final time the category will feature in the FIA WEC before the new Le Mans Hypercar class debuts next season.

LMP1 should not be remembered for the trials and tribulations it has faced since Audi and later Porsche withdrew, leaving Toyota to race against privateers in 2018, 19 and 20. Instead it should be remembered for the phenomenal racing it produced in the glory years of the LMP1 Hybrid era.

LMP1 of course dates back to the turn of the century, before even the diesel-powered prototypes were introduced by Audi and Peugeot, but it was the 2014-16 period where it shone and became arguably the most entertaining category of racing worldwide. When Audi, Porsche and Toyota did battle in the FIA WEC and of course Le Mans, with cars on the bleeding-edge of technology, it was simply unmissable.

There were, of course, low(er) moments prior to Toyota’s dominance in recent years: Nissan’s ill-conceived GT-R LM NISMO in 2015 and Peugeot pulling the plug on its 908 programme days before the inaugural FIA WEC race in 2012 spring to mind. But as a whole, LMP1 cars were both spectacular to watch trackside, a real showcase of efficiency and future-thinking technology.

The hybrid-era, which began in 2012, was the best example of this. In the early days just running on electric-power running down the pit lane once and hour was considered impressive. How things have changed…

In recent years, maintaining record-breaking pace while improving lap-by-lap fuel efficiency year-on-year has become the norm. Consider this: Toyota’s 2019 TS050 HYBRID completed the Le Mans 24 hours using 300kg less fuel and travelled more than 500km further than the TS030 HYBRID it raced with in 2013. That, put simply, is an astonishing achievement.

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Toyota Ploughs Ahead

At Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Cologne headquarters the team behind-the-scenes have had little time to reflect on the progress of the past eight years, because it has been full speed ahead for them with the new Hypercar programme.

The new car (pictured above), which will make its global debut at Sebring in March is already out testing and the feedback thus far has been very encouraging.

Travel Destinations understands via a team source that the new car, at its first true test at Paul Ricard, ran incredibly reliably. The drivers are also noticeably pleased that the lift-and-coast fuel-saving measures required to steer the previous LMP1 Hybrids won’t be necessary going forward.

We won’t know what the new Toyota can do in terms of performance for a while yet, but the fact that it has been reliable from the off is a great early sign.

The new Le Mans Hypercars are expected to be significantly slower than the outgoing LMP1 breed, but that is unlikely to detract from the race action. In fact it is more likely to be a blessing in disguise, as the steep developmental curve seen in years past from the LMP1 cars was a real turn off for new manufacturers coming in with a brand new car. Less sophisticated machinery, with lower budgets, could go a long way in building a grid over the coming years.

The hard work continues for Toyota ahead of the new season. We expect to hear more in January about the new car and the brand’s WEC programme as a whole.

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Fields of Dreams

While we won’t see a full entry list for either the 2021 FIA WEC or the ELMS (European Le Mans Series) seasons this side of the new year, the grids are forming and looking strong.

Travel Destinations expects the grids for both championships to be big, with the FIA WEC field for the shorter 2021 season at either maximum capacity or close to it.

This is because privateer interest in both will be strong once again, with the team owners and drivers as motivated as ever to go racing, even during these challenging times. There are no major rule changes or regulation shifts for privateer teams either, meaning very few will need to invest in brand new cars for 2021 to compete at a high level.

The only real uncertainty surrounds the GTE Pro class in the WEC. What will it look like? Will all three factories: Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari return? Or will the field take a hit, like in IMSA, where Porsche has decided to walk away from GTLM, leaving just Corvette and BMW to do battle?

Whatever the factories decide, GTE as a pro/am platform for customer teams is set to remain popular next year, with the highlight being a batch of brand new Porsche 911 RSR 19s due to enter circulation for their first eligible season in GTE Am of the WEC and the GTE class of the ELMS.

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The Test Day Returns!

The Le Mans 24 Hours Test Day is set to return in 2021, and with a new date too.

After being cancelled for this year’s postponed edition of the great French race the Test Day in 2021 will take place on the Sunday before race week, a week later than usual, as part of a refined timetable for the event.

This means anyone planning to head to Le Mans next year with Travel Destinations a week before the race can expect to see more track action than ever, with the Test Day kicking off a new-look, condensed schedule!

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Guess who’s back?

Perhaps the most significant news to emerge since the Le Mans 24 Hours back in September came today, courtesy of Audi Sport. That’s right, it is set to make a return to top-line sportscar racing with an LMDh programme.

Audi R18

The shock confirmation of Audi’s future plans came as part of a shakeup at the top of Audi Sport, which sees Dieter Gass leave his post as Director and replaced by Julius Seebach, the current Managing Director of Audi Sport.

It didn’t take long for big news to follow Seebach’s appointment, as in the immediate aftermath he confirmed that the German brand will leave Formula E after next season to focus on an all-electric Dakar Rally programme and LMDh, which will enable it to return to Le Mans and compete stateside in IMSA.

“We are intensively preparing to enter the new sports prototype category LMDh with its highlight races, the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours,” Seebach said. “The most important message for our fans is that motorsport will continue to play an important role at Audi.”

Details of Audi’s programme are (unsurprisingly) scarce at the moment, but this is a momentous piece of news, the first LMDh programme announced by an OEM. The key questions are: When will Audi’s LMDh car debut? (the LMDh regulations are expected to be delayed by a year and debut in 2023) And where will it race? (It has the choice to compete in the FIA WEC alongside the Le Mans Hypercars, in IMSA with other LMDh manufacturers, or both)

With so many other factories known to be looking to race in LMDh could this be the first of many confirmations?

Stephen Kilbey

Fancy being trackside for the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2021?  Call our offices and book now on 01707 329988! We would also like to remind customers that all packages are financially protected by our ‘Refund Gaurantee’. So you can book with confidence…

Toyota hypercar images courtesy of Toyota

Travel Destinations Adds Formula 1 Packages

All of the Travel Destinations team are delighted to announce that we will be offering FIA Formula 1 World Championship travel packages for the first time in 2021.

We will begin our rollout of Formula 1 tours with three major European races from next year’s 23-race calendar: the Austrian, Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix, before adding more events to our offering in the coming months.

All three races will include multiple travel, accommodation and ticketing options to suit everyone wishing to be trackside for the world’s premier motorsport championship next season.

At the Red Bull Ring in Austria, Travel Destinations is offering stays at the Pink Camping am Birkmoarhof for July’s Austrian Grand Prix. The campsite which sits a stone’s throw away from the picturesque circuit, surrounded by Styrian Mountains, is a perfect option for anyone looking to stay trackside.

Then a month later for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps, you can choose to stay at two of the Official Formula One campsites or in either a private pre-erected tent or ‘glamping’ tent in walking distance of the circuit at an independent site near Francorchamps.

The third offering is expected to be hugely popular, a weekend break in September to Amsterdam with a choice of crossings, three hotels and tickets to the Dutch Grand Prix, which returns to the F1 calendar after a lengthy absence. The newly-renovated Zandvoort Park Circuit is guaranteed to produce a festival-like atmosphere, and superb racing.

“We are so excited to add Formula 1 to our growing list of motorsport offerings for customers in 2021,” said Andrew Melley, the Director of Travel Destinations. “With so much pent up demand for travelling, and Formula 1 visiting so many incredible circuits around the world, it makes sense for us to expand our offering to give our customers even more options for future holidays.

“We look forward to welcoming fans to some of the most well-attended and exciting motor races in the world from 2021 onwards.”

Packages to the Austrian, Belgian and Dutch Grands Prix are on sale now.

To make a booking or register your interest for one of the other races on the calendar, call Travel Destinations’ office on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk

All bookings are protected by Travel Destinations’ Refund Guarantee, so you can book with confidence!

IMSA Debrief: Looking Back At Sebring, Looking Forward To 2021

The 2020 IMSA season came to a close last weekend at Sebring and there is so much to talk about. With the start of the 2021 season fast approaching, the cars will be hitting the track at Daytona for the Rolex 24 Hours before we know it.

With that in mind, and so much news and speculation to digest from the past few months, it’s a good time to look back on an extraordinary year in 2020. The challenge of completing a season amid new rules and restrictions was mammoth and we should not forget the effort of IMSA’s team behind the scenes to ensure that the fans, teams and drivers could get their racing fix. A round of applause is in order for IMSA President John Doonan and his team.

It’s also time to look look ahead to what promises to be another memorable season in 2021. The off-season will be historically short, with under two months for the teams and drivers until the start of the new campaign in Daytona. But what represents a logistical challenge for the teams, which are frantically preparing for the next season, is a reason for excitement and optimism for fans. The grid is building and the points tables have been reset. Roll on Rolex!

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Mazda Magic

At this point Mazda winning a postponed edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring in November should come as no surprise. If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected, and even just a year ago, the prospect of a Mazda DPi winning the Sebring 12 Hours would have been considered an outside bet. 

In practice, the Japanese marque’s triumph at the Sebring 12 Hour last weekend was fitting really, a wild end to a wild year. Mazda has of course, been far more of a challenger in the DPi ranks since its maiden win last summer at Watkins Glen, but success at the headline IMSA endurance races in Florida had always eluded it until now.

It was by no means a dominant win from Harry Tincknell, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jonathan Bomarito, but it was a deserving one. Up front in the top class the Sebring 12 Hours this year was a titanic tussle, a race that no team could get control of and a another reminder that the DPi formula seems always find a way to produce truly memorable endurance races.

Of the eight entrants in the DPi class, all of them led, and the winning trio in the No. 55 was indeed the last to claim the top spot when the sister No. 77 Mazda suffered a puncture and caused a late caution period in the final hour. It is often said that Sebring ‘choses its winners’, and this year that certainly seemed to be the case. Despite the late drama, in the 68th running of the 12 Hours, it chose Mazda instead of Cadillac or Acura.

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Porsche’s perfect send off

In the GTLM category Porsche GT Team grabbed the headlines before and after the race in Sebring. Before the event it revealed its striking patriotic ‘thank you’ liveries to mark the end of its tenure in the class as a factory, then on Saturday claimed a 1-2 finish in the race proper – remarkably, on the same day its sister factory team in the FIA WEC run by Manthey claimed a 1-2 finish in GTE Pro in the Bahrain season finale.

The CORE autosport-run crew, in its final outing with the 911 RSR, delivered the goods and produced a very ‘Porsche-like’ performance to overcome challenges from BMW Team RLL and Corvette Racing (the 2020 IMSA GTLM Manufacturers’ Champion). It was a fitting sign-off after a hugely successful run in IMSA’s premier GT class, which saw it claim seven titles in seven years, 21 race wins and 56 podiums.

