FIA World Endurance Championship

As we begin 2012 we take at look at the year ahead starting with the new FIA World Endurance Championship. Graham Goodwin, the editor of dailysportscar.com, guides us through what to expect in 2012.

 

This year sees the start of a brand new World Championship. The FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) is a partnership between the FIA and the ACO, the people responsible for organising the Le mans 24 Hours and for putting together the rules and regulations that have governed Endurance racing worldwide for many years. Born out of last year’s Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, the WEC is designed to attract manufacturer backed teams in to the endurance racing discipline, and the signs so far are that it has been very successful indeed in that regard. The inaugural WEC season will include eight races around the world with a grid class structure familiar to all those who follow the happenings at Le Mans.

The top prototype category (LMP1) is for the quickest prototypes; pure racing cars. This is a class that has been dominated in recent years by diesel powered cars from Peugeot and Audi. However, 2012 will see the diesels restricted a little further, so the factories are looking for an edge once again. Rumours suggest that both Peugeot and Audi will field hybrid versions of their existing cars in 2012. They will be joined by Toyota, as the Japanese manufacturer brings a single car, at least initially, to part of the season at least. The Toyota hasn’t yet been seen in public yet (it is due to be tested this month) but it’s known to be a petrol powered hybrid. An answer appears to be just over the horizon as to whether a factory developed petrol powered programme can truly go compete with the diesels.

There is a supporting cast of privateers as usual, with the Toyota powered Lolas of Rebellion Racing looking set to return. They’ll be joined by British team Strakka Racing with a brand new Honda backed LMP1. Possibly a test project ahead of another factory programme!

The smaller prototype class (LMP2) looks set to be hotly contested too with a large grid of production engined, Pro-Am crewed, cars currently assembling – Lola, HPD, Pescarolo and Oreca chassis are likely with Nissan, Honda and Judd BMW power – It looks likely to provide a real race within a race for 2012.

The two GT classes, GTE Pro reserved for the newest cars and all Pro driver line ups – GTE Am for cars at least a year old with Pro-Am line ups, looks to provide similar competitive racing. Aston Martin are set to return to the GT ranks with a full factory effort and they look set to be joined on the grid by several examples of the near all conquering Ferrari 458, Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 997 (plus more besides we hear!).  GTE racing is well worth watching as a stand alone formula. Put the Prototypes into the mix and there is never a dull moment!

So where can these cars be seen racing in 2012? It’s a mix of well established events and brand new markets for the endurance racers.

The season starts in the USA on 17th March at the 12 Hours of Sebring 2012, which will see a double celebration at the opening round of the WEC.  The 12 Hours of Sebring not only marks the dawn of a new era for the sport but also celebrates its own 60th anniversary. This is an event in the truest meaning of the word and, with Orlando just a couple of hours drive away it’s both easy to get to and offers real opportunities for a longer break, should you want one, too. 2012 also sees the WEC join forces for a combined grid with the hotly contested American Le Mans Series meaning that a grid of more than 60 cars is possible. With a crowd which often tops 200,000 Sebring should be on everyone’s bucket list.

The traditional European curtain raiser before Le Mans is the 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps in Belgium. In 2012 this will be held on 5th May. It is a classic circuit and a classic race – the dead hand of 21st century circuit design has left an oasis of wonderfulness in the Ardennes and, again, this is a race, and an event, not to be missed – The factory teams usually roll out their full Le Mans line-ups, boosting the grids more than a little, and with frites and mayo, and Belgian beer aplenty available it’s an ideal weekend’s entertainment.

Then it’s Le Mans 2012. The big one returns on the 16th & 17th June with the Le Mans 24 Hours offering 56 cars, 24 Hours, and the biggest race meeting in the world. The pre race razzamatazz and the on track action provides for a full week of entertainment before the race proper – It’s a double points scoring round too for the WEC, the season’s regulars being joined by strengthened factory teams and the best of the rest from the European and American Le Mans Series. It might also be your first chance to see the spectacular and controversial Deltawing racer, the car has been accepted as the 56th entry for 2012 and plans to display what can be done via radical aerodynamics with a much smaller engine than the norm – Will it work? You could be one of the first to see for yourselves!

After a break during the London Olympics the WEC reconvenes in the UK of 26th August at the revamped and super quick Silvers tone circuit – By now the Championship battles will have been well defined – A win mid season might make the difference for a team or driver being in the title hunt – or not!

 

After Silverstone the Championship goes global – Four more races will take the WEC to South America, the Middle East, Japan and China – Four races, four very different circuits and World Championship glory up for grabs.

14th September sees the WEC race at the world famous Interlagos circuit in Brazil, an increasingly important global player, Brazil is a key market for many of the competing manufacturers and they’re sure to pull out all of the stops – Interlagos, of course has played host to the Brazilian Grand Prix many times and the passion for motorsport runs deeply here – The birthplace of Ayrton Senna, a trip to his grave has become part of the pilgrimage for many motorsport fans.

By for the most controversial addition to the WEC calendar is the 6 Hours of Bahrain on 29th September.  The tiny Gulf state has had more than its share of political controversy of late but for those fans that have made the trip in recent years Bahrainis have proven to be warm and welcoming, the circuit is truly world class and the racing could be spectacular.

14th October sees the penultimate round for the WEC at the exciting Fuji circuit.  Owned by Toyota and substantially redesigned in recent years Fuji will be a new test for almost all of the WEC contenders, and there are signs that there is still a substantial Japanese fanbase for Endurance racing – Could this event become a new classic?  Certainly there will be plenty of support in evidence for the Toyota LMP1 effort, and for the Honda privateers and Nissan engined LMP2s too!

The season closes in China, though, at present, we don’t have a confirmed date or a confirmed location – Early versions of the calendar suggested either the 11th pr 18th November, with the Championship organisers still negotiating with both Zhuhai and Shanghai circuits to determine which will host the season finale – Whichever it is a visit to China is a must – Utterly different, fascinating and let’s remember, the potential for a World Championship deciding endurance race too!

With so many races happening in so many different parts of the World the WEC offers a real opportunity to race fans to expand their global horizons – Experience a new event, Experience a new country, Experience a new culture – Just experience it!  Believe me you won’t regret it.

Graham Goodwin
www.dailysportscar.com

If you would like to be at any of the FIA World Endurance Championship events in 2012, including the Le Mans 24 Hours, please call us now on 0844 873 0203 or email us at info@traveldestinations.co.uk