Seeing through the Spray in Shanghai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar.com