“I’m incredibly proud of the team. This weekend wasn’t easy for us,” said Steffen Höllwarth, Porsche’s Head of IMSA Operations. “Because of the upcoming farewell, the mood was different than usual, but everyone coped just fine. We weren’t the fastest in the field, but we were the ones who made the least mistakes – and that’s how things like this happen. Suddenly you find yourself at the front. After three straight wins at Sebring, I’d say that this track has become our turf. 

“Now it’s time to celebrate!”

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Then there were two…

So where does Porsche’s departure leave GTLM, and for that matter, IMSA, going forward?

Porsche will not be present as a factory in IMSA next season, that’s a certainty. However, looking further ahead there is still a good chance that it will return as an LMDh manufacturer once the new regulations debut in either 2022 or 2023. It is currently undergoing a formal evaluation internally, and is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks. Whether or not it would commit to LMDh and compete in IMSA or the FIA WEC (as part of the planned top-class convergence) or both is also a mystery at this point.

As for GTLM as a platform, well it’s not in rude health anymore.

With Porsche gone just BMW and Corvette are left as factories in the GTLM category for next year. Discussions are ongoing behind the scenes to fill the Porsche-shaped hole in the grid for next season, with BNW Motorsport boss Jens Marquardt telling the media back in September that IMSA was doing its best to encourage other manufacturers to join the class. But it will not be easy to build a larger field, especially for the full season.

This is mainly because the pool of potential additions is shallow. Currently Aston Martin and Ferrari (AF Corse) are the only legitimate prospects for a factory effort in IMSA, but neither are likely to mount the challenge. Competing in IMSA is extremely expensive, it’s a long season with four major endurance races and high manufacturer fees that must be paid to enter. Add to that their current commitments to the WEC and on the face of it at least, it appears unlikely that either brand will commit to a full programme. 

What’s more likely, is a factory-supported effort from a Ferrari, Porsche or Aston Martin customer team stepping up. Could we see fan favourite Risi Competitzione commit to more races? How about a new programme from Proton Competition, which in the early days of the FIA WEC was Porsche’s only GTE Pro presence?

It will be fascinating to see what happens, as for 2021 at least there will no major changes to the GT class structure to allow GTD cars to compete on a level playing field with GTLMs. Can IMSA President John Doonan pull something off? Let’s hope so.

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A new-look for DPi

Maybe the best news du jour is the outlook for DPi next year. With LMDh fast approaching, and much speculation focused on the brands and teams that will commit to that, it’s easy to forget that the DPi era is not yet over. 2021 is certainly going to be a memorable year, as the category has been shaken up ahead of next season.

The biggest change is the departure of Penske from Acura’s DPi effort, the legendary US team rode off into the sunset on a high at Sebring, securing the WeatherTech Championship.

But the title success comes after three somewhat disappointing campaigns with the Acura DPi, in which it failed to win the Rolex 24 or Sebring 12 Hours – the most important and historically significant races on the calendar. This came as a surprise to those expecting Penske to dominate the class, with its ORECA-based chassis. Nevertheless Penske did manage to win plenty of races and add spice to the DPi category. Will Penske return to IMSA soon with new manufacturer? There are rumblings with LMDh around the corner.

Anyway, Acuras will still be on the grid next year, with Michael Shank Racing returning to the top class, and Wayne Taylor Racing moving over from Cadillac’s stable.

WTR’s move, in turn, meant a space needed to be filled in the GM ranks alongside Action Express and JDC Miller’s programmes. And that will be taken up by the return of Ganassi, which achieved the highest of highs in IMSA and the FIA WEC between 2016 and 2019 with the Ford GT in GTLM and GTE Pro respectively. Chip Ganassi does nothing by half measures, so armed with the best DPi chassis of the bunch – the Cadillac DPi V.R, the sky is the limit here. Make no mistake, this is a huge addition to IMSA’s top class.

It also begs the question: what does the future hold for the Ganassi-Cadillac tie up? Is an LMDh programme in the works? Cadillac has been involved in shaping the new regulations, though the move to a mild-hybrid solution was thought to be a sticking point for the brand.

What about Mazda for 2021? Unfortunately it has decided to reduce its effort to a single car. This is a real shame as the programme has truly hit its stride over the past year, and looked capable of winning big races and titles going forward. Prior to March there was even a buzz surrounding a third Mazda for 2021, run by a customer team, but that hasn’t come to fruition. What we don’t know yet though, is whether freeing up resource is all part of a strategy to hit the ground running with a future LMDh effort.

The wait for the first LMDh programme to get the green light continues…

Stephen Kilbey

Images courtesy of Corvette Racing, Acura, Mazda and Porsche

Want to be trackside for an IMSA race next season? Travel Destinations is on sale for the Rolex 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours now.

You can also register your interest to attend the 6 Hours at The Glen and Petit Le Mans later in the year too. Call our office on 01707 329988 or email info@traveldestinations.co.uk to make a reservation or find our more.

Spa 24 Debrief: Tandy Delivers For Porsche

Last weekend’s Spa 24 Hours is in the books, with Rowe Racing delivering a second straight win at the event for Porsche in an Autumnal edition of GT racing’s biggest endurance race.

What can we take away from the week in Spa? Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey unpicks the best bits…

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Rowe, Rowe, Rowe Your Porsche

This certainly wasn’t the first time the Spa 24 Hours has been run in wet and windy conditions, and it won’t be the last…

It was a real race of attrition on this occasion, with contenders hitting trouble all the way to the flag. We’ll get onto some of that later, for now it’s time to reflect on the winning Porsche’s run.

Nick Tandy was simply superb in the closing stages, powering Rowe Racing’s No. 98 Porsche 911 GT3 R to the win, snatching the victory from the pair of Audis from Attempto and Sainteloc that appeared to be in control as the race began to wind down.

With the rain increasing and 90 minutes to go, Tandy began to make his move, cruising past Alessandro Pier Guidi’s No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari for third before taking chunks of time from the Audis ahead.

A Full-Course Caution moments later would prove aptly timed, as it bunched up the field when the safety car made an appearence. The Audis dived in to change tyres while the crew behind the scenes at Rowe gambled and double-stinted the No. 98’s Pirellis, allowing Tandy take the lead.

With the final hour in progress the chase was on, and Tandy, who lest we forget has wins with Porsche at Le Mans, Sebring, the Rolex 24 and Petit Le Mans under his belt, would be pushed to the limit. With the conditions treacherous, his tyre performance dropping off and the added stress caused by his gearbox failing due to a ‘lack of transmission oil’, it would take something special to claim the victory. With eight cars still on the lead lap by that point, one mistake could have been the difference between a famous win and a disappointing finish outside the top five.

Luckily for Tandy, the Attempto Audi of Patrick Niederhauser, which was reeling him in, was unable to make a move for the lead in the final moments. In a wild twist of fate, the gearbox issue that caused Tandy’s lead to shrink to just a couple of seconds by the final few laps prevented the Audi from getting past, as the 911 was laying down oil, making it near-impossible for Niederhauser to find the traction required to get through. It meant that the Audi would follow the coasting-Tandy home, just over two seconds off.

This was a dramatic crescendo to the race, which made the victory even more sweet for Tandy and his teammates Earl Bamber and (hometown hero) Laurens Vanthoor, who had battled hard throughout. As is often the case with the Spa 24 Hours, it was a 20-hour battle for survival that consisted of jabs rather than knockout-blows being traded between the frontrunners, with a four-hour no holds barred sprint at the end.

“I’ll never forget this finale,” said Tandy after the race. “Our victory was hanging by a thread when loud noises suddenly started coming from the rear of the vehicle in the penultimate lap. It almost sounded as if small bombs were exploding. I got a fright and at the same time, the rear axle was sliding around on a trail of oil.

“What I didn’t realise was that the oil was coming from our car. Unfortunately for our competitors, we coated the track with oil. We can only apologise for that, but it kind of saved us! I had to drive the last lap and a half without pushing, and I had to coast through the corners in order not to cause more damage. I still can’t quite believe that the Porsche 911 GT3 R got us over the finish line. The relief and joy are indescribable.”

It must be noted too that Rowe Racing’s win was particularly notable because it comes just a month after it scored a huge win at the Nurburgring 24 Hours, but with BMW, not Porsche!

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Spa struggles…

In an age of bullet-proof reliability in sportscar racing, it’s become a rarity to see a huge list of DNFs on a 24 hour race result sheet, especially in GT3-only races such as Spa where the entire field are competing with proven machinery, all running to similar lap times.

But Spa is a punishing circuit, especially when the weather takes a turn for the worst like it did over the weekend. There were plenty of thrills and spills up and down the order, with 18 of the 56 cars that took the start retiring.

This list included some of the contenders for the outright win, with FFF Racing’s No. 63 Lamborghini perhaps the most significant of the bunch, after Dennis Lind crashed at Raidillon during the morning.

Audi stalwart WRT’s challenge was ruined too, though by mechanical woes, the pole-sitting AKKA ASP Mercedes suffered a front-left tyre failure, and Walkenhorst’s BMW retired overnight after DTM ace Martin Tomczyk went into the barriers hard.

However, the most dramatic incident of the weekend didn’t come during the race, or even during a session for the Spa 24 runners. Instead, a huge incident for Raul Guzman on Saturday morning in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo delayed the start of the 24 and produced the biggest talking point of the meeting.

The incident saw him sent flying over the fencing and Armco on drivers’ left on the run down to Eau Rouge, after running three-wide with Jonathan Cecetto and Kevin Gilardoni (as seen in the video above). Thankfully the Mexican was ok and escaped with minor injuries. It’s a testament to the safety of modern GT machinery….

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2021 Takes Shape for SRO

SRO held is annual ‘state of the union’ press conference ahead of the Spa 24 Hours, with Stephane Ratel outlining the plans his huge swathe of GT championships.

Most of the calendars were revealed as part of the conference, the headline being the Intercontinental GT Challenge schedule for ’21 being reduced to four races, with the Spa 24 Hours next year now the opening round following the cancellation of the Bathurst 12 Hour.

The emphasis this year was on a renewed focus to attract and cater for amateur drivers and private teams to all of SRO’s championships from World Challenge, all the way down to its regional series.

This includes the introduction of a new GT Rebellion championship for Bronze drivers, a GT3 Anniversary festival at Monza which will include the chance for some of the older GT3 cars in circulation to race at Monza. The GT2 platform will also be rebooted with a new European Series with the same calendar as the GT Rebellion series which will include a races at Spa on race week for the Spa 24 Hours.

At times like this, organisers cannot, and should not, rely too much on factory money. SRO’s philosophy is smart. It builds grids in GT racing from the bottom up; Pro teams with factory money are an added bonus which headline events, but the foundations long-term have been laid with privateer outfits. That is why SRO has been able to attract huge fields of cars in its various championships around the world and it is why we should remain confident it can navigate these challenging times successfully.

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The Future of Spa

As for Spa itself, the future looks bright too.

A 10-year redevelopment project was announced earlier this month, which includes a huge cash injection which will see brand new grandstands constructed around the pits and Eau-Rouge/Raidillon as part of the drive to bring international bike racing back to the circuit.

These new stands will double the number of seats for spectators at the circuit and increase hospitality areas. For fans this is welcome news, as the circuit facilities have needed updating for a while now. The new Raidillon stand with 4,500 seats sounds particularly impressive, with views from La Source all the way through to the start of the Kemmel Straight.

Once completed it should make spectating at the world-famous Ardennes circuit even more incredible….

Stephen Kilbey

Want to make the trip to Spa next year for the 24 Hours? We are already on sale for 2021! Give our office a call today to get yourself booked by calling 01707 32 99 88.

Images courtesy of Spa-Francorchamps and Porsche

Who Will Sign Up To LMDh First?

The FIA WEC’s Le Mans Hypercar category is beginning to shape up nicely. With Toyota, Alpine, Glickenhaus, Peugeot and ByKolles all on board, we now await the first programme confirmations for IMSA’s LMDh platform which forms the other half of the planned convergence of the top classes from IMSA and the FIA WEC.

But which OEM will make the first leap of faith and sign off a programme? Over the past few weeks the picture is becoming ever so slightly clearer, as Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey writes…

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Push back or push on?

‘A dozen’ marques are believed to all still be involved in the technical working group for the new platform, which will see manufacturers put their own stamp on hybrid-powered next-gen LMP2 chassis and compete in either IMSA, the FIA WEC or both.

Two pertinent questions arose from the latest public update which occurred during the ACO’s annual Press Conference at the Le Mans 24 Hours earlier this month: 1. When will the LMDh formula make its debut? And 2. who will bite the bullet and be first to commit?

Originally LMDh was intended to debut in 2022, but time is ticking and it is becoming clear that a debut for these new cars at the 2022 Rolex 24 Hours in January is an unrealistic target. While reports from RACER.com suggest that the entire time frame has changed, with the debut now expected to be 2023, Pierre Fillon, the President of the ACO, has since said that no firm decision had been made on whether or not we’ll see them race “before or after Le Mans 2022”.

Currently, as the manufacturers continue to study and evaluate future programmes, the process is becoming increasingly difficult with no firm date for the category’s introduction.

It would be a mistake for the organisers to sacrifice 2022 and extend the lifespan of the current DPi field (which is becoming increasingly thin) if more than two factories have plans to be out testing cars this time next year with the intention of being ready for the original time frame. And equally it would be an error for IMSA and the ACO ahead as planned, push for 2022, and struggle to assemble a grid at all.

Ultimately the market will decide when LMDh makes its first appearance…

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Porsche’s pulling power

Of all the manufacturers looking likely to commit first, it looks increasingly likely that an OEM which doesn’t currently feature in IMSA’s DPi ranks will be the first to press the green button: Porsche.

If Porsche opts to join LMDh, and its announcement could potentially come as soon as its annual Night of Champions event in December, then it’s truly ‘game on’. All along Porsche has been ‘in the room’ on LMDh and told Travel Destinations back in January that it was a very supportive of ‘convergence’ and the direction that LMDh was heading.

Its has publicly stated that it is formally evaluating an LMDh programme multiple times. And while it didn’t reveal anything in the wake of the ACO Conference which celebrated the publication of the full set of LMDh regulations and showcased LMDh example chassis (of which one looked somewhat Porsche inspired (below)), it did release a statement which served as a reminder that it is serious about returning to prototype racing.

“We’re very happy that FIA, ACO and IMSA have provided the final details of future LMDh regs,” it read. “We’re now able to take the final step in the concept study commissioned by our board of directors.”

With Penske set to cut ties with Acura at the end of the current IMSA season, and Porsche’s GTLM effort coming to a close, the timing seems almost too perfect for a Penske-Porsche reunion?

The question is, would it join the WEC or IMSA, or both? And would it prompt a swathe of other manufacturers to reveal their plans? You’d like to think so…

Someone needs to become the first domino to fall. If it is Porsche, then the potential for more heavy hitters to join in is huge; there is no other manufacturer with an equal level of status, heritage and ‘pulling power’ in sportscar racing.

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And Acura?

Of the current DPi pack, Acura (HPD) looks closest to confirming its intention to continue its presence in IMSA’s premier class beyond the current ruleset.

“We are not confirming an LMDh programme today though clearly that is our desire,” said HPD President, Ted Klaus to select media recently.

“It is our intention to go forward with LMDH.”

These comments came shortly after it was announced that Wayne Taylor Racing and Michael Shank Racing would take over from Penske as DPi partner teams from 2021 onwards.

Prying Wayne Taylor from GM after a 30-year relationship was surely not an easy task? Was the promise of something beyond the current DPi programme on the table as a key factor for this move to occur?On paper there appears to be almost no standout reason for WTR to abandon Cadillac after so much success with the current DPi V.R in recent years, while in the midst of a title run in 2020.

But, it has indeed happened, Wayne Taylor making it clear that his involvement in the sport is slowly coming to a close. “I’m really excited about this new adventure we’re entering into,” he told RACER.com’s Marshall Pruett. “I always wanted to finish my career on top, and that’s where I feel we are headed.”

A Le Mans win is something missing from his and (coincidentally) Mike Shank’s CV’s. Will the commitment to Acura’s DPi effort in the short term allow both to gun for the overall win in the coming years?

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The view from left field

McLaren is a brand that continues to be mentioned in industry conversations about LMDh. This is in part because it has been actively sniffing around top-level sportscar racing for a number of years now without actually committing to anything. As recently as 2018 it appeared close to signing off a GTE programme, before opting to focus on GT3 and GT3 customer-focused efforts.

Now though, with the viability of GTE in the medium term looking uncertain, it is looking to add a top class programme to its factory motorsport repertoire, as a third prong alongside its Formula One and IndyCar commitments.

With Formula One set to cap costs at the next set of regulations in 2022, the timing appears perfect on the surface to reallocate resources and man power to a new venture in sportscar racing. (This is, in part, why Ferrari is thought to be circling LMDh too.)

McLaren CEO Zak Brown spoke to Travel Destinations last weekend about this very subject and confirmed that the brand is still interested, as he feels Le Mans in particular is “still very relevant”. During the conversation he gave an outline for a timeline for the programme too, stating that if McLaren did enter the LMDh ranks it would have to do so in either 2023 or 2024. “We wouldn’t see the value in entering a formula with less than three years left in the ruleset,” he said.

He also made an interesting point about 2023.

The 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours will be held on the 100th anniversary of the first edition, which will surely attract multiple manufacturers set on taking the overall win on such an important year. It is also a very important year for McLaren.

“There is a real appeal in 2023, as it’s the 60th anniversary of McLaren Racing. Le Mans is like Disneyland, there’s a big anniversary to celebrate for something every year it seems!”

What would a McLaren programme look like? Factory cars with the added punch of customer teams running additional chassis? There has always been the desire from McLaren’s side for customer cars to be made available to make things more financially viable.

Could this see Brown’s other motorsport interest, United Autosports (which he co-owns), step up from an ultra-successful LMP2 and LMP3 team to a player in the top class of sportscar racing?

“I’d like to think we (United) are putting ourselves in a position to be considered on a shortlist as a technical partner for a manufacturer as they come in,” he hinted.

Brown did mention though that there are still a few finer details within the LMDh ruleset which McLaren feel need further work and clarity.

“We have been participating in all the technical meetings and we like the direction they are headed with LMDh,” he said.”However, there is a little bit of concern from our side over how difficult it will be to balance LMDh and LMH cars, specifically in tricky conditions because one set of rules features two-wheel-drive cars (LMDh) and the other features four-wheel-drive. How are going to ensure parity at two in the morning at Le Mans when it’s raining and the Hypercars can power out of the corners with four-wheel-drive?

“They need to be careful. They are confident they can find a way. We just need to make sure it can be done.”

Stephen Kilbey

Photos courtesy of McLaren, ACO and Acura

Storylines To Follow In The 2020 Nürburgring 24 Hours

The dust has barely settled on the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours and already, less than a week later, it’s time to start looking ahead to the next major endurance race: the Nürburgring 24 Hours (N24).

Predicting who will take the crown at the N24 each year is notoriously difficult, with so many cars in the SP9 category featuring crews of world-class drivers in with a legitimate shot at glory.

Gone are the days where it felt like a small-time event lacking appeal outside of Germany. Now it’s a race with a huge international following, that is taken incredibly seriously by a slew of major manufacturers. That’s not to say it has lost its club-racing roots, as it is still very much a race with its own culture, that welcomes just about every type of GT or touring car past and present.

With the absence of fans on the Nordschleife, (though happily there will be some on the GP loop) this year’s race may look and feel different, but the teams and manufacturers involved will all be pushing as hard as ever to be crowned ‘King of the ‘Ring’

So who are the contenders? What oddball entries should you follow?

Let’s take a look at some of the storylines to follow in this year’s race:

The SP9 war

The battle for the overall win at the N24 is seldom a dull, predictable affair. This year will be no exception. The race as a whole may featuring a lower car count than usual, but in the SP9 class there’s 30 cars all in with a chance at taking overall honours.

Customer teams from Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes, and Porsche will be going tooth and nail with GT3 machinery. So far Mercedes, BMW and Audi have taken wins in the NLS (formerly the VLN), with an Octane 126-fielded Ferrari almost taking a surprise win in the third round.

Could the 488 GT3 prove to be the surprise package here? Ferrari has never won the Nurburgring 24 Hours, despite having produced GT3 cars more than capable enough. This is mainly because there hasn’t been a serious factory-supported effort from the likes of AF Corse or any of its other major teams since Hankook-shod models came close a decade ago in the pre-GT3 era, with GT2-spec 430 and 458s.

Porsche meanwhile, hasn’t taken a win this year at the ‘Ring in NLS competition, but its customer teams should never be counted out. Frikadelli Racing, KCMG, Falken Motorsports and Huber Motorsport will all be present, and eager to score the Stuttgart-based marque its second victory in three years at the event.

The spotlight will be on Porsche in particular this year, after Manthey withdrew its ‘Grello’ #911 entry due to some positive COVID tests emerging for the crew post-Le Mans. This had a further knock-on effect, as the withdrawal of all Porsche’s Le Mans factory drivers (as a result) left Falken and KCMG with last minute decisions to make; both were due to compete with drivers that will now not make the trip.

Falken has opted to reduce its driver crew from eight to six, while KCMG has drafted in the likes of Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmiester to make up the numbers.

Which teams will be in the mix from the other marques?

Audi Sport has entered three factory R8 LMS GT3s all packed with factory drivers. Phoenix Racing also has a pair of R8s to add to the attack. None should be counted out here, especially considering Audi’s form at the N24 which has seen it claim five of the last eight overall wins with the R8 platform.

Mercedes meanwhile has seven AMG GT3s in the race, headlined by debuting team Haupt Racing’s trio of entries, all featuring experienced peddlers. HRT effectively replaces Black Falcon in Mercedes’ line-up of factory supported teams, the longtime German outfit stepping back to compete in the lower ranks going forward. But Mercedes hopes this change won’t affect its hopes of a win. The NLS season so far has been encouraging, HRT delivering a maiden victory as a Mercedes customer team in just its second appearence.

Then there’s BMW, which is desperate to end its win-less drought that dates back to 2010. The GT3-era hasn’t been kind to the Bavarian brand which has been unable to score wins with either the Z4 or M6 models.

BMW has come close numerous times in recent years, but no matter how much firepower it throws at this race it always seems to end in bitter disappointment. This is a far cry from the pre-GT3 era of the N24 when it regularly dominated proceedings

ROWE Racing (above), Schnitzer and Walkenhorst have been tasked with putting an M6 GT3 on the top step this year, and all three are capable of doing so. Will they deliver?

Glickenhaus’ 004C put to the test

It wouldn’t be an N24 without odd-ball entries or one-off specials in the field. While there is no Opel Manta this year (for the first time in almost two decades), there are still some fan-favourites set to take part outside of the SP9 field.

The most high profile is Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus’ new 004C which will run on its own in the SPX category. Now, this isn’t SCG’s attempt at taking a trophy by default, as usual the team has its heart set on overall glory. As was the case in the past, the 004C is set to be able to remain competitive alongside the SP9 cars in the race; it just doesn’t fit in the category by regulation as it isn’t an FIA-homolgated GT3 car.

The 004C takes over the reins from the 003C which SCG has fielded in the race over the past few years. And it has a lot to live up to. The 003C may not have won this race overall, but it did storm to pole position back in 2017 and prove time and time again to be fast enough to keep up with the best of the best in the SP9 ranks.

Franck Mailleux, Felipe Laser and Thomas Mutsch have been entrusted with the new car for what will be an incredibly important weekend for Glickenhaus.

This race will see the 004C put to the test properly for the first time. Following its initial test programme, the team did manage to get the 004C to the finish in its debut NLS race ahead of this weekend, despite an exhaust fire which saw the team work overtime to rebuild much of the car using spares loaned from Black Falcon.

This latest chapter in Jim Glickenhaus’ N24 programme will be well worth tracking. Lest we forget that this serves nicely as a precursor to his forthcoming FIA WEC Le Mans Hypercar programme next year.

Interestingly its main rival in the 2020 FIA WEC season, Toyota Gazoo Racing, also features in the race this year with a pair of SP3-class Carolla Altis’!

Will the SP8s provide the most entertaining race within the race?

Further down the order the most interesting racing beyond the SP9 may come in the SP 8 (normally aspirated) and SP 8T (turbo-charged) categories which predominantly feature GT4 cars. The numbers in the two categories aren’t huge, but there are some rather interesting drivers and teams involved.

In SP 8T there are four cars representing three marques. The only Aston Martin in the race is included in this bunch, former Blancpain Endurance champion Garage 59 (above) making its N24 debut with factory driver Darren Turner, former McLaren test driver Chris Goodwin and Alex West.

The team has high hopes after successes in NLS races prior to this weekend. Aston Martin may not have a history of winning this race overall, but it has a track record of customer and factory efforts taking regular wins in the lower classes with the Vantage platform in recent years.

“This is the biggest test yet of the Garage 59 team,” says Goodwin. “We entered two NLS races to tune our Vantage to the particular requirements of the Nordschleife but also to prepare the team itself.  

“The 24-hour race is a massive challenge but this team has great experience in other forms of GT endurance racing so we knew they were up to the challenge. Second place at the six-hour race here last month confirms that.”

Garage 59’s competition will be hot, up against an M4 GT4 from N24 stalwart Walkenhorst Motorsport, a Mercedes AMG GT4 from multiple former overall winner Black Falcon and a Keeevin Sports & Racing BMW M2 CS for added variety.

SP8 meanwhile, is a two-horse race between two aspirant tire brands: a Giti Tire Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT4 and Lexus RCF fielded by Toyo Tire Ring Racing. Dominik Farnbacher.

As usual, if you love tyre wars, then there’s plenty to look out for in this race. In SP9 alone, Michelin, Yokohama, Goodyear and Falken are represented. Beyond the top class, Toyo, Hankook, Pirelli, Nexen and Giti are also supplying tyres to teams. And with heavy rain forecast for the race, it will fascinating to see which tyres are the ones to have as the conditions change and evolve…

Stephen Kilbey

Want to head to the Nürburgring for next year’s 24 Hours? Travel Destinations is already on sale. Call our office on 01707 329 988 to make a booking today!

Photos courtesy of Garage 59/Aston Martin and N24/ADAC

FIA WEC Releases Six-Race 2021 Calendar

The 2021 World Endurance Championship calendar has been revealed. Next year will see a reduced six-race schedule.

The season, the first for the new Le Mans Hypercar formula, will start with a trip to Sebring for a 1000-mile race, in a double-header with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the 12 Hours of Sebring. This will mark the return of ‘Super Sebring’ after the 2020 edition was cancelled at the last minute.

After that the teams will race at Spa-Francorchamps for the annual six-hour Le Mans 24 Hours ‘dress rehearsal in May. The third round of the season will then be the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 12-13th.

Following the Le Mans 24 Hours the teams head to Italy after a summer break for a weekend at Monza, in what will be the first ever FIA WEC race at the ‘Temple of Speed’ and the championship’s first appearance at the circuit since the pre-season Prologue test was held there in 2017.

Two further trips out of the country then round off the season, the first being a race at the Fuji Speedway, for Toyota’s first home race with its Hypercar, the second the season finale at Bahrain in November.

There are three key omissions from the original 2020/21 calendar which was shelved in favour of a calendar year schedule due to the pandemic. The WEC will not head to newly renovated circuit at Kyalami for the first time or return to either Shanghai or Silverstone for the first time in WEC history. Both circuits have been ever present since the inaugural WEC season in 2012.

2021 FIA WEC Schedule (Provisional)

13-14 March: Pre-Season Test (Sebring)
19 March: 1000 Miles of Sebring
1 May: 6 Hours of Spa
12/13 June: 24 Hours of Le Mans
18 July: 6 Hours Monza
26 September: 6 Hours of Fuji
20 November: 6 Hours of Bahrain

2021 Spa 24 Hours Dates Confirmed

The 2021 GT World Challenge Europe provisional calendar has been revealed by the SRO, the campaign featuring 10 rounds including the Spa 24 Hours which will be held on 29th July – 1st August.

Travel Destinations will be offering tours to the Spa 24 Hours in 2021, offering reserved camping pitches or hotel stays for the event as part of a package including event tickets and crossings.

Prior to the 24 Hours at Spa the season begins with a three-hour Endurance Cup contest at Monza on 16-18 April, returning the historic Italian venue to its traditional position at the start of the season. It will be followed by another old favourite, Brands Hatch, which will kick off the Sprint Cup on the national bank holiday weekend (1-2 May).

A further two Endurance Cup events will follow. The first will take place on either 7-9 May or one week later on 14-16 May, with the venue yet to be finalised. Then, on 28-30 May, Circuit Paul Ricard will stage its popular 1000km contest.  

The battle for the Sprint Cup title will heat up with a pair of summer events. The first takes place on 18-20 June at Dutch seaside venue Zandvoort, which will stage the series for the fifth time. The annual trip to Misano follows two weeks later (2-4 July), when the Adriatic track will welcome GT World Challenge Europe for a seventh year in succession. 

Following the Spa 24 Hours, racing then resumes at the Nürburgring on 3-5 September, with the German venue retaining its status as an Endurance Cup event and bringing the curtain down on the long-distance championship.

To enquire about a trip to the 2021 Spa 24 Hours, call our offices on 01707 329 988 and speak to a member of our team.

2021 Provisional Calendar

16-18 April – Monza, Italy (Endurance)
1-2 May – Brands Hatch, UK (Sprint) 
7-9 May or 14-16 May – TBA (Endurance) 
28-30 May – Circuit Paul Ricard, France (Endurance) 18-20 June – Zandvoort, Netherlands (Sprint)
2-4 July – Misano, Italy (Sprint)
29 July – 1 August – Total 24 Hours of Spa, Belgium (Endurance)
3-5 September – Nürburgring, Germany (Endurance)
24-26 September or 8-10 October – Barcelona, Spain (Sprint)
24-26 September or 5-6 November – TBA (Sprint) 

Provisional Dates Revealed For 2021 Spa Six Hours

Following the announcement from Spa Six Hours organiser Roadbook that the 2020 edition of the Spa Six Hours will be held behind closed doors later this month, provisional dates for the 2021 edition have been revealed.

Next year’s event will be held on the weekend of September 24-26* at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, and promises to be another exciting edition with the usual gathering of more than 600 historic race cars all taking to the circuit.

Travel Destinations is already taking bookings for the 2021 Spa Six Hours. It will again offer a variety of exclusive travel options for fans wishing to be there trackside, ranging from camping close to circuit, boutique hotels in a small village to a luxurious four star hotel in the centre of Spa.

Call our offices now on 01707 329 988 to speak to a member of our team and get yourself booked today!

*Event dates provisional.

WEC Debrief: A Return To Remember

Following each FIA WEC race, Travel Destinations’ Stephen Kilbey runs through the matters of the moment, re-capping the weekend’s action before looking at what lies ahead in the coming months.

His first ‘WEC Debrief’ column covers the FIA WEC’s return following a six-month hiatus caused by the COVID 19 pandemic at Spa-Francorchamps and some of the pressing topics in sportscar racing as motorsport comes roaring back.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same

Sometimes you just can’t be stopped. Even with a six-month break from racing, huge success handicap penalty, heavy rain and a heap of new protocols to adhere to, the No. 7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez still found a way to win at Spa.

Since Porsche’s LMP1 exit a Toyota victory may seem like standard service, but the No. 7 genuinely wasn’t expected to emerge victorious here. The Success Handicap system, in use this season to help balance the field in LMP1, has served its purpose thus far, allowing privateer non-hybrid LMP1 cars win races outright without relying on miscues or reliability woes from the factory hybrids.

At Spa, the No. 7 was the hardest hit in the Success Handicap table, and could only muster a combined time good enough for a second row spot on the grid, a second and a half off Rebellion Racing’s R-13 which took pole. Had the race stayed dry, then surely Rebellion would have been able to pull off a third win of the season? But the four-wheel-drive systems in the Toyotas, as expected, provided the team with a huge advantage in heavy rain and changeable conditions.

In practice, the TS050 HYBRIDs had far better traction through corners and punch through traffic, while the R-13 struggled for grip, specifically early on when the team reportedly suffered an issue with tyre pressures. To make matters worse a gamble on tyres, putting new wets on with the level of rain reducing, cost Norman Nato, Gustavo Menezes and Bruno Senna further time and ultimately, a chance to truly challenge for anything other than a third place finish.

But even with Rebellion faltering, the No. 7 should still have been beaten by the sister car, on pace at least. The No. 8 of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima, with only a single win thus far this season back at Fuji, had the speed to take a comfortable victory thanks to its more favourable handicap. It took the lead early and powered off into the distance with Buemi at the wheel, but suffered an intermittent fault which caused a loss of hybrid power that ultimately cost the car the better part of a minute during the first half of the race. It left the No. 7 crew with the task of staying out of trouble and making the finish, which they did, with a faultless run, extending their championship lead to 12 points ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours next month.

“With the success handicap we had, we just assumed we would finish third, maybe second if things went really well. But it’s been a great day and it’s a fantastic result,” a surprised Mike Conway said after the race. He will hope that the momentum will translate into a first victory at La Sarthe for the No. 7 crew.

LMP2 on the other hand, was action packed but served up a rather more predictable result: a United Autosports win.

It must be said at this point that United’s form is simply astonishing. Across both ELMS and the FIA WEC competition, Richard Dean’s team have won five straight races dating back to the Bahrain WEC race last year. The switch from Ligier to ORECA has paid off hugely.

It wasn’t a dominant performance in the race for the pole-sitters, by any means, but when it mattered most towards the end the car was still very much in contention and took control. Granted, Racing Team Nederland’s driver line-up, featuring Bronze-rated Frits van Eerd, meant a victory was always going to require an element of luck up against United’s line-up of Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta. Still, that shouldn’t take the shine of what was nevertheless a hard-fought victory.

RTN’s Giedo van der Garde was easily the driver of the race here however. The Dutchman, with another one of his trademark opening stints drove from the very back of the grid to the lead in the class, and ultimately put the team in contention for a second victory this season. Following Job van Uitert’s efforts, Van Eerd gave his upmost to defend the lead, but was powerless to resist when Di Resta got within striking distance and made the winning move.

The incident a handful of laps later involving Thomas Laurent also garners a mention here, although for a rather different reason. Van Eerd, blinded by traffic, didn’t see Laurent’s attempt at move for second in the Signatech Alpine up the inside through Blanchimont. The Dutchman closed the door to take his line sending Laurent onto the grass and veering off the track to the barriers on drivers’ right. It was a big hit, so those watching were left relieved that he was able to walk away.

Modern day prototypes continue to amaze on the safety front…

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Porsche power

The Aston Martin-Porsche-Ferrari battle in GTE Pro was simply unmissable. It’s been a similar story for most of the season, but it’s still baffling at times that a six-car field can provide so much entertainment. The current Automated BoP system that governs the class has come into its own this season, keeping everyone guessing throughout every race; no lead has ever been safe.

Porsche eventually took the win – its first at Spa in GTE Pro for eight years. The No. 92 of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen found a breakthrough in the final hour of the race after each of the three teams held a lead at various points. The evolving conditions and safety car periods kept the field bunched up at key stages, each one finishing on the lead lap.

Aston Martin completed the podium with its pair of Vantage AMRs. Its title hopefuls in the No. 95, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen took second, ahead of the No. 97 which led into the final hour but lost the top spot to an error by Maxime Martin, before being forced in for a late splash that dropped them to third.

The change in order late meant Thiim and Sorensen hold a 19-point lead and have to be considered favourites going into Le Mans, though only by the slimmest of margins. The duo certainly had luck on their side in Belgium, a puncture early in the race could have ended their podium chances. Thankfully the left-rear blowout occurred at the end of the lap, allowing for a quick stop for a fresh set of rubber that didn’t cost too much time.

AF Corse were the biggest losers, the No. 51 looking quick and consistent enough to take the win for lengthy portions of the race. Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado though were the first of the two 488 GTE EVOs across the line, but could only muster a fourth place finish (for the fourth time this season), denting their title hopes significantly.

Even so, it wasn’t all bad news for the Italian team as in GTE Am its No. 83 trio of Manu Collard, Francois Perrodo and Nicklas Nielsen took their first win since the season opener at Silverstone, extending their points lead in the process. The Porsche 911 RSRs in the field appeared to have the pace for the majority of the meeting, but the lottery created by late pit stops and safety cars propelled AF Corse to the front after a stealthy run through the five-hour mark.

This all leaves us with a tantalizing prospect for Le Mans next month. You’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite in either GTE class.

It should also be pointed out too that the simple act of being able to look forward to Le Mans 24 Hours happening marks real progress. Seeing the FIA WEC back in action in Belgium was a huge step forward in uncertain times. The WEC was by no means the first championship back following the COVID-19 lockdowns around the world, but the organisers and team personnel deserve real praise here. ACO racing is back, let’s hope the return of trackside fans will follow shortly…

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The calendar conundrum

On the subject of fans returning to watch WEC racing trackside, the 2021 calendar is currently being formed behind the scenes and it has real potential to benefit keen race-going fans in the UK and continental Europe.

It appears that the schedule will be shorter than usual, with six races being reported following a briefing to the media from FIA President Jean Todt. And the likelihood is that it will comprise of a selection of the more cost-effective races for the teams involved.

What do we know? Or think we know? Well Le Mans will, as usual, be the centrepiece, and the race at Spa-Francorchamps will serve as a dress-rehearsal. Beyond that no other trips are ‘set in stone’, publicly at least.

The WEC remains as keen as ever to return to Sebring in March for a double-header with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s 12-hour race. At present it would be a tough ask, but a lot can, and will, change in the coming months. It’s not a cheap event for competitors, yet it is popular with teams and drivers and there is an element of unfinished business surrounding ‘Super Sebring’ after it was cancelled just days before the start of the event way back in March.

Silverstone will surely feature too? A mainstay on the WEC schedule since the inaugural season, a return to ‘Home of British Motorsport’ is a relatively easy race to manage, both in terms of logistics and cost.

The question beyond that becomes, how many of the remaining races on the calendar will be held outside of Europe? F1 is currently touring the continent as part of its flexible 2020 calendar which continues to grow as the season wears on. Is there any reason to believe the WEC couldn’t follow suit and become firmly European next season? It would be significantly cheaper, and easier to tweak should travel restrictions continue to cause headaches. Lest we also forget that the ACO has plenty of experience putting on events at a slew of European circuits with the European Le Mans Series….

European-based fans keen to explore some of the best circuits on the continent could very well be in for a treat in ’21!

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Hypercar’s silver lining

It’s strange to think that the original debut of the Le Mans Hypercar category was set for next month, yet here we are, still in the midst of a season that should have finished two months ago. It’s not all bad news though. Delaying the debut of the FIA WEC’s top class may prove to be a blessing in disguise, as it has given Toyota, Glickenhaus and ByKolles additional time to prepare their new cars.

Toyota being ready is paramount for the championship and its health. While it would have ultimately found a way to attend the season opener from the original calendar, it has admitted to Travel Destinations that it wouldn’t have been a comfortable experience, with extremely limited testing for its car between Le Mans and the opener at Silverstone.

Now, with an additional six months until its debut to play with, and the team spending much of the lockdown making progress, the GR Super Sport Concept is set to be truly ready for the 2021 season, whenever it starts. Travel Destinations understands that bodywork for the car already exists, with the first chassis set to be built up the week after Le Mans next month before its testing programme begins in October.

Whether the extra time to ready the car will translate into reliability and pace from its debut onward remains to be seen, though the crew behind the scenes are far more confident in their ability to hit the ground running than they were at the start of the year.

It’s a similar situation for Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, which is committed to racing in the WEC next year with two of its new 007s. The aero design is currently being put through its paces in a windtunnel, ahead of a full chassis being built up for circuit testing. Jim Glickenhaus himself had previously revealed that the team would be unable to make the start of the 2021/22 season, with its debut then expected to come in the race at Kyalami next year. Thankfully, with the calendar now torn up, it now has a chance to be there from the beginning and take the fight to Toyota with its Pipo Moteurs-powered challenger.

Glickenhaus has publicly stated recently that it plans to debut the car at Sebring next March for what would serve as the team’s home race. Wouldn’t it be something if the BoP works as planned in the class and the unpredictable nature of multiple new chassis being put to the test on such a punishing circuit ended up creating a shock result for the plucky American manufacturer?

Who else is set to join the party? Lest we forget that ByKolles remains committed with its own Hypercar from next year, and Peugeot Sport is slated to return to the top-level of sportscars in 2022. Little is known of the current status of ByKolles’ Hypercar, nonetheless its return to WEC action at Spa last weekend (albeit with its rather fragile CLM LMP1) should be considered encouraging.

Pegueot has also been quiet, though news on its progress is expected sooner rather than later. It isn’t yet clear whether or not it has decided to compete in Le Mans Hypercar or the parallel LMDh formula (which will see manufacturers able to compete with the same car alongside Le Mans Hypercars in the WEC and the top class of IMSA) with its new model in the WEC. Industry sources have indicated to Travel Destinations that a Hypercar is and has always been the more likely of the two, especially as there now appears to be potential for the debut of the LMDh ruleset to be pushed back a year to 2023 and the French make is still planning for a 2022 debut.

That’s all still a long way down the line. For now we still have the 2019/20 WEC season to finish! Next stop, Le Mans…

SK

Images courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing, Porsche Motorsport, United Autosports, Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus & dailysportscar

Dates Confirmed for 2021 Peter Auto Historic Racing Events

The 2021 calendar of historic races by Peter Auto has been released, featuring nine events across the year. With Travel Destinations you can book a travel package and be there to experience the highlights with trips to the Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or and the 10th running of both the Spa and Le Mans Classic all now on sale.

The 10th staging of Le Mans Classic is no doubt the centre-piece of the year for Peter Auto.  The 2021 running will be held on July 1st to 4th, and promises to be bigger and better than ever. As usual, a selection of grids featuring iconic cars from Le Mans history racing day and night on the full Circuit de la Sarthe.

Before that though, over in Belgium during May (14th – 16th), the Spa Classic returns. It is another increasingly popular event for fans, during with a wide variety of historic machinery hit the challenging Ardennes circuit.

Then, a month later in France, the 56th edition of the Grand Prix de L’Age d’Or will take place at Dijon. It presents a rare opportunity to see some of the most spectacular historic race cars – everything from sportscars, single-seaters and touring cars – on a circuit with an ‘old school’ charm.

Below is the full calendar, with the events we are selling packages for in bold. Call our offices on 01707 376 888 to book a trip today…

4-5 March – Series Test Days – Circuit Paul Ricard (France)
26-28 March – Dix Mille Tours du Castellet – Circuit Paul Ricard (France)19-24 April – Tour Auto Optic 2000 – Rally (France)
14-16 May – Spa-Classic – Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium)
4-6 June – Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or – Circuit Dijon-Prenois (France)
1-4 July – Le Mans Classic – Circuit des 24 Heures (France)

17-19 September – Monza Historic – Autodromo di Monza (Italy)
21-25 September – Rallye des Légendes Richard Mille 
8-10 October – Estoril Classics – Estoril circuit (Portugal)

2021 Rolex 24 at Daytona Dates Confirmed

The 2021 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway – the Rolex 24 Hours – has been given a set of dates, the race set to be held over January 30-31, 2021.

The 59th running of America’s premiere endurance race will again see a star-studded field of prototype and GT cars take on the world-famous Daytona banking. And with Travel Destinations, you can make the trip and experience it for yourself.

IMSA’s 2021 campaign is set to be the final one for the hugely successful DPi platform. Acura, Mazda and Cadillac will be on the grid, their teams getting one last shot at a victory in the championship’s most prestigious race before the LMDh era begins in 2022.

In addition to the dates for the race being confirmed, the annual “Roar Before the Rolex 24” preseason test sessions have been released too. Next year the Roar will be held the weekend before race-week, January 22nd – 24th (Friday-Sunday). This gives a rare opportunity for fans to take in an additional three-days of track action, and fan-focused events at the ONE DAYTONA plaza across the road from the speedway, just before race-week begins.

The Rolex 24 has become an unmissable event in the motorsport calendar in recent years, but it is a race with a long history. It was first held as a three-hour event in 1962, then known as the Daytona Continental. It has become renowned for annually attracting many of the world’s finest drivers – from various racing disciplines – to make history against the world’s best sportscar racers. Historically, drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula 1 have joined teams for “one-off” efforts. Past Rolex 24 At Daytona champions include four-time NASCAR Cup Series and three-time DAYTONA 500 champion Jeff Gordon, five-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso. Dixon co-drove to his third Rolex 24 title this past January.

As ever, Travel Destinations will be present at the event, and you can be there with us. Our travel packages are already on offer, so give us a call and book a place today…

Le Mans 2020

Le Mans 2020: Important update for Le Mans 24 Hours

LE MANS 24 HOURS: IMPORTANT UPDATE

Today we have received the news that the Le Mans 24 Hours has been postponed and the new dates have now been confirmed as the 19th & 20th September 2020.

IMPORTANT

  • In the first instance, please do not call or email our office.
    In order to manage the volumes of correspondence we are receiving, we respectfully ask you to refrain from contacting us at this time. Rest assured we will be contacting you in due course in a systematic manner. This may well take some weeks in the current situation so your patience would be appreciated.
  • Reservations will be amended to the new dates, keeping the same price and travel arrangements as previously confirmed. Your new balance due date will be on or before 1st June.
  • Should you be unable to attend the Le Mans 24hrs in September, you are entitled to a credit note for the full amount already paid. This must be redeemed by 24th December 2021 and is valid for any events until 30th September 2022.
  • As ABTA members we would like to re-assure you that any monies held with us are financially protected.

At this time, the Le Mans Classic remains as going ahead as planned for July.

Thank you for your understanding in this matter and we will be in touch very soon.

Circuit des Remparts

Angoulême, Circuit des Remparts – the 80th Anniversary

The Circuit des Remparts in Angoulême is an event that we have been attending since the late 90’s. It is a firm favourite of ours, if you have yet to experience it, then let us set the scene; picture a beautiful city in an elevated position overlooking the meandering Charente river. Visitors and participants attending the event fill the bars and restaurants which line the streets. The anticipation ahead of the weekend’s events are palpable. The soundtrack is provided by the burble of unsilenced race cars weaving passed the crowds en route to the paddock ready for race day.

Bugatti in the Circuit des Remparts paddock
Bugatti in the Circuit des Remparts paddock
Circuit des Remparts
Vintage cars line the streets in Angoulême
Circuit des Remparts
Moss – a previous participant

In 2019 it was the 80th anniversary of the Circuit des Remparts. The concept for the event was born in 1938 by the local car club and ratified by the mayor of Angouleme. The first race happened in 1939, Some of the most prestigious pilots of the time were entered into the first edition of the Angoulême Circuit des Remparts: Maurice Trintignant, Jean-Pierre Wimille, René Bonnet or Raymond Sommer who won the race and scored the fastest lap with 1 minute 10 second lap at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo 308.

When the Second World War was announced two months after the Circuit des Remparts first edition, the events were suspended from this point for eight years. The second edition of the Angouleme race took place in June 1947.

There is so much history of the race during the period of 1947 and 1955, it is worth reading on www.circuitdesremparts.com/en/history. In 1955 the laws were changing about racing on street circuits. Then the catastrophic accident at Le Mans that year put pay to street racing, for the most part, for years to come.

The event was revived in 1978 although the rules about running timed events restricted what the organisers were able to put in place. The true revival was in 1983, with real racing back on the streets. That year Stirling Moss, John Surtess and Didier Peroni were all guests at the event. In 1990 the Circuit des Remparts adopted the format we know today, with the Concours d’Elegance/d’Etat, the Saturday rally and racing on the Sunday. To this day the circuit layout remains as it did in 1939.

Our 2019 tour started in Portsmouth on a Tuesday evening, for the overnight sailing to Caen. We then travelled down via the d-roads for breakfast in Putanges, followed by a fascinating visit to the chateau that Steve McQueen stayed in during the making of the movie Le Mans. Our first overnight stay was in the charming town of Loué, at a hotel also linked with the movie Le Mans. There was plenty of time to relax, explore and unwind before an excellent dinner.

The sun and sea air welcomed us on day two, as we arrived on the West Coast at les Sables d’Olonne. There was once again plenty of time for a stroll along the sea front ahead of drinks in the bar and dinner. From the coast it was a delightful run under beautiful sunshine into Angouleme. We arrived at our central hotel and parked the cars up in their dedicated spaces for the weekend. Thanks to our early arrival we set out on foot to give our customers (all first timers in Angouleme) a walking tour of the city. With bearings well and truly worked out the group took up position in a central bar to soak up the special atmosphere.

Tour managers Thomas and Richard, both long running supporters of the event found this edition to be the best yet. Commenting that the atmosphere was better than ever with real care and attention paid to the additional anniversary features; from the Exhibition in the Angoulême museum detailing the history of the Circuit des Remparts, through to the images of the drivers that have competed at the event over the year, displayed in the streets.

The International rally was a highlight for many of our guests. They were blown away by the crowds that come out to cheer the participants on as they drove their classics through the Charentais countryside.

On Sunday the paddock came alive as the racers and mechanics prepared themselves and their cars for action. Each grid head out onto the circuit during the morning to set their qualifying times and grid position for their race in the afternoon. The GT category saw Mini’s, Mini Marcos, Alfa Giulia’s and E-Types to name but a few. In the Vintage classes there were numerous Austin 7 specials, Frazer Nash and of course a whole grid of Grand Prix Bugatti’s. The Edwardian cars we something else, dating back to 1902, these thundering beasts looked right at home on the historic street circuit. Last but not least the sight and sound of the 700 brake horsepower Corvette will live with us for some time!

There is no event like the Circuit des Remparts, it has to be seen to be believed and without doubt one to tick off your list of events to attend. See you there in 2020. https://traveldestinations.co.uk/motorsport-events/circuit-des-remparts-angouleme-tour/

WEC

FIA WEC Fuji race report: The rise of LMP2

The second round of the 2019/20 FIA WEC season at the Fuji Speedway last weekend put to bed any doubts from the pre-season about the competitiveness and excitement levels that the LMP2 class could produce.

Looking at the category from afar, it is relatively easy to take shots at the lack of variety in chassis (seven ORECAs and a single Dallara) and the disparity in the driver line-ups (four of the eight featuring a Bronze-rated driver). But the opening two races, and in particular the race in Japan, have shown observers just how competitive this year’s class is, and how it can provide captivating prototype racing while the new ‘success handicap’ system introduced to balance the LMP1 privateers with the factory Toyotas takes shape.

WEC

Winning the race last week was Racing Team Nederland. The Dutch outfit, owned by successful businessman turned driver Frits van Eerd, has turned a corner this year. The switch of chassis from Dallara to ORECA and a change in the team behind the scenes to title-winning crew TDS Racing has made a huge difference. At Silverstone the team bagged its first podium, a feat which Bronze driver van Eerd said before the season opener was “something I only dream of”. 

With the dream then made into reality, the team headed to Japan with renewed confidence, but cautious after van Eerd’s, quite frankly, poor performance at the Fuji circuit in 2018 (and even he would admit it wasn’t his finest hour). 

WEC

The combination of van Eerd, ex-F1 driver Giedo van der Garde and newly-crowned Formula 2 champion Nyck de Vries would prove to be deadly. In LMP2, the saying is, “you’re only as good as your amateur driver”, and while that is somewhat true, on Sunday, van Eerd’s performance combined with masterful drives from his teammates, propelled the team to a shock victory.

After the race, the victory seemed rather natural, but prior to the season most would expect that the four teams that feature Silver-rated drivers rather than Bronzes would take all the wins. What made the difference here, in tricky conditions, were three things; van der Garde’s rocket start to the race, de Vries’ mercurial pace in the treacherous conditions and van Eerd’s perseverance during his stints.

Van der Garde put the team on top early with what he described as one of his “trademark starts”, slaloming through the pack in the opening two laps, climbing from seventh to the lead. From there he held station and built a foundation for his co-drivers to work from. With intermittent rain showers preventing the circuit from ever drying out completely, the conditions were arguably at their trickiest, bar perhaps monsoon-like rain which can and does hit Fuji on occasion. 

But van Eerd in his pair of stints, made zero mistakes and didn’t lose as much time to the pro drivers around him during his time in the car as you may expect. This meant that when de Vries took the wheel, and he did for over three hours, over the course of two stints, he was able to fight at the front. 

The young Dutchman was head-turning, producing what was one of the all-time great LMP2 drives. He stormed off into the lead and was lapping, on occasion, a handful of seconds quicker than all the other LMP2 drivers and at one point managed to set times quicker than the Toyotas. 

WEC

It was one of those drives where you knew at the time it was special. And because of van Eerd’s pace, which understandably isn’t the same as some of the younger Silver-rated hot-shoes and pros, de Vries was forced to work for it. In the final hour, he was tasked with fending off a hard-charging Anthony Davidson, but made it look easy and sealed the win.

So, if what we have to look forward to going forward is a team like Racing Team Nederland having to push the envelope during each race in order to have a chance of winning further races and the title, then you won’t want to miss the remaining races this season.

Beyond Racing Team Nederland’s ‘coming out party’, High Class Racing also proved its worth too. The Danish team, new to the FIA WEC, also had a head-turning day. Regular driver Anders Fjordbach and Toyota affiliated driver Kenta Yamashita (also the current Super GT points leader) kept the team in the race for the win throughout the race, and led for an extended period. This is a team that has yet to win a race in LMP2, in part because like Racing Team Nederland, it races with Bronze drivers. 

WEC

Its Bronze in the FIA WEC, Mark Patterson, had to wait until the final 80 minutes to step into the car and defend the team’s lead. Unfortunately he couldn’t hold off the slew of pro drivers behind and finished fourth. That was though, still impressive. 

If Racing Team Nederland and High Class Racing continue to find form, then they, along with Silverstone revelation Cool Racing (another new FIA WEC team) and the known quantities of United Autosports, JOTA, Jackie Chan DC Racing and Signatech Alpine are all battling it out for wins on a regular basis, then we could see seven of the eight cars in the class in the title race. How many forms of motorsport can boast that level of parity and competitiveness?

Onwards to Shanghai….

You can join the Travel Destinations team during the FIA WEC this season. Read more about of offers for the FIA WEC rounds at Sebring, Spa-Francorchamps and of course Le Mans here.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC

Return of the FIA WEC at Silverstone

FIA World Endurance Championship 2019/20 starts at Silverstone

The 2019/20 FIA WEC season is upon us, as we edge closer to the major change coming to the championship in 2021/22, when the new Hypercar Prototype ruleset debuts.It begins at Silverstone, with a four-hour encounter this time, with 31 cars on the entry and plenty of intrigue.

Most eyes will be firmly fixed on the LMP1 class at the opening round. The list is currently six-cars-strong, with changes in terms of teams, drivers and regulations, all with the hope that this season we will see close racing between the hybrid-powered TS050s fielded by Toyota Gazoo Racing and the non-hybrid privateer chassis from Rebellion Racing and Team LNT.

FIA WECTeam LNT is a name that may be familiar to long-time sportscar fans, especially to those that were present at the 2006 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours where it steered Panoz to a class win in GT2. Lawrence Tomlinson, now chairman of Ginetta, has brought the team back to ACO sportscar racing after a few years away and means business. Armed with a pair of updated, AER-powered, G60-LT-P1s, Team LNT hopes to turn heads and take the fight to both Rebellion and Toyota off the bat. That may seem overly optimistic on the face of it, especially after the forgettable outing that CEFC TRSM endured back in June of 2018 at Le Mans when the Ginetta LMP1 challenger made its debut. A lot has changed since that week. The team running the cars is all new, the engine is now from AER rather than Mecachrome (and yes, it’s the AER engine SMP Racing used at Le Mans this year which out qualified a Toyota) and the driver crew (which includes Ginetta factory drivers, ex-DragonSpeed LMP1 man Ben Hanley, Egor Orudzhev formerly from SMP’s LMP1 programme and 2003 Le Mans-winning Bentley Boy Guy Smith).

FIA WECPre-season testing has been overwhelmingly positive for Team LNT. Trips to Paul Ricard, Spa-Francorchamps and Motorland Aragon before the Prologue Test at Barcelona have raised eyebrows in the paddock. The cars have been reliable, minor niggles aside, and crucially, fast. Fast enough that going toe-to-toe with Rebellion’s R-13 Gibson(s) early in the season is an expectation within the team rather than a target. Whether or not challenging Toyota is possible remains to be seen, though there is reason to expect the void between the hybrid and non-hybrid prototypes this year to be less cavernous. The race organisers have introduced a success handicap system, which will slow specific cars each time they win. The disparity in stint lengths and time spent in the pits between Toyota and the rest of the field, which was artificial and favoured the Japanese automotive giant have also been removed. Will this make a noticeable difference at Silverstone? We will have to wait and see. We shouldn’t though, assume Toyota will dominate each race as it did during the ‘Super Season’.

LMP2 meanwhile, should be close and produce on-track action that you won’t be able to look away from. While there are plenty of story-lines to follow, which will be explored here on Travel Destinations’ website throughout the season, it’s worth pointing towards a couple of them for the opening round of the season. The tyre war between Michelin, and Goodyear (which has taken over from Dunlop) could prove pivotal in the title race. Currently High Class Racing (which has stepped up from the ELMS this season) and the two Jota-run ORECAs (one of which will race under the Jackie Chan DC Racing banner) have chosen Goodyear. The other five have declared that Michelin is their supplier of choice.

FIA WECGoodyear is pouring resources into this season as part of a drive to forge a long-term relationship with the FIA WEC, and will hope to poach Michelin teams during the season. Each team, by regulation, can make one switch of supplier each season. Michelin on the other hand will hope to build on the momentum it has created in recent seasons, producing tyres capable of winning races after years of Dunlop domination. Keep an eye on United Autosports, which is set to embark on an ambitious maiden WEC campaign this term, and reigning champion Signatech Alpine. Both outfits bring a wealth of experience to this field, and along with Jota, are likely to be the teams to beat.

FIA WECSteering away from prototypes, there’s a huge field of GTE cars on the entry this year. Six of them are factory efforts in Pro, with another 11 making up the record-grid in Am. GTE Pro, like LMP1, has taken a hit in numerical terms for this season. But that shouldn’t detract too much from the on-track action. Porsche, AF Corse and Aston Martin Racing all return, more eager than ever to win the GTE World Championships. All eyes will be on Porsche, as its stable of factory drivers will debut the brand new Porsche 911 RSR 19 at Silverstone. The updated car replaces the fan-favourite 911 RSR which is still present in GTE Am. Off the back of a title and Le Mans winning WEC campaign in 2018/19 and a five-race win streak earlier this year in IMSA with the now-previous-gen, model, it’s a scary to think that Porsche feels it can still improve!

FIA WECAF Corse and Aston Martin meanwhile, know they need to find consistency to beat Porsche this season. AF Corse, with its Evo-spec 488 GTEs, will be confident after a huge victory at Le Mans in June, while Aston Martin’s crew behind the scenes remain optimistic that they can improve upon the Vantage AMR’s struggles with tyres last season and unlock its true potential.

FIA WECGTE Am also sees a Porsche team defending a title, in Project 1, and the German outfit hopes to get its campaign off to a fast start with its expanded two-car effort. It will be no easy task to win it all once again, and Le Mans for that matter, as the competition has only increased. Aston Martin Racing brings a brand new Vantage AMR chassis for its GTE Am debut and fresh faces in Darren Turner and Ross Gunn to partner Paul Dalla Lana in its #98 car, while Proton Competition will aim to put the drama and disappointment that its 2018/19 produced with its pair of Porsches.

FIA WECFerrari teams are out in force too, from MR Racing, Red River Sport and AF Corse, all with high hopes. Lest we forget that in addition to AMR’s No.98 Vantage, TF Sport is also pushing for a big result on home soil. Team owner Tom Ferrier, will hope that the team’s new chassis will be the catalyst that powers the ever-expanding British team to its first WEC class win.

In addition to the WEC action, fans trackside will, as usual, be treated to a four-hour European Le Mans Series race on Saturday. That’s eight hours of high-level sportscar racing to look forward to in one bumper weekend. The road to Le Mans 2020 starts here!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Join us at the FIA WEC rounds at Sebring, Spa-Francorchamps and of course Le Mans in 2020. Read more about our FIA WEC offers here.

VLN Championship

Introducing the VLN

Imagine the all the intensity, raw power, edginess, drama, unpredictability, beauty and quirks of the Nürburgring 24 Hours (N24), in a more condensed format. Imagine the 25km Nurburgring Nordschleife with a crowd big enough to create an atmosphere, but small enough to make the circuit’s wide variety of spectating opportunities easily accessible. Imagine fan access unparalleled in high-level sports car racing, with free grid walks, and garage access before and during the races and countless vantage points for fans, at no cost beyond the price of admission. Well, it’s not fantasy, what you’re imagining is the VLN championship, which runs throughout the European motorsport season.

The VLN championship, or Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring if we’re getting technical, does not feature the Nürburgring 24 Hours as part of its calendar, but much of the same teams and drivers compete in both. The drivers have to, to obtain a permit to race in the 24-hours in June, and the teams use the rounds as preparation for the big dance each year.

VLN RacingOver the years the Nürburgring 24 Hours has gained much exposure. It is far more of an international event than it ever has been. It maintains its ‘German’ feel, but has never been more accessible and marketable to the wider motorsport community. It doesn’t feel as much of a hidden gem as it did at the turn of the century. This is in part because the VLN championship, which runs on the full Nordschleife and runs with grids close to 200 cars, has become more professional and important. In recent years the Nürburgring circuit owners have gone to great lengths to ensure that racing on such a vast, unforgiving circuit is as safe as it can be for competitors and spectators alike, and required the competitors to step up their level of professionalism. This has made the racing better, and attracted the attention of the major manufacturers that now do battle with their customer GT3 programmes to win the N24 overall.

But heading to the ‘Ring for a VLN race gives you the best of both worlds. You still get a fleet of world-class teams and drivers racing up front in GT3 machinery, and a mixture of entry-level and mid-tier race cars following on behind. Crucially though, as a fan, it’s as accessible as it ever has been. You can still head onto the track for a grid walk pre-race, access the paddock easily and navigate the forestry surrounding the Nordschleife without the need to utilise the shuttle-bus system that the N24 now relies on. Instead, there’s space and time to drive your own car to the various car parks near the key corners such as Pflazgarten, Hohe Acht and Hatzenbach and come and go as you please.

VLN RacingSpectating at the full ‘Green Hell’ is an old-school experience, which must be savoured, treasured and preserved. Travelling the world, visiting circuits old and new for a living, as this writer does, you become somewhat of a connoisseur of motorsport venues. You can travel to Abu Dhabi for the modern, pristine feel that the Yas Marina circuit has to offer, Bathurst to marvel at Australia’s most celebrated racing amphitheatres, or Sebring to get a snapshot of rural America and its motorsport culture, but no circuit, even rival venues in Germany, matches the Nürburgring if you’re a fan of circuits that are as beautiful as they are steeped in history.

VLN races are either four or six hours long. There is plenty of time to take in the seemingly endless pre-race grid walk, dash to the Mercedes Tribune to watch the cars pile into Turn 1 at the start of the race, before heading out into the forest for an adventure. There’s something special about navigating the Eiffel Forests to find spectator banks and trails during a race. Those who have attended World Rally Championship events will be in their element, taking out a map, driving to a corner, and exploring the surrounding areas to find man-made grandstands, and climbing grass verges to get a glimpse of some of the more stunning backdrops that the ‘Ring has to offer. Why not start at Pflatzgarten and walk the trail that leads past Brünnchen, Eschback, Wipperman, Hohe Acht and all the way to a clearing where you’ll find the world-famous Caracciola Karussell. By taking in that sequence of corners you’ll see the drivers test their mettle in low, medium and high speed corners. It’s narrow, bumpy, with very little run off. The skillset required to win at the ‘Ring becomes far clearer.

VLN NurburgringIf you’re new to the circuit as a fan, a trip to a VLN race isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds, and will prepare you well for a trip to the N24, where the crowds are far bigger and local knowledge is key to getting the most out of the experience. Once you’ve reached the famous horse-shoe, turn around, and return to your car, before heading to Adenau, where with Travel Destinations, you’ll be staying. It’s a friendly town, littered with petrol-heads and homages to motorsport culture. There the walk from Ex-Muhle to Kallenhard is another fan-favourite trail. It’s hilly, but work the trek, is the cars navigate the sharp turns and sudden drops. And that’s just two sections, for there are plenty more fan-friendly areas to touch on in future trips.

Outside of the race itself, there are many more opportunities to explore in region surrounding the circuit. It’s somewhat of a goldmine, full of restaurants, bars, landmarks and museums to visit. So prepare yourself. The Nürburgring is like no other circuit; you don’t just turn up, watch the track action and leave. There’s always something nearby that will either prompt you to stay after dark or return again soon.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

If you would like to experience the best of the VLN then we have something special for you. Take a look at our exclusive special offer for the finale of the 2019 VLN season. Experience hospitality and tours around the garage with our friendly driver David Pittard, currently racing for the Rowe Team. If you want to experience more he can even take you on hot laps around the Nordschleife. Visit our website or call 01707 329988 for details.

Motorsport Events

So much to look forward to

Motorsport Events to look forward to

July is upon us. What a first six months of 2019 we have had. We have completed so many motorsport events. There have been successful visits to the USA for Daytona and “Super-Sebring”, we have ventured even further afield for the Bathurst 12 Hours in Australia. Then closer to home we have already visited Spa-Francochamps twice and survived the incredible double header that was the Le Mans 24 Hours followed by the Nurburgring 24 Hours. Just around the corner we have the Spa 24 Hours too followed by the Nurburgring Oldtimer Grand Prix, but beyond that there is still so many motorsport events to look forward to.

Motorsport events
For classic motorsport fans we have three great events to attend this September. Each is unique and well worth taking a look at. First up is the Zandvoort Historic Grand Prix. At the time of writing we have just a few hotel rooms left available for this event. Historic racing doesn’t get more picturesque than this with the track winding through the Dutch sand dunes. Certainly, one not to be missed.

Motorsport Events
Similarly, we have a last few hotel rooms available for the Circuit des Remparts event in Angouleme. The tight street circuit around, the French town’s walls, not only provides a technical challenge for all the drivers, but it provides exceptional views for spectators too. With other activities such as a fun concours & touristic rally, adding to the weekend’s events, Angouleme really is a worthwhile visit.

Motorsport Events
Rounding out September’s historic racing trilogy is the Spa Six Hours. We describe this weekend of historic racing, as an event organised for drivers, that the public are allowed to gate-crash. Whilst there may be no fair ground, entertainment and off-site events, the Spa Six Hours excels in providing excellent grids with access to all areas for all spectators. If you want to get close to some of your favourite cars from the past, then the Spa Six Hours is perfect for you. Hang out in the garages, wander the paddocks and relax in any grandstand whilst enjoying the on-track action.

Motorsport Events
We have something special lined up for October. If you have yet to experience a VLN race at the Nurburgring, then this is the way to do it. The VLN is the sister series to the Nurburgring 24 Hours & for the deciding race of the season we have teamed up with professional racing driver & driving coach David Pittard, to provide a unique way to enjoy the race. As well as 4-star hotel accommodation, just minutes from the track, our offer includes race-day hospitality with the Walkenhorst Motorsport team and a guided garage visit with David during the race. Not only that, but as David is driving a BMW in the VLN, we have added the option to add passenger laps around the Nordschleife with David as your driver. This will be as close to racing the famous circuit as most of us will ever get. This is an amazing package and one we think you will really enjoy.

Motorsport Events
The Daytona circuit needs no introduction. Watching racing around the famous banking has to be on every motorsport fan’s bucket list. The Rolex 24 at Daytona in January is the perfect excuse to fulfil those ambitions. We make things easy for you with a choice of hotels; one adjacent to the track and one overlooking Daytona beach. We can arrange flights from the Uk and car hire if required to enable you to enjoy your time in Florida.

Motorsport EentsFor those looking to travel the world and enjoy motorsport, then we highly recommend joining us in Bathurst, Australia for the 12 hours at the end of January. We currently have a limited number of rooms available alongside our hospitality offer, so make sure you get your places reserved soon. This race continues to grow in stature and now attracts the top drivers & teams from around the world, so now would be a good time to join the international audience.

Motorsport Events
March 2020 sees the return of “Super-Sebring”. This sees not only the traditional 12 Hours of Sebring IMSA race, but also one of the longer rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship in consecutive days. We love the fun atmosphere and relaxed nature of the Sebring circuit and both races provide on-track competition second to none. Our private condos were hugely appreciated by all our guests this year and we had a great crowd enjoy the racing with us. We will be repeating the Super-Sebring experience again in 2020, but places are limited, so we kindly encourage you to book early to avoid disappointment.

Motorsport EventsThen looking further ahead to next summer we have two fantastic motorsport events. The Le Mans 24 Hours in June needs little explanation, and then the Le Mans Classic returns in July for what is always a great weekend of historic racing around the full Le Mans circuit. We are on sale for both of these events now, so whether you want hotel rooms, camping or glamping then please call us now to secure your place track-side.

Motorsport Events
For more information or to book any of these motorsport events and any other of our offers on our website, please call us on 01707 329988.

Nurburgring 24

Nurburgring 24 Hours 2019 Review

The 2019 Nurburgring 24 Hours

Last weekend’s Nurburgring 24 Hours was ‘old school’, in almost every way. It featured a smattering of factory teams, and twists and turns throughout. Despite the form of the region the circuit sits in weather didn’t play a part this year, but drama certainly did. With almost every contending car finishing the Nurburgring 24 Hours filthy and damaged, and a combination of mechanical issues and incidents mixing up the order at steady intervals, it was an encounter we won’t forget in a hurry. Ultimately it was Audi’s day, after Mercedes and Porsche came achingly close. And it served up some interesting talking points.

Safety changes and smaller entries are not ripping the heart out of this race
Safety is paramount at a circuit like the Nürburgring Nordschleife; it is long, narrow, and features little or no run-off. With such a mixture of machinery permitted to compete in the Nurburgring 24, ensuring that the drivers and fans aren’t in too much danger is important. In recent years so much action has been taken to improve the circuit’s safety, as huge incidents over the years have threatened not just the Nurburgring 24 Hours, but the viability of the circuit in the modern day. But the ongoing work continues to retain the spectacular nature of the historic forest circuit while making necessary the improvements.

This year much of the circuit had been resurfaced, and the SP9 GT3 cars had to run slightly down on power. That, coupled with a smaller entry list of just over 150 cars, on paper, may appear to be tweaks against the spirit of this historic endurance race. But, once the cars got going, it made little difference to the excitement levels. In fact, with a little more space and less traffic, it prompted the top drivers to push even harder. The racing was spectacular and the variety in the field is still very much apparent. Of course, just 10 years ago the N24 used to run with around 250 cars, but in hindsight, that may have been just too much. What we have now, is a better selection of cars, driven by a smaller cabal of drivers that all have to work harder to earn the right to race. It’s making for a better race, and this year’s edition proved that. We still had a huge field of GT3 cars racing on the same track as Opel Mantas, VW Golfs, Opel Astras and an armada of cup cars, on arguably the most spectacular circuit on the planet. Long may this continue.

No rain? No problem!
It has become almost a rite of passage for fans of the Nurburgring 24 Hours to have to spectate in a combination of blazing sunshine, heavy rain and even snow on occasions, sometimes within the same hour. But this year, aside from Free Practice being stopped due to heavy rain, the weather gods were kind to those at the ‘Ring. Some, may complain, as rain only adds to the spectacle this race can deliver, but this year, we had just as many thrills and spills without a drop of water falling on the circuit. There was a battle for the lead, where Kevin Estre in the No.911 Manthey Porsche took to the grass on the Dottinger Hohe at full speed to make a pass, and hours of squabbling for the podium places. That’s not to mention the amount of offs there were on the bone dry circuit. Drivers up and down the order pushed unbelievably hard, and were going to extreme lengths to make passes through traffic. All the cars that made it to the end, and around 50 retired, looked battered, covered in dirt and tank tape. If you tuned in just for the finish you’d have taken some convincing that this was a dry race, as the drivers and cars all looked like they’d fought through rain and shine as well as night and day.

Nurburgring 24BMW’s worst nightmare?
Just a week on from BMW’s disappointing final FIA World Endurance Championship appearance with its GTE Pro M8s, the Bavarian brand had a disastrous outing at the N24. The customer teams, ROWE Racing, Walkenhorst Motorsport, Falken Motorsport and Team Schnitzer, who all received some level of support from the factory had a tough time. The speed of the M6 GT3, which has yet to win the N24, wasn’t there, and neither was the reliability.

Almost the entire fleet of BMWs were out of this one by the quarter race mark. ROWE Racing’s team manager Hans-Peter Naundorf claimed that this year’s N24 was “the worst 24-hour race we’ve ever had”, and he was right. The Falken M6 GT3 was the only one that managed to finish high up the order, but multiple issues meant the team spent almost the entire race fighting back from laps down rather than for a podium. It really was a disaster, especially in a race that features all of its key domestic rival brands, who all had a better showing. This may sound hugely negative, but this should spur on BMW to come back stronger next year. And that will be a sight to see. BMW is the brand with the most overall wins at the Nurburgring 24, it has a proud tradition and history of success. But its last win was a very long time ago now. How long? Back in 2010, when GT2 cars were the top dogs in the field. The SP9 GT3 era hasn’t been kind to BMW M-Power.

Nurburgring 24 HoursAudi has still got it
Audi on the other hand, played a blinder last weekend with its customer teams. The R8 LMS pack didn’t have the outright pace to win this one, but as always, Audi stuck to its longstanding strategy of outlasting its competitors. Rarely has Audi won big endurance races over the years, in GT or prototype racing, with the fastest car. When attrition sets in the ‘Four Rings’ always rises to the top. It wasn’t a perfect race for the teams racing with R8s, as punctures and incidents did put Car Collection and Land Motorsport’s challenges to a premature end. But Phoenix Racing, which has a history of winning the ultimate prize at the ‘Ring, was there to pick up the pieces when other cars hit trouble, and crucially, when the No.911 Manthey Porsche, which led the race for 14 hours, was handed a huge five-minute 32-second stop-hold penalty for speeding in a yellow flag zone. Audi has now won the race five times, and Phoenix has emerged victorious four times. The marque’s main focus may appear to be on Formula E since its LMP1 exit, but it continues to put resources into its customer GT programme, and it is paying off.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

